April 2020

“To laugh is to risk appearing a fool, to weep is to risk appearing sentimental. To reach out to another is to risk involvement, to expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self. To place your ideas and dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss. To love is to risk not being loved in return, to live is to risk dying, to hope is to risk despair, to try is to risk failure. But risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing. The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he cannot learn, feel, change, grow or live. Chained by his servitude he is a slave who has forfeited all freedom. Only a person who risks is free”.  

– William Author Ward

After hiking for an hour in the Boulder River Wilderness in the Washington Cascades, I found this magical and lush river canyon cut into ancient rock walls. After a brief but slippery descent down the steep and muddy embankment, I landed on a soft patch of sand and rain-slicked river rocks along the shore. It was peaceful and serene, yet vibrantly alive with the fragrant scent of a damp, mature evergreen forest soaking the air and a whispering rush of the water. I stood motionless for a minute, hoping to feel and perhaps realize a deeper sense of this place and what its essence may reveal in the silent moments between thoughts. What immediately emerged was the profound wisdom of its timelessness