“It should however give pause for thought if what we do is pleasing to all; because this is a sign that it is not good: the outstanding is only for the few” — Balthazar Gracian, Aphorism 245.
One of the most common and misunderstood ideas of the modern world is that of “equality.” We see this clearly with the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality in which just showing up to participate is considered a monumental achievement. We can also see this when individuals seek to please everyone with a sanitized and homogenized idea, a one size-fits-all approach which at best can only satisfy the lowest common denominator for a limited time.
This fundamentally damaged paradigm stems from the obsession with “winning”, as only winning can bring happiness in most minds. In reality, there can only be one winner. Yet in an effort to artificially manipulate this painful reality, modernity creates ribbons and trophies for everyone in essence turning the valid winner into an “elitist” or in men’s case, “toxic masculinity.”
One of the most fundamental flaws in the “everyone is a winner” mentality is that this ersatz mindset removes the value found in losing.
Vital lessons are found in losing — lessons in most cases much more valuable than found in winning. We can see this clearly within the domain of martial arts whereby the student consistently improves only by learning from his or her mistakes, not by constantly “winning”.
The modern world attempts to hide the lessons of losing within an artificial landscape of false egalitarianism.
This in essence prevents the individual from truly progressing or transforming and solidifies the egoic status quo in a landscape of artificial equality. If one truly want to learn or grow or transform on any level, one must experience pain and loss. The seeds of growth are discovered deep within the soil of defeat, if one has the eyes to see in the supposed darkness of disappointment.
What is truly valuable is what few can achieve. We should strive for excellence in all aspects of our lives but should also develop the discrimination to be able to mine the gold in our failures as well! In martial arts or sports training, the idea of equality can be manipulated to some extent. Boxers can fight in specific weight classes, students can be limited to sparring only equal belt ranks, or age grouping in athletic endeavors can all present a semblance of “equality.”
Yet even within these manufactured limitations, only one will emerge victorious. There is nothing sad or depressing about this. Only an individual obsessed with the media driven idea of “winning” would be depressed upon coming in second or third or even last. Each victory has a lesson and each loss has a lesson.
This idea of false equality is also seen in the modern spiritual realms, the sacrosanct environment wherein all must be treated as special or the student quickly finds another teacher. This reflects the insidious seeping of the commercial mindset into the spiritual, where students or seekers see themselves almost as “customers” who are “always right.”
The Solar rays of the Soul perhaps do shine equally upon all, however the psychological and emotional mental lens which must filter the solar radiations are far from equal in each individual. This is referred to in Sanskrit as “adhikara”, the qualifications of the student to be able to study or comprehend respective teachings. Each person approaches a subject with a unique background of social and spiritual conditionings, and more often than not possess an obscured or fractured mental lens so to speak.
Long term consistent practice and study works slowly and methodically to clear, refine and polish the mental lens so it can accurately reflect the solar rays of the Soul. This does not and cannot occur overnight. If often takes years and from an Eastern perspective make take lifetimes! This is not a popular concept but nevertheless cannot be manipulated as time follows its own mysterious pace.
We can also see this when athletes experience an injury and are unable to train. This is an extremely frustrating experience yet can provide a unique vantage point for inner transformation. Our injuries often reveal our weak links which must be future targets for specific training in order to grow stronger. Physical injuries can also force the individual to slow down and reexamine other aspects of his or her life or practice in order to refocus and redefine mental and spiritual goals and perhaps work on other aspects of personal cultivation which are neglected.
The fighter who in injured and is unable to punch can use this recovery time to dive deeper into mental training, deepening the study of meditation and breathing practices as well as reflective reading to refine his or her mental environment. Often an injury on one body part can allow us to focus on other areas we tend to neglect while reveling in the ease of the ordinary. I often see this with fighters who injury a hand or a shoulder and then assume they must abandon the physical training in order to recover. In these cases, the fighter can focus on such activities as improving overall flexibility ( so often neglected in pugilistic fields) and leg strength; these two areas of training, flexibility and leg stability, are the literal roots of longevity in fighting and are often neglected. Therefore there is always a new angle to examine when recovering from an injury.
So remember to strive for excellence on all levels, push yourself into areas of discomfort and uncertainty in order to grow. But never forget the hidden potential waiting to be discovered in the darkness of failure. True champions are formed just as much from their failures as their victories. And no amount of money or advertising can change this sobering reality.
See each opportunity as an alchemical doorway which will reveal unique glimpse of the Soul light and always be ready for surprises. Once your eyes adjust to this Soul vision new vistas of possibility will open before you which were once hidden and obscured. You are guaranteed nothing but a unique experience, don’t waste it.