Victor MacGill Chaos and Complexity
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My first book..

When the Dragon Stirs

Healing our Wounded Lives through Fairy Stories, Myths and Legends

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The Dragon

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My next book...
Gonna Lay Down my Sword
and Shield

A Complexity Perspective on Human Evolution from our Violent Past to a Compassionate Future

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Mandelbrot Set   Fairy Stories
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Mandelbrot Set  Complexity
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Mandelbrot Set  Spirituality

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My first book..

When the Dragon Stirs

Healing our Wounded Lives through Fairy Stories, myths and Legends

When the Dragon Stirs Book Cover

The Dragon

Line


My next book...
Gonna Lay Down my Sword
and Shield

A Complexity Perspective on Human Evolution from our Violent Past to a Compassionate Future

Mandelbrot Set

Articles by Victor

Mandelbrot Set   Fairy Stories
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The Importance of Being a Failure

A talk given at the Dunedin Spiritualist Church in August 2004

We human beings need to feel good about ourselves. We need to feel safe, we need to feel important, we need to feel loved, and we need to feel in control of our lives and the situations we find ourselves in.  Not feeling good about ourselves causes anxiety, which we generally try to avoid.

Often these bad feelings drives us to find solutions that are more about reducing the level of our anxiety than they are about finding the best solution to our problems. We often go for the quick fix rather than the true solution. We take on addictions such as alcohol abuse, drugs, gambling, sex, fame and status, work, chocolate, coffee, and perhaps more pertinently for those of us here tonight, even spiritual development can be an addiction.

We feel good when we succeed. I recently listened again to a tape set I have had for many years on how to succeed in life. It was very good and had important lessons we do need to remember. It talked about stopping negative emotions and using positive affirmations to keep focused on our goals. The problem is though, that the more important success becomes in our lives, the more failure becomes unacceptable.

We will not grow and learn unless our false solutions fail us. Until drinking alcohol or taking drugs fail to take away our anxiety or fail to create negative consequences in our lives, we will just keep continuing to do it. As long as the lure of fame is greater than the insecurity we try to hide, we will stay in the dream and not progress.

So, a vital truth about life is that everything that is important to us will fail. Sooner or later, we will get sick, we will be parted from those we love, we will be parted from our money and possessions, we will fail to live up to our dreams and expectations of ourselves and others, we will get old, and of course we will die. It does not matter how many tricks we try to play on ourselves to pretend that we are in control of ours lives, the truth remains that everything that is important to us will fail.

Our physical bodies will fail us. It might be a nice idea if we were to live forever in our physical bodies, but think about it. They would have to be constructed to be that much stronger, and be that much more complex, which would require far more energy to run than the bodies we have. Elephants have much stronger bodies than us because of their size. They are the biggest land based animal, but us for all their size they do not live that much longer than. They also eat enormous amounts of food. Land animals don’t get bigger than elephants because then they just become too cumbersome and inefficient.

In short, our physical bodies can not live forever, they are built to wear out. The only way we can achieve physical immortality is through death and procreation, because that gives us a new generation, who can live beyond us. It is only through failure by dying that the next generation can grow and improve.

Through procreation, we can evolve into even more complex beings, but evolution only works when those who fail to be effective in their environment do not get to procreate allowing the most efficient to survive. Again it is by failure that we grow and learn.

Now, of course, as spiritualists, we believe that life continues after death. Even then, it does not change the underlying principle of that through failure we grow and learn, it just makes it happen over a series of lifetimes instead of just one.

We all need to have a sense of meaning in our lives. Without it, we feel anxious. So, if we find we lack of a sense of meaning in ourselves, what do we do? We just make up a new one to reduce our anxiety back to a level we can cope with. We do the best we can with what we’ve got to create a picture, a map of the outside world that enables us to explain our experiences and maintain a positive sense of who we are. So long as it works well enough, we will continue to use it. Unless it fails, we will rarely seek out a new way to find a sense of meaning that will work better for us.

We each have a set of internal standards we live by. Those standards give us a guideline of what we see as being all right to do, and those things that are not right to do. Being human however, we find that at times our actions do not meet our internal standards and we feel a failure. Bill Clinton comes to mind as a person who achieved great success, only to let himself down by his actions. How does he still manage to feel OK about himself after what he did? Before we race to judge him, we need to acknowledge that we will all have a time in our past when we did not meet our expectations of ourselves and we must find a way of still being comfortable with ourselves and living with the anxiety caused by our failure. We can’t do it by just more succeeding, we can only do it by truly forgiving ourselves and accepting our failure.

We often avoid accepting failure by distorting our perception of the world outside. We blame others for our failings, we minimise our errors, we deny things that are actually true, and we justify and find reasons why we had no choice but to do what we did. Each time we avoid our failings, we miss opportunities for growth.

Even our God must fail us if we are to truly grow. Have you, like me, had an underlying belief, maybe only unconscious, that if I live a good, true spiritual life, I will get good karma and nothing bad will happen to me. That’s OK, but it’s a pretty limited view of God,  seeing God only as a good daddy who will look after me and make everything all right, rather than taking on our responsibility as a vibrant co-creator of this unfolding universe. In order to gain a greater understanding of the depth of God, that good daddy God has to fail, that God has to die.

The Buddhists say, “If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him”. If you see what appears to be spiritual perfection while still on the path, you are just deluding yourself, you have made a shallow image of God to meet your own needs, rather than embracing the true reality of what God is. Your God must die, before you can meet the true God. That’s why Friedrich Neitzsche said, “God is dead, Long live God”

Spiritual development is a necessary part of finding and living our true potential as human beings, but we do need to examine what drives our search, because spiritual development can become an addiction; just another quick fix. We can use spiritual development as an excuse to not make change. We can fool ourselves that we are doing well, while we actually wallow in a feel-good atmosphere. It can be very alluring and addictive taking us further from the path of real growth.  We can become too comfortable with ideas to challenge them. True spiritual development is always prepared to fail, because it is in failing that we grow and move further along the path.

We do not like to face the fact that sometime life is like the movie title, As good as it gets. It is a brilliant movie I highly recommend. It showed the struggle of a man burdened by Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It was in accepting who he was and his limitations and those of the people around him, that freed him to find love and come alive to life. 

To sum up, we feel anxious when we are confronted by our failings and would prefer to avoid them and just keep on living as we have. However, when we understand the importance of being a failure, of accepting ourselves as we are, but also learning the lessons from our failures that we can win by losing and gain spiritual advancement that will never be possible to the person, who must always succeed.

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