Meditating on Success



"Success isn't about what you get. It's about who you become." - Steven Barnes

This quote floated across my feed this morning. Steven Barnes means it.

The thing that most struck me about this statement wasn’t just the truth of it, but the realization that though most of us will nod our heads in agreement, I also know how many of us don’t believe this, deep down.

We may not equate success with stuff, but still equate success with becoming a person who: has the right job, or is some amount of famous, or has this amount of credibility, or lives a life filled with exciting stories or a life that feels big, somehow. Life feels big if we shift ourselves to allow it to feel big. Life can also feel small, quiet, ordinary. Bigness or smallness doesn’t equal success or failure - success or failure can occur at any level of that spectrum. What equals success or failure for me, exists in answering yes to the following questions: am I learning? Are there at least one or two people I can share deeper thoughts and experiences with? Do my heart and soul feel nourished by my life? Do I have food and shelter? Do I wake up each day curious about the tasks at hand? Am I able to engage, and to be present? Am I of service?

I felt just as successful when working for room and board and $200 a month as I do now, with my current small amount of relative fame and the lovely home I am privileged to share. I also recall the times when everything felt like a struggle, and I didn’t feel successful at all, even though there were several things in my life that looked like success. I felt lonely. I wasn’t at ease within myself. I felt confusion – there was dissonance between the inside and outside of myself. My life, words, actions, and relationships weren’t reflecting the person my soul wanted to be.

What does your soul want to be? What activities in your life help you to answer this question? For me, the key was not even in the spiritual practices I was already doing, some of which still help support my life today. For me, the key to changing my life toward one that felt successful was finally sitting down on the meditation cushion. Once I sat down, I realized I’d been running from parts of myself for years. There were parts of my soul and personality that I’d been trying to control, suppress, deny, or just avoid. They all sat with me. I suffered with this. I hated it. These parts squirmed and shouted and complained. Then my relationship to myself began to change. meditating hands

This practice steered me toward a life that built my being from the inside out, so that everything began to emanate from my core, and consistency became easy, rather than the struggle it had been. The practice of sitting with myself allowed me to become who I was meant to be. Slowly, success became a way of life. No matter what hardships, irritations, or challenges occur, there is now a sense of success, because I know who I am, and also know I am still in the process of becoming.


What is your relationship to success?

26 Responses to “Meditating on Success”

  1. Lyssa

    So much of this sits at the heart of my questing right now, all the definitions of success having been dictated to me by family, the mainstream, etc. and I am in the process of figuring out what *I* want. If we all could reframe the definition of success as the deepest satisfaction of our being, what power we would reclaim from everything that constantly tries to dictate that message. Thinking of that alone is immense, a little frightening.

    Sitting with your post, the following response came out (and I let it):

    When will the answer come?
    The answer comes when you stop running from it.
    When will the answer come?
    The answer comes when you start listening for it.
    When will the answer come?
    The answer is with you, waiting for you to embrace it.
    When will the work be done?
    The work will be done when you start doing it.
    When will the work be done?
    The work will always be here, waiting for you to engage it.
    When will the work be done?
    The work will be done when you dare to do it.
    When will I be the person I want to be?
    Every moment you take a breath.
    When will I be the person I want to be?
    When you look into the mirror and see what is before you.
    When will I be the person I want to be?
    Every moment you love yourself in all your parts.

  2. Thorn

    That is gorgeous. Thanks for engaging with this so deeply. You are right – this can feel immense. Yet oh so worth it.

  3. Lyssa

    Thank you for the space to open. (And all the help, and the compliment. :))

  4. Lyssa

    (Also it is totally unformatted, because I have no idea how to do the italics here. Yet. :))

  5. Tina

    Taoism taught me that small lives ar neot necessairly unsuccessful lives. It let me come to p lace where I knew that I was successful as long as those around me were cared for, because I’m a carer by nature. Caring for living beings is my daily connection to the divine. So if my animals, my partner, my elderly mum, our land and the trees we plant are happy then I’m successful. I try to extend that to the wider world as much as I am able to, whether via work, money or just plain being nice to people to make their day better. I also try to use my artistic talents in some way, not to be out there and rich or famous, but because those are gifts I have been given and I should use them and it makes me happier to use them. I don’t have a ‘big game’ temperament. I know that about myself, so I don’t push myself for things that others might say make them happy, but that I know would make me very miserable indeed. I do believe though that we make the world a better place by being happy in the place we are in and doing what makes us happy too, and by radiating that happiness out. It is enough for me.

