Sunday, February 1, 2015

When Losing is Winning

"Beautiful Imperfection"
- in my meditation garden -

Today millions of people from throughout the world will sit in front of their TV sets and watch the great American Super Bowl. In one sense I really enjoy Super Bowl Sunday - a national occasion for family and friends to gather together, share a meal, have some fun; however, another part of me is very uncomfortable about the kind of "Super Bowl fever" that seems to grip the entire country at this time of year. 

I think about the underlying message of a Super Bowl: "winning is good, losing is bad, success is valuable, failure is shameful, so do everything you can in order to win."  Many people nowadays live their entire lives by this "Super Bowl ethic," but the problem is that more often than not the opposite is true. Many times in life, losing is ultimately winning. 

In his book, Falling Upward, priest and author, Richard Rohr, offers this astute observation:

The most counter-intuitive message in most of the world's religions,
including and most especially Christianity is this:
We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right.
This might just be the central message of how spiritual growth happens.

On this Super Bowl Sunday in America, I have been doing a lot of thinking about this very profound insight into our human nature. I think it's quite true that the way to wisdom and deeper truth often follows a path of losing and doing it wrong rather than winning and doing it right. 

For one thing, in most cases, winning usually involves stepping on and sometimes even crushing those who are on the lower rungs of the ladder - in a sense this is the very nature of all competition. You get the job or get accepted to the school by beating out (sometimes even beating up) others with whom you compete; the rich stay rich by assuring that the poor stay poor. 

And yet, when I look at the teachings of Jesus or the teachings of the Buddha, I aways hear a message about leveling the "playing field" of life. Deep peace and enlightenment are found by recognizing the dignity of every human being and assuring that everyone has an equal place of respect at the table of life.

There is also a sense in which "losing" can be a great gift to the loser- it provides us with an opportunity to make ourselves vulnerable - and without vulnerability, we will never be able to grow spiritually. 

Losing invites us to reach out to others for help and support. When we get sick or are injured we turn to doctors and caregivers for help, when we don't get the job we turn to friends for comfort and compassion, when  we get lost we turn to others to help us find the way. People who have it all don't need anything or anyone else - they can walk alone. Those who fall into the category of the "have nots" can't live comfortably behind the walls of a guarded and protected ego.

The spiritual path is never walked alone. We make this journey by holding one another's hands, walking the way with all our fellow wounded, imperfect, vulnerably beautiful human beings, together we find "God," together we find deeper peace and greater truth.  

The lesson I take out of this Super Bowl Sunday is that in life wining isn't everything. In fact you will probably find that you are living a very lonely and unfulfilling existence if you live by the ethic, "Do everything you can to win." 

Sometimes losing is winning.

We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right.