“Everyone who wants to follow the warrior’s path has to rid himself of the compulsion to possess and hold onto things.”
Carlos Castaneda, The Eagle’s Gift
Out here in rural Arizona, lots of my neighbors are armed to the teeth, ready to fight to the death, I guess, for their property and maybe even their survival. They are not hunters, but many of them “carry,” as they call it, taking their guns with them in their vehicles when they go to town and packing their pistols when they take a walk along our private dirt roads.
There is almost no crime of any kind in our area. A highway patrolman and two sheriff’s deputies live in our neighborhood. Mary and I don’t bother locking our house or our car.
My neighbors are all pretty successful, if we count material well-being as an essential element of success. We’ve all pretty much achieved the American Dream in that regard.
And my neighbors are in no mood to lose what they have. One of them told me that he has a gun in nearly every room of his house, carefully hidden. Even a clever thief will not likely find every one of them, he told me, convincing himself that he will be able to fire away when need be.
Another neighbor, anxious about the state of the union, told me he has 100,000 rounds of ammunition for his semi-automatic rifle. I taunted him humorously, “Geez, Are you getting ready to mow down the hordes when they come to get your tv?” He didn’t laugh.
Americans, according to recent polls, are feeling anxious these days, worried that they might lose their wealth, their opportunities, their safety, or their freedom.
This anxiety is the result of defining success in a way that makes people vulnerable. If getting anything and keeping it is necessary for success, we all have plenty of worry ahead.
I’m ready to lose everything
I avoid defining my success around getting and keeping anything I currently enjoy— my money, my house, my cars and toys, my status among my fellow humans, or even my good health.
My predilection is to continue to enjoy those gifts, but I want to be completely prepared to lose any form of outward security. I imagine it all gone, every bit of it, and I laugh like a good warrior should.
If all of my goodies disappear overnight—if my material well-being, social standing, and health evaporate all at the same time, I want to be poised, ready to survive in the best possible way.
When I tell my friends that I am prepared to let go of everything, they readily admit to their attachments. They aren’t prepared to lose their nice house or their money. Being in a warrior’s state of consciousness doesn’t seem normal to them: fighting to keep the material gains that they’ve worked for seems a lot more normal. They think I’m just being provocative or silly.
I remind them about the camel and the eye of a needle, but they think they can get through the narrow gate bloated with all of their goodies, even the extra stuff they’ve got stashed in their rented storage unit.
They are locked onto a definition of success that we all imbibed growing up in America. That definition requires getting things and getting the admiration of others who share their definition of success. It means they have some clout, some power, in the world of people. This kind of success requires that other people notice what you have achieved.
At its worst, believing in the standard societal view of success can ruin relationships. People who are afraid of losing things often become controlling in their closest relationships, unable to let go when others need to pursue a new direction or even a different point of view. This attachment explains spousal abuse. It explains abusive bosses, intent on driving employees to achieve their criteria for winning.
If you can’t succeed in getting and keeping things and people, you will be unhappy and feel like a failure, or you will feel sorry for yourself and create a victim story to explain why you don’t have what you want. You will be convinced that someone is doing something to you.
In other words, living with the conventional definition of success leaves us vulnerable and anxious, even with extra food stored in the basement for catastrophe, and guns loaded for the mayhem that could be ahead.
A warrior’s success is the ability to sustain a poised consciousness, no matter what is gained or lost in the outside world. The most successful person in the world doesn’t depend on any other person’s acknowledgement or any particular outcome in his or her life.
Let’s say that all of my money, all of my monetary security, disappears. A warrior is prepared for this loss, although my initial reaction may be shock or despair. But, quickly, I will remember that my cup is filled to the brim: I have everything I need. I am poised, lighthearted even now. Maybe I see that I made mistakes with investments. Maybe my money was stolen, but I won’t be devastated like Bernie Madoff’s clients were. Instead, I will learn whatever lessons are presented and I will move on, broke, maybe, but joyful.
My job may be lost in the recession. Jobs are scarce and I can’t find one that is as good as my old job that paid well and offered some social status. I’m nobody now, just another unemployment statistic.. Sustaining my poise, I will live without complaint. I’ll survive the best way I can. Grateful and creative, I will embrace each day. My job was never me. My job is just what I do or used to do. I am the same warrior I was before I lost my job.
All a warrior has are her challenges and her decisions, and that is enough.
Weirdly, we’re much more likely to gain material well-being, good health, and valuable relationships if we aren’t attached to them. My success is being present in the moment, where I will discover innumerable opportunities to gain whatever I want. Unattached, I find it much easier to be connected to other people in loving ways, connected to this stupendous universe, and connected to my own loving path. Not demanding conventional success for myself, I’m more likely to feel grateful all of the time and more likely to tap my creativity as I make my way through life. Free of the pressures caused by attachments to conventional success, I find it much easier to maintain a light heart no matter what is happening.
Not needing anything outside myself to be successful, I am more likely to be very successful in worldly terms.
Changing your definition of success
As children we were deeply imprinted by our society with the common criteria for success.
Only a few will seriously examine those definitions in their lifetime; instead most people will measure their lives by how much they have accumulated and how well they have avoided serious trouble.
They may need to lose everything to wake up.
But for those who sustain a poised consciousness, there is no fear of loss: success has already arrived. Poised, we are able to take whatever life presents to us, embrace it fully, and live a life of vibrant joy and practical advantage.
Our cups filled to the brim, we are always successful.
There is just one step to becoming the world’s most successful person: redefine success as sustaining our poise.