Dear Donagh,

Thanks you always give me hope when I read you.  I have great need of it at present.   I feel like a car wreck.  You wouldn’t know by looking at me, my family life is good, even if we have the usual problems, but inside I feel a failure and useless.  This makes me feel like a hypocrite, like I'm just putting on a show.  I asked my doctor if she thought I was heading for a breakdown and she said no I was in the normal range of stress for today.  But I still feel terrible inside.  I'm a total failure as a person….  Is there anything I'm overlooking or neglecting?  Can you advise me…?  Rose

Dear Rose,

If there is something you are overlooking or neglecting in relation to your family they will tell you soon enough, I imagine.  But since I've never met you I couldn’t guess whether there is anything you are overlooking or neglecting in relation to yourself.  I can just roll out a few thoughts and you can then see if anything fits your situation or suggests a way forward for you.    

The world around us worships success – in finance, in business, in studies, in sport, in everything. “Nothing succeeds like success,” they say.  But I’d like to suggest that nothing fails like success.   Look into the eyes of someone who thinks he or she is a success; and look into the eyes of someone who thinks he or she is a failure.  Then choose your company.  There can be something very shallow about success, especially when it comes with boasts: “I'm very wealthy, I'm very successful in business, I'm very clever….”  Can you imagine being in a room full of ‘successful’ people?  We all like to be successful in some ways, and you obviously are: you have a good family life.  Success is the natural goal in every effort we make.  But it is essential to know that failure is just as much part of life as success.  If we don’t acknowledge the failures in our life, we are hiding part of ourselves – possibly the most human part.  And if we don’t see our failures we are hiding even from ourselves.    

In school we were taught that the Gospel says “the first shall be last,” but we were also taught that we should all try to be first – first in every subject, even religious knowledge!  We have been fed contradictory ideals, and it is no wonder that we experience inner conflict.  Yet the odd thing is that both are valid: that's why we take on both.  How can we sort this out?  Is there a way of looking at these contradictory teachings so that they are no longer contradictory?  Yes, I believe.  Arrange them serially.  I mean what Richard Rohr meant when he said that your job in the first half of your life is to build your tower, and your job in the second half of life is to fall off it – because, as he said, until your heart is broken you will be no damn good to anybody.  So, yes, do your utmost in the first half of your life: strain every muscle, try to be a success.  The more you do that, the more meaningful will be your failure later on! 

What I would suggest to you, Rose, is a daily session where you sit quietly in some place where you will not be disturbed.  Relax all tensions in the body and focus your attention on your breathing.  (You know already that what I am describing is meditation.)  Your thoughts will soon begin to run in the familiar track: that feeling of desolation you described.  They are thoughts with strong feelings clinging to them.  Be aware of what happens in the body the moment this begins.  Don’t try to make it better or worse, and don’t try to get rid of the feeling.  Just be aware of it, that's all.  You have to make friends with it, so judging it or trying to get rid of it won't do – as it wouldn’t do in any kind of friendship.  Tell yourself they are only thoughts and passing feelings.  Make sure you sit lightly with them.  Don’t let them weigh you down.  You know that they are just what they are: thoughts and feelings that have become habitual with you.   In the past they have weighed you down, but not they can do something good for you, something that all the happy thoughts in the world couldn’t do: they have made you aware of that side of your life that our world tries to hide from you – the shadow side: failure, desolation, loss, falling off the tower.  They are pulling you down into a deeper, quieter, more vulnerable humanity.  They are pulling you into the company of the vast majority of God's wounded people. 

It is a remarkable thing that feelings change if you don’t try to change them, but they stay forever the same if you do.  Those feelings of desolation will change once they have been accepted and respected.  After a time you will be aware that the space they carved out is no longer dark and sad; it is just depth. 

In the ‘Wisdom Line’ page of this website I chose a passage from Johann Tauler with your question in mind.  He sees this inner ‘ransacking’ (as he calls it) in a totally positive light.  He will be good company for you, Rose. 


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