    • Thorn

      Tina, how wonderful that you’ve found your way toward deep success that is clearly your own!

  6. P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    While I am definitely in agreement with you, and with Barnes, I’ve noticed more and more that many in modern Paganism are pushing a different notion.

    The people who “don’t have their life together” in some way are denigrated, and often those who “don’t have their life together” are said to be those who don’t have a steady job, or who don’t have a steady place to live, etc.

    While I have work at the moment, I’ve not had it for many of the years of the past decade, and I’ve never had truly full-time employment other than for four months thus far in that time. I don’t live on my own, and can’t afford to. And yet, I’m happy and feel good about myself most of the time–certainly, I wish I could do better in some areas, and am working toward it, but a job won’t just appear “magically,” and all the magic I’ve done in connection with real-life efforts has not helped much either. While it doesn’t bother me most of the time, it does bother me when these artificial benchmarks are held up as “norms” and as standards for judging other people’s spiritual fitness in modern Paganism. I know you’re not doing that, but I’m upset by how many people actually do it, and get applauded for doing so by many. Hmm…

    • Thorn

      Sufenas, thanks for sharing this. It feels important, and reminds me of the adage, “never compare your insides with someone else’s outsides” and is a great reminder that the opposite can also be true. Inner benchmarks are important.

      Leaping to conclusions and judgements is something most of us fall into at some time or another. I have certainly been guilty of it, and try to stay more “clean” around this by continuing to just do my own work.

      Your insights are always welcome!

  7. Aquila Ka Hecate

    Yes, it’s sometimes disheartening how many of us allow the culture to dictate whether or not we are successful. It is our own measure we should be using – and Thorn, you appear to be using it.
    Terri in Joburg

  8. Cath

    Oh this is a big one, Thorn. I was repeatedly judged and found wanting during the years I was unable to work, and that rubs off on a person. My self-esteem was battered by the time I moved to Kansas, and didn’t truly recover until I got a part-time job, then a full-time job. Over the years I had to define and redefine success for myself, and I still get caught in the “yuppie trap” and even in the the “Leave It To Beaver” trap. I have to consciously step back and disengage, remind myself that life is to be lived by MY standards and on MY timetable. I may not have things our culture takes for granted like a car, a cell phone, cable TV–but I have my own home, a young fruit and berry orchard, a family that cherishes me the way I cherish them. I have found a way to work as a Healing Priestess, I have found a way to make art again despite my compromised wrists, and I have found a way to be of service in my community. I even found a way for my partner to quit a deadend, deadening job and go back to school. I may not live with the outer trappings of success as defined by western culture, but I do live the Greenest life I am able, with success in all the things which really matter to me.

    • Thorn

      thanks for sharing your journey with us! Your life sounds pretty fantastic. Well done for following and finding what is important to you. We all have our particular way to contribute to the world. Sounds you are doing that, and doing it well.

      • Cath

        Oh my, thank you very much Thorn! My life just feels ordinary to me, “this is who I am, this is what I do…” It’s rather startling to be reminded that it isn’t really so ordinary. *soft smile*

  9. Fourge

    Growing up, I didn’t have a lot. My birth was the product of the love shared between my then 15 year old mother and 19 year old father both with families who were struggling financially. Ironically, I’m thankful for this. I grew up with the mindset that I didn’t need things to be happy. My fun was in sitting in the cart in the grocery store, talking to strangers about my mommy!

    Transitioning from teen to young adult has been the strongest struggle of my life so far. I feel the pressures of my family on me, even in their silent thoughts: have a job, be in school, get that car, make your own life. This is how they would like me to succeed.

    A question one day came to me, a question that still comes to me even now: why don’t I have the same drive for attaining and obtaining those things as they do for me? The answer came in the form of a funny, uplifting feeling in my heart and a joy in my mind. I am already happy. Yes, I still live in a 60+ year old home that is falling apart, small and enlivened with six other people. No, I don’t have a job, previously due to social and personal fears which I finally faced. No, my life isn’t where my family would like it to be, or even where part of my being would like me to be at. And then following this thought are all those warm feelings inside, constantly reminding me that I am already happy within and of my own being. Those other things may be used to support my life. And hey, maybe someday I will have them because, well why not! If I want them, I’ll go for them. But I am already successful because I am already becoming the person I’ve always wanted to be. And blessed I am to becoming this marvelous, wide-eyed beauty at such a young age. And even within this success, I realize my journey isn’t done, and that there is more to my becoming, more success and more happiness. Meanwhile, I live in a hostile environment seeking my bridge to outer peace. Yet I am happy. Within. And it radiates outward. I see it.

