How To Fail Better

Sometimes it seems life conspires to discourage you. Not only are your blog stats in the doldrums but you keep hearing about people who are more successful than you are. Let’s face it, that wouldn’t be hard: yes, I’ve had some minor successes but compared to where I want to be, compared to what I feel I deserve for my efforts and talents, I’m basically in the wilderness.

Hang on – haven’t we been here before? Hm. It’s twinging a little memory in the hinterland of my consciousness. There’s a word emerging – san..san-something. It’s not English. Hang on, I’ll get it in a minute… ah yes. That was it.

The thing was, recently I met someone more successful than me. We were introduced to each other excitedly as ‘fellow-writers’ but it was evident that the other person did not experience much fellow-feeling towards me. With hindsight, perhaps that was because they feared I might be more successful than they; however the expectations of others – that we would have fruitful conversations, that this person might be able to help my career in some way, were not fulfilled. Nor did I expect them to be; I’ve had too many such encounters in the past to anticipate that anything will come from them: in my experience few established writers want to come to the aid of the unestablished. Unless, of course, you want to attend their workshops…

However, it brought back all the old gloomy sensations of failure and inadequacy: all the sensations that in terms of what most people think of as success, I am nowhere. Yet if we stop to deconstruct that word we can reconfigure it as ‘now here.’ I know that’s etymologically incoherent but it can be therapeutic: and that brings us back to santosh. Contentment; the practice of being where you are and accepting that this is where you need to be. contentment – as I have to keep reminding myself – does not mean resignation. It does not mean accepting that you will stay where you are. It’s more like GPS; finding your position and acknowledging that the journey has to start (or continue) from where you are: that much as you’d like to be over there on the headland, you must first navigate the swamp.

Besides, I’ve always found petty rivalry most unattractive: which is why I’m not at all envious that Brian has just cycled half-way round the world and is now contemplating another 36-hour fast. I am utterly serene and my teeth are not gritted!

Kirk out

What a Load of Old Santosh

There’s not a lot of the old Santosh sloshing around these days: the practice of contentment is so far off the radar that most of us don’t even see it, and even those of us who practise are liable to forget it just at the crucial moment.  Though it stands at our elbow and nudges, we push it away.  Only let me have this, we say, then I’ll be content.  I just need this one thing to be happy.  But Santosh is a wily old bird, and she knows better.  ‘You come along-a me,’ she says, ‘and then you’ll have everything you need.’  You know she’s right but you resist, you delay; because you’re afraid that following santosh will mean accepting that you can never have the Thing.  And you really really want The Thing.  The Thing is what your whole life has been pointing at, and you can’t give up The Thing.

Give me the Thing!

Santosh is one of the practices of Hinduism and hence of yoga.  What with Eastern traditions being non-dualistic they don’t have Cardinal Virtues and Deadly Sins: even though the concept is roughly the same (as you’ll see in a minute) the approach is much more gentle.  Rather than choosing between heaven and hell, you arrive at different levels (as it were) and are reincarnated accordingly.  I don’t believe in actual reincarnation but the principle makes a lot more sense to me than an arbitrary ‘on-off’ switch where you’re going down a chute and God flips the switch to send you up to heaven or down to hell.  There are ten of these ‘practices’; five things to do and five to avoid.

Here are the niyamas, or things to practice:


Saucha, or cleanliness,

Tapas, or discipline (primarily self-discipline)

Svadhyaya, study of self and of texts

Ishvara-pranidhana, acceptance of a higher power (a bit like the practice in Alcoholics Anonymous, and susceptible of many interpretations).

But before you get to these there are five yamas, or things to avoid:

Ahimsa, non-violence (the corner-stone of Gandhi’s philosophy)

Satya, truth-telling (Gandhi also spoke of satyagraha, or ‘truth-power’)

Asteya, non-stealing

Aparigraha, non-greed

Brahmacharya, either celibacy or the right direction of sexual energy (this does not necessarily imply homophobia but a focussing on sexual energy to foster relationships rather than on personal gratification.)

The thing about these is they all work together; and it occurred to me this morning that santosh and aparigraha, or the avoidance of greed, are very much in tandem.  If you are satisfied with what you have you do not crave more (this does not apply to those whose basic needs are not met) so it could be said that the constant striving after achievement is a kind of greed.  That sounds a little harsh, I know, but in an age where being driven is seen as some sort of virtue, it might help to see it in that way.

Kirk out



What Do You Need?

I was listening to the radio this morning where they were talking about the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales:

It’s in a place I can’t spell pronounced ‘Ma-hunth-leth’, where an eccentric Earl and an academic joined with other like minds to establish a place for alternatives to the gas-guzzling, power-devouring, wasteful, land-filling norms of our society to be explored and practised.  One of them had lived among the Masai and came back thinking that once you have the basics in life, anything else is superfluous.  And that set me thinking.  It always puts me in mind of King Lear when people say that: I hear his plaintive voice across the centuries, pleading:

‘O reason not the need!  Our basest beggars/are in some smallest thing superfluous./  Allow not nature more than nature needs/ man’s life is cheap as beast’s.’

So, what do we need?  Beyond the basics – food, water, shelter, clothing – what do we need?  Well, I would argue that we need certain rights: the right to reproduce is crucial; and beyond that, the right to a voice – both as a people and as an individual – in fact I think we need Maslow here.  Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is the ‘go-to’ structure when you are thinking along these lines:

One thing we have here in abundance this morning is: sun!  It blazes into the living-room and creeps across the floor minute by minute: when it reaches the back door I shall go and sit in it.  We definitely need the sun – and not only to live; we need it in order to be cheerful.  So, having spent the whole of March complaining about the cold and dull weather, I am determined to enjoy it.  My meditation this morning was on contentment, something I find hard to practice.   Of course you can’t – and shouldn’t – be content when you genuinely lack things you need: and far worse than that is to tell others who don’t have these things to be content.  But what is does help with is worrying about the future and fretting about things you don’t have.  I am currently fretting about not having a decent kitchen and wanting a composting toilet and a greywater recycling facility, not to mention a wood-burning stove and and and and

Yes, a bike with a trailer.  I sometimes want a car; but not often.  When I see the state of the roads and observe the frankly horrible way in which people behave on them, I’m usually grateful to be out of it.  Not to mention the expense…

So what do we need?  In order to sustain life, we don’t need a mobile phone or the internet.  However, it is increasingly hard to function and interact without these things.  But! we have swapped instant communication for real society: we have exchanged instant messaging for proper conversation.  I had a row with Mark last night because I was fed up of being in the same room as him but not interacting, having to shout in order to say something because he is always on the BLOODY COMPUTER and wearing headphones!!!  It’s not only his fault: I’m the same sometimes, but we need to do something about it: we need to make sure we share experiences, otherwise a marriage just becomes a pair of parallel lives.

And we don’t need that.

Kirk out

PS  One of the things I wanted to share with Mark last night was the excellent new series ‘The Politician’s Husband’.  We shall make a point of watching the next episode together: