Vicissitudes

Nothing the works the way I want it to. There, I said it, and I ended my sentence with a preposition. There’s an impatient, grouchy, childlike part of self that gets frustrated with this. It wants what it wants, it wants it the way it wants it, and it doesn’t want to wait for what it wants.

That part of me has dreams for my life, and my adult ego sets goals to make those dreams real. I put will and effort toward those goals, and sometimes I achieve them. Other times, I fail. That’s when the child part of me has a fit.


Failing is hard when I’ve put so much heart and effort into the work. When I really commit to making something happen, I follow my passions, I listen to guidance and still it doesn’t work. Then the child part of me wants to make meaning out of the failure. “I’m on the wrong path.” “I don’t have what it takes.” “I’m broken.” These stories do not make the hurt feelings easier to bear, and they do not make it easier to recommit to my goals and dreams. They are attempts to convince myself that it’s okay to give up, so I don’t have to risk failing again.

This could be an end. I could give into despair and cynicism. I could let my life’s energy pool and stagnate with resentment and discouragement, insulting myself or blaming everyone around me. I could give up the passion that helped me to live the life I loved living.

Energy does not move in a straight line. Attention cycles from task to task, even with deep focus and intention. Say that I want to create a beautiful garden and all I have is a plot of bare soil. One day, I go out to till and fertilize the soil. One day, I plant the seeds. One day, I weed. One day, I prune. One day, I harvest. When the time comes for each task, if I really want a garden, I need to do the work even if I do not feel like it. I also need to learn how to wait for the right time to work. The seed and soil have work to do, and it would be a shame if I sat staring at them, trying to force them to blossom with pure attention and will. There is so much other life to live.

Say I reach the end of the season and my garden has languished. The fruit is bad, the flowers died. Could I have known this would happen when I started? Was all the effort of preparing and planting for nothing?  Would not starting at all have been any better? What am I to make of this? Was the soil bad? Am I lacking in skill? Was it a fluke? Was it bad weather? Did I learn anything? Can I try something different next season? Or should I give up my dream of a garden?

Failure shows us a truth about ourselves we would never otherwise see. Feeling discouraged, hurt, and disappointed is hard. We might want to ignore it and punish ourselves by working twice as hard. We might want to numb out and detach. If I can sit with the discomfort for even a moment, allow the hurt to just be, then I pull that energy back into the shifting movements of life. The lessons flow into the next act. Perhaps I do not go back to gardening immediately. Perhaps I start smaller, with potted plants. Perhaps I go seek some teaching. Perhaps I spend the winter knitting.

Despair can be the falling fruit that rots to seed new life. Despair can be the surrender to the larger cycles in which we live, knowing we have a small but significant part to play.

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