In our daily lives, we succumb to the highs and lows of life. We get what we want, then we miss out. We succeed in some task, then we fail. We get lucky, then we fear we’re cursed. When things are good, we’re happy. Else, we feel crappy. It’s pretty rudimentary stuff that we get the knack of by the time we turn six years old.
But what if our understanding of the highs and lows of life are wrong?
Forgive me for not being able to find the context in which Sri Aurobindo said or wrote these words, but his quote, “By your stumbling, the world is perfected” illustrate that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of our approach to life.
Consider a baby learning to walk. She first has to learn how to stand with support, then without support and then start to take steps by mimicking her caregivers.
When she falls, is it that she made a mistake? In the strictest sense, I suppose one could say yes. But is that the point? She’s learning. The whole point of learning is to make mistakes and aim for better the next time. She stumbles, yes, but she’s perfecting her walk.
The difference between the baby and us is that the baby still hasn’t learnt to look at life in the way most of us do. She still hasn’t learnt that once she stumbles, she should cry. Parents who read baby books are explicitly told not to make fearful expressions when their child falls so as to prevent them from associating failure with suffering.
But eventually they learn to do just that. What Aurobindo is challenging us to do is to consider the baby learning to walk.
Maybe our start-up was unsuccessful. Maybe we’re recently divorced or ended a relationship and it feels like a divorce. Maybe we lost our jobs or failed to get one. Maybe we’re trying to change our state of mind, master a skill or we’re having a hard time shaking some uncomfortable emotion.
It is likely that we set our sights on achieving this thing and having it fill us with fulfilment but when we failed we started to feel like crap. We feel like crap because we forgot that we were supposed to fail.
If you live your life with the notion that you will fail rather than with an aversion to failure, you will probably see the lesson the failure is trying to show you quicker and make corrections faster. You wouldn’t think that your goal is beyond you. You’d simply realise that you are not a match to your goal yet.
Best of all, you won’t suffer.
You assumed you knew enough, but you didn’t. Many of us try something because we think it’s a piece of cake. This implies that if we thought it was hard, we probably wouldn’t do it, even if we really wanted to!
The infant cannot relate to any of this. She falls and then carries on because she wants to walk. She doesn’t resent that she didn’t walk from the jump — pun not intended. She doesn’t exactly expect to fail, she just accepts it and continues on her goal because of her innate desire to walk.
Let’s extrapolate this further. When our ancestors committed atrocities, we saw the impact of those actions. When they performed blessings, we saw the impact of those actions. When they did absolutely nothing, we saw the impact of those actions.
Regardless of what we learnt from the past, did we not learn? Do we not have information at our disposal that we can use to perfect our world?
The real question is, are we going to use it?
Some will say that the powers that be do not wish to change the status quo. We’re going to hell in a hand-basket. Fair enough, but is this not the stumble? If the powers that be do not know how to make money or do whatever it is they want to do without destroying others or the planet in the process, this is still a part of the stumble Aurobindo is talking about.
I understand that we’re running out of time and that perhaps we cannot afford certain mistakes. The baby may be learning to walk but surely we must rescue her from the cliff, right? Absolutely! We should do all that we can with what we’ve learnt. The sad truth is, what if we can’t save her?
I really didn’t want to end this on a sour note, but so what if I do? The whole point of this is to highlight that if we succumb to failure, it is because we lacked knowledge. It doesn’t matter if some of us know and others don’t. It’s just like when you get caught in two minds and take the route that led to failure. You kick yourself and say, “I knew better!” Yeah, sort of. But you did the best you could.
But if we say we know better, well, let’s do it. If we’ve seen the errors and successes of history and are ready to take the teachings and make them a part of our lives and our world, let’s do it. We certainly have the innate desire to live and live well, and there are people who are already doing their damn best to assure that we have a future.
Let us all take our lumps, lemons and our lessons and make as close to perfect lemonade as possible.
Thanks to Mark Brux for inspiring me to write this. Hopefully you got something out of it!