    I tried forcing my shift. I’ve been studying Paganism since I was twelve, but was never introduced to solitary practice until a few years ago. My hungry soul salivated. I was over eager. Meditation was always a favorite… until I started increasing my sitting time! Even so, it helped me to sit with my ugly parts and watch them throw their tantrums until they’d finally grow tired and quiet down. That space would finally come in. Thankfully, this switched my mindset so that I’ve been able to do this throughout my day, to sit with the parts of me that struggle to get along, all the meanwhile using Kala Rite to help with the shifting.

    These are my questions: am I exercising my body? Do I laugh frequently? Do I say my hello’s as I pass people on the sidewalk? Am I marveling at the glory of the Oak and Palm trees riding on my bike? Did I give my thanks to the many different beings that like to bear witness to my practice this morning in the tent out back? Have I sung my soul into a harmonious frenzy? Was I myself today?
    My success, as well as most (if not all) of my current work, is based on connection and interconnection. If I am engaging this, no matter the chaos, no matter the peace, then I am being successful.

    Thank you for this post.

    • Thorn

      The journey is never done unless we think it is! Fourge, how great that you came to these realizations and have decided how it is you want to live your life, and to let your life unfold!

      I always feel profoundly grateful to read responses like yours and Cath’s and Sufenas’ and Tina, and everyone else who writes in. We build the world together.

      • Fourge

        Okay, so I’ll give you another example using something that’s happened recently.

        In looking for work, I final got my first call for an interview. My Wand and I have really been bonding, and we made a little magic of our own since I now had more information to work with after facing my personal and social fears. Can I say, “magic works”?

        Now, a long hard day was made for getting things prepared for my interview which was scheduled for the next morning. Though I thought I had planned things well enough, all of a sudden it’s half an hour to midnight, I still have to cut my hair, take a shower, and prepare things for the next day, knowing I had to get up five hours from then (less since I had all that work to do), to get up and do practice, which I know isn’t nearly as effective without enough sleep, to then travel an hour on bus, walk half an hour to the office, to then sit for a nearly hour long interview, and speak, think, and act effectively… with less than five hours of sleep and lack of yummy practice!

        I broke down. I tried to simply let myself soften. But it was too much for me. In going beyond softening, I realized why this was: this opportunity was very important to me. This may have been the ticket to the outer chaos I’m living in. And so, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to go through all this as effectively and as whole as I would like, man that really brought me down.

        I decided to call the next day and cancel the interview. I felt shameful and disappointed in myself for letting slip the one rare opportunity I was given. I felt very unsuccessful at this point.

        Then I wondered yesterday how I could say that I felt and was successful when I couldn’t even engage my will enough to complete things more efficiently (because I know why it was I screwed up, why my plans didn’t go so smoothly). The answer that came then was because I am successful in who I am as a person. I have invested time, space, and energy in myself. Yep, I let a great opportunity slip through my fingers. But I showed myself that day that I do have a strong will for the benefit of my life. I got things done left and right, even if it was a bit messy towards the end. I had limited sources, and I was successful in engaging my will and following my endeavor that day. That makes me a successful person.

        I asked myself how I could call myself a successful person and held the conversation that was made as I lay in bed last night. During that, I remembered what you said, “The journey is never done unless we think it is!” And you’re right. I had a pretty big setback. I deal with the Tarot, and I knew the setback was coming from somewhere anyway, so I was prepared somewhat. But know what? I still have my health, and I am still alive and thriving. I’ve been successful enough so that after my fall that next day filled with the sense of failure, the next day after that, I woke up and went back to the altar when I know that in the past, weeks would have gone by before I would have come back. The journey indeed is never done unless we think it is! I am growing^_^

        P.S.- I got called back this afternoon for a rescheduling of the interview. Maybe success outside of me is starting to blend in with the success within me. Thankfully, this call came to me after a lengthy practice of deciphering what I’m doing, what I wish to be doing, and for what reasons. My attention is still open, but my focus has changed, and so will the flow of my willpower unleashed.

  10. Rosalind Lord

    There have been countless times I’ve felt pressured to “have it all” and live the yuppie lifestyle; both by the media and by well-meaning friends and family members.

    A long time ago, I even had an opportunity to live in Scarsdale or some other affluent suburb with a guy I was seriously romantically involved with.

