How Exactly Do You Define Failure and Success?

This morning I have had a particularly vivid and mildly disturbing dream. In which someone although they were injured and bleeding, was able to remove a circular portion of their scalp at the back of their head to reveal white skull underneath and then pop it back like a piece of turf. He did not want to go to hospital to have it looked at. They were injured and too stubborn to seek help. I escorted them there in a taxi and handed them over to A&E.

{Hair is the dreaming symbol for social self image.}

Earlier in that dream a famous scientist said to me “You do know you are a failure, don’t you?” To which I replied, “It depends on exactly how you define failure.”

Scientists like definitions. And in that world metrics of success and measures of esteem hold an important place in the socio-political ordering and hence access to research funding. They define the pecking order, or the greasy pole position. Kudos is important in that world.

There is a Japanese expression coined by Dōgen Zenji, todatsu*— which means a fish slipping out of the net. If one slips the net has one failed or succeeded?

In the context of all the markers of success in the materialistic world of self-advancement one has clearly failed to play the game of snakes and ladders well. One is not even on the board.

If one has slipped between the tethers back into the wider ocean or lake one has done a Houdini and gained a freedom. In this context the escaping fish has succeed whilst those who remain trapped have failed.

{Fish is the dreaming symbol for state of awareness.}

Zen is not fond of definition; it sees this as a way of being hooked. It is not buddha nature to define and assert accuracy, nor to argue the toss. One could argue that definition is a kind of net which surrounds a concept and makes it less holistic. Modern science is often about separating the variables. It can see the trees and not the wood.

People keen on success can succeed on one level in one context and fail terribly in others.

*Todatsu. This term is quite interesting. It is a short form for totai-datsuraku: totai is “penetrating to the matter” or “clear right through” along with datsuraku which means “shaken away” or “dropped through.”

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