If I had a message to my contemporaries it is surely this; Be anything you like, be madmen, drunks, and bastards, of every shape and form, but at all costs avoid one thing: success . . . If you are too obsessed with success, you will forget to live. If you have learned only how to be a success, your life has probably been wasted. – Thomas Merton, Love and Living, pp. 11-12
I like Thomas Merton a lot. However, I both relate and take him with a grain of salt on the above quote. I relate because like Merton and Augustine, I spent the first several decades of my existence living fully into practicing addictions – in my case drugs and alcohol. By the time I hit early adulthood, I was completely fried and realized I simply would not be able to continue along that path, and opted for sobriety, as Merton and Augustine opted for a monastic environment.
For me, success then became measured by staying sober and that became rather rote after a while. Next, I opted for education for a bunch of years to demonstrate my ability to further succeed, and escape having to deal with many life issues. I knew how to do that. Next, for some reason publishing a book seemed like a marker of success, but after doing that several times, that measure lost its luster.
For the past decade or so, the very concept of success has taken a back seat to my striving to live a life of meaning – with mixed success, as it were. I find today that simply being on a path toward True Self seems to be a more worthy direction than past accolades. The starting point for me on all of this is simply being on a recovery road. An important piece of recovery is getting out of false self (ego/persona) and more aligned with True or Real Self that celebrates the potential of being a node on a luminous web of interconnectivity with all the world.
My resolution for the 2017 New Year is to be open to the possibilities that a True Self oriented life has to offer. I know that resolve cannot be accomplished by making a list of measurable goals in my shiny new bullet journal, except to be following a recovery path. As my short four months of retirement and living in a new city have shown, and abundantly so – had I made plans to measure my success this past September, I likely would have failed at what I expected to happen. However, being open to possibilities led me on even more profound and meaningful directions than I could have predicted while on that six-hour drive south after my retirement party. This experience is completely consistent with everything about my recovery over the years. I can never stand in the present, look back five years into the past and say “I saw that coming.” In fact, what has always come has been far greater than what I could conjure in my head. In this sense, success can mean just showing up and being ready. I can’t wait to see where that leads me five years from now. I don’t really have a clue at this point!