How Far Would You Go and Failure

How far would you go for what you love, for what you value, for what is in your bones? Would you go past failure?

One of the world’s renowned teachers often talks about his own teacher and what it was like for her when she first started to teach what she loved. He describes this woman as a diminutive, plainly dressed, unassuming older lady who had raised five children and taught out of her home. While these characteristics were anything but “flashy”, she had a quiet passion, a deep wisdom and a profound love for the knowledge she wanted to pass on to students.

It was not in this woman’s nature to advertise or otherwise get out the word that she had opened her home for teaching. Quite naturally, no one showed up. Yet, every Sunday without fail she would prepare a talk for students, set up cushions for them to sit on and do the other things necessary to prepare her home for student visitors. And, every Sunday no one came. This did not deter or diminish her passion for teaching what she knew, so each Sunday she undertook the same rituals of preparation, students or not. Finally, after a year and a half one student showed up. And, for another year she taught this one student, and she taught him as if he was the only one on earth; for her he was. This unassuming woman went on to guide many others in their quest for wholeness, including the world renowned teacher who tells of her beginnings.

Can we imagine the love this woman had for the wisdom she wished to pass on? Can we imagine the deep faith she held in making her Sunday preparations for students who never came. Can we imagine teaching only one student for a year, as if he were her last? What the world might have thought of her seemingly futile efforts did not matter. Failure did not live in her; and this is so because where love is present, failure cannot live. And, we might ask, failure about what? Failure in not having students immediately arrive at her doorstep? Failure that only one student was taught for a year? These failures exist only in the world of comparison, the world of getting ahead and being better or having more than one’s neighbor. This is the world of illusion; the world of sand sifting through one’s fingers until the hand is empty; the world bereft of any value that will nourish the soul and feed the heart; and, in the final twist, the world where what is foremost at the end of one’s life is a lament of failure rather than a joy of living.