It was good to share these victories with each other, after sharing so many defeats. But what's the difference? We know that equanimity is that Zen state of mind where we put things into a universal perspective of centeredness. A perspective in which nothing matters as much as we used to think it does. The successes and the defeats are both swings away from the middle. The middle is equanimity.
I will admit that I have spider webs in my garage. I was considering doing some cleaning the other day and was reminded of a story my father used to tell me. He told it to me many times. He was a man who suffered many defeats in his life as well as experiencing many successes. He always seemed to me like someone who didn't mind the defeats all that much. He was an Optimist. In fact, he was high up in the government of the service organization he belonged to called The Optimist Club. Yes, that's a real thing:
It seems there was a prisoner who kept trying to escape from his prison. Every time he tried, we would be recaptured, re-imprisoned, and time would be added to his already-long sentence. Just as he was ready to give up hope that he would ever be able to free himself, he noticed a spider in his cell. The spider had been trying to build a web but the prisoner had routinely been destroying it. Every time the spider started on the web, the prisoner would tear it down. Eventually, the entertainment value in ruining the spider's work was diminished to the point where the prisoner lost interest. Instead of defeating the spider's plans and he decided to let them unfold. He watched as the spider eventually completed the web.
Inspired, the prisoner resolved to never give up trying to escape. After all, weren't his plans as important as the spider's? Believe it or not, the prisoner finally succeeded. I imagine the moral of the story is "Never give up!" or something similar. If you had a different perspective, you might think the moral is "Never get caught!" Either way, I hadn't thought about this annoying story for many years. But as I looked at the webs in my garage, I was transported back to when I was a prisoner in my father's house. I'm speaking figuratively, of course. I was allowed to leave. And when I was able to, I did. But I stayed a prisoner for a long time after that. A prisoner in his cage of influence. But I digress. So, back to the garage.
I watched a crane fly get caught in the web I'd been looking at while drifting back on Memory Lane. That gangling, clumsy, careless fly squirmed and struggled and fought and did everything it could to get out. Meanwhile, the spider, beige colored and delicate, slowly ambled toward its target, taking its time, confidently and steadily approaching. But before the spider could attack, the crane fly escaped! Somehow, through sheer force of will, it had broken free of the web and was no longer ensnared. Sweet success!
Unfortunately, there was another web nearby, belonging to another spider. The hapless crane fly happened right into that neighboring web, and as luck would have it, this spider, a compact, black little beast, was very quick. Without hesitating, it ran directly to the exhausted fly and wrapped it up.
There must be lessens to be learned here. The first spider reminds me of times I have almost succeeded. For example, I almost won a tennis match in high school once. Just one. I was the number four boy on the team. Usually, number fours play against number fours on the other team. But I usually played against the other team's number one. This strategy made the other match-ups more favorable for out team, since all our players were effectively shifted up one level against their opponents. So I never had the opportunity to play someone at my own level. But one day, I had my chance. We were playing a fairly weak team, so instead of playing singles, I got to play mixed doubles. I played well, my partner played well, we played well together, and we were winning! I started to think about how great it was going to be to actually win. And that dreamy, victorious feeling, the one I'd never felt before, took over. I was no longer in the present, and we lost. Almost winning taught me a lot about staying present. It's still an unpleasant memory, 42 years later, but that's why the lessen endures. I usually remember to not get ahead of myself now.
The crane fly reminds me to never give up, and that when I'm out of the woods, there will always be new woods.
The little black spider who showed up from nowhere reminds me that coming in second is also not bad, and worth the effort.
Here is a TED talk about success and failure and how disorienting both can be. Elizabeth Gilbert introduces us to the ideas of "The absolute value of being flung away from your home." It ties in nicely with our group's previous discussions about feeling comfortable in the middle, even if we want to get out of a rut. She also talks about "the random hurricanes of outcome." She reminds us that attachment to outcome can hurt us twice. First, if we don't get what we want, and second, if we do. Here's her talk:
Joni Mitchell's Circle Game from "Miles of Aisles."
What goes around does seem to eventually come around. And the scenery we think we've left far behind, before we know it, often returns to our mind's eye's field of vision, almost like clockwork. Philadelphia rocker, Todd Rundgren (three years younger than Neil Young) often is another artist who writes and sings about eternal truths. You could also call his musings existential paradoxes or Zen parables. Whatever you want to call this hypnotic song (it sounds to me like a spinning mandala), it's about the ups and downs of life's circles. This Utopian artist, longs to get off the "wheel of karma." Don't we all?
From "Another Live," here is Todd Rundgren's The Wheel.
Change is lonely. That's because it's all up to us. It's worth it, but it's hard. And the farther we get, the farther we have to go; because change makes us stronger, and more able to change. It never ends. We build webs, we escape webs, we win, we lose, then we wake up and do it again. Fulfillment can be exhausting, the quest for wholeness, discouraging. But we keep on.
Along the way, we can get help; and that's why we come together and form groups. To find help and to offer it up. Give and take. Around and around. In a circle. Together.