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Measures of Success in Life

No spiritual or philosophical concept, no matter how simple or profound, is of much value unless it is practiced in daily life. The closer a seeker comes to truth, the closer he comes to discovering the tools that bring success in life. Indeed, the “secrets” of outer success are not secrets at all. In sports, business, law, the arts, and sciences the spiritual principles of success, even if appearing fortuitous, are the same. Life as we know it is short, but its lessons transcend a single lifetime. If the eternal nature of existence is not fully understood and incorporated into our lives, we cannot comprehend the larger truth fundamental to higher consciousness.

But what is success? The question has been debated for centuries. Definitions vary, depending on the level of consciousness and what we perceive as our purpose in life. The hedonist proclaims: “You only go around once, so go for all the gusto you can!” The object of life here is obviously limited, even if fleetingly satisfying. A more commonly accepted definition of success is acquisition of wealth, possessions, and power. Interestingly, this definition often has a spiritual dimension, though not immediately apparent.

Frequently, such people engage in philanthropy and community service, which are certainly noble and help to reconcile spirituality with a life devoted primarily to acquisition and power. Worldly achievements, community service, and noble gestures often result in schools, bridges, and highways named after the benefactor. In a material and competitive society, these have become widely accepted as the epitome of success. And they are no small accomplishments. Anyone who has struggled with the challenges of everyday life rightfully admires such accomplishments. Nonetheless, these pursuits are spiritually hollow. Even with the best of intentions, such acts of generosity often result in ill will, contempt, or dependency on the giver.

However, our definition of success can be expanded to encompass more than the experiences of a single lifetime. It can include the entire breadth of existence, in all dimensions of reality/illusion, and our ultimate spiritual purpose in life. Defined in this manner, the more materialistic measures of success are not only shallow, but also counterproductive to spiritual growth. The path to material or socially defined success is fraught with peril for those seeking a higher spiritual purpose in life. Indeed, while the end may justify the means under a materialistic definition of success, to the enlightened person, the means are more important than the end. The person who lives an honest life, honoring truth and living by its call, respecting others and giving to life and those around him, may accomplish more, spiritually, than the most honored figure in history.

What emerges is a definition of life and success in which outward accomplishment, though important, is not the most important measure. The competitive standard of life, defined as winning and acquiring, is only one part of a larger unfolding drama. Recognizing and living both dimensions simultaneously are the keys to the practice of higher consciousness. This is the greatest challenge we face. The two have many parallels and divergences. An unsuccessful job is usually viewed, from a physical life perspective, as a failure, and it can lead to feelings of defeat. But from a spiritual perspective, the measure is how well the individual maintains inner and outer balance and spiritual awareness throughout the experience. The test is whether she focuses on the spiritual lessons offered by the experience or the traditional measures of outward success or failure. This illustration carries into every aspect of our lives. Frustration, disappointment, deadlock, and delay are all around us all of the time. Too often, our focus on outcomes rather than inner processes affects the actual outcome and, more importantly, our spiritual growth. Viewing life from only one perspective destines us to be the effect of life, forever wandering, never finding the levers of control.

The person who understands the spiritual side of life and believes that prayer, visualization, and other inward processes are all that is required has, surprisingly, also missed the mark. So too has the individual who places exclusive emphasis on intellect, work, and outer efforts, for he does not realize that inner processes are equally important. The enlightened person understands that both are necessary, and in appropriate balance, to achieve complete success. Such a person understands that material success is only the means to a greater spiritual end.