    Yet, I declined this opportunity; for reasons I’m still not sure why.

    I guess I had this vague fear that if I did go through with it, I’d end up living a lie, feeling the compulsion to fit in with people I’d have very little in common with. I had gone to school with these types of people, and I definitely did not fit in with them. The possibility of having them in my life again – even though they might be nice people now – just didn’t appeal to me.

    The nice thing about being an adult is being able to choose the people you want to associate with, and the kind of life you really want to lead. That, to me, is success.

  11. John Carosella

    Thank you, Thorn. Quite beautiful, like the night sky. Depth, brilliance, full of points of light, welcoming the dark. (Your gifts are showing. 😉

  12. Jim Dickinson

    I am not one for passive meditation, but I do tend to be able to ‘ride the wave’ while doing other things – driving, singing, working out, ritual…. something that keeps the monkey brain occupied while I think and seek. Active mediation?

    Anyway… I think the best thing (in this vein of conversation) that I have changed about myself in the last couple of years is that I less and less frequently ask other’s opinions about what I am doing or how I am doing it. I try to decide what I want to do and what I do not want to do – as free of other people’s agendas as I can be and still live in community. I slip, of course. I get insecure and seek affirmation, but I recover faster than before, I think. I have instead tried to look at the effect of my choices on those around me and adjust to get the results I think are healthier – for all involved. I less and less engage in things that I believe are unhealthy (on any level) and have tried consistently to disengage from the ‘principal’ of things in favor of what ‘is’. It has been one of the more liberating things in my life – which has been too much a history of trying to please others. It has perhaps come later than it could have and it is a work in progress, of course, but I am only 48. 😉

    As for things…I am generally not attached to them and frequently have to be reminded which things are actually mine. I often think, however, that is due to the blessing of always having enough. I have rarely had to struggle for basic material well-being. I have almost always had more than ‘enough’, generally require little beyond basic needs (though I appreciate perks) and I have rarely been seduced by the ‘new’ in the same way I observe in others sometimes. That is not on purpose nor through hard-won enlightenment nor dedication to eco-reform, etc. I think it is, for me, more an innate ‘orientation’ – for better or worse. Due to this general ‘orientation’, I guess, I rarely associate things with success. I associate things with money. Perhaps my feelings on this would be very different had the blessing of ‘enough’ not been so consistent in my life (and I give thanks for that blessing.) So, I do not begrudge the newly financially solvent indulging in ‘things’ – as long as it doesn’t seduce for a lifetime, all is well. Ha.

    So, am I successful? I really don’t even ask the question very often anymore. It seems to require comparisons, and counting, and ledgers of good and bad, and that, for me, seems to lead to dark places. I have explored the dark plenty and, for the moment at least, I have decided that there is little more for me to learn there. Past time to lighten up. Ha. So, I prefer to ask if a particular event or effort or project was successful – not to keep a running ledger of them and not to ask whether or not I, as a being, am ‘a success’. Given my history, it seems improbably that I would come to a near-buddhist attitude about it all – and it might be a phase. Who knows? But, I mostly now try to ask ‘do I feel right with myself and are the majority of the parts of me aligned in this moment?’ (I never expect all parts to agree! ha!) I suppose, if I say ‘yes’, then, in that moment, I am succeeding? I’ll see how long this all lasts.

    Sorry if this rambling post is too long… edit at will. 😉

    • Thorn

      not too long at all, Jim! Thanks.

      I like where you’ve taken this. The recovery from seeking outside approval feels important. The more quickly we recenter, the stronger and more resilient we can become. Also, that sense of *feeling* right seems very helpful to me.

      I would disagree that a sense of success needs to come from comparison to things or people outside ourselves. That is a way the overculture teaches us to be – but I think we can reject that and still have a sense of success.

      (and I wouldn’t call sitting practice “passive” – according to all my parts that used to squirm, it was certainly a very active process! 😉 )

      • Jim Dickinson

        “(and I wouldn’t call sitting practice “passive” – according to all my parts that used to squirm, it was certainly a very active process! )”

        HA! Point taken!

    • Cath

      “But, I mostly now try to ask ‘do I feel right with myself and are the majority of the parts of me aligned in this moment?”

      Yes. Yes, this is exactly what I am seeking–this is a great ddefinition of success for me! Thank you, Jim!

  13. Krista Salvatore

    This is a very nice post! Thanks for sharing this information. Every person has a different definition of successful and your realization was very nice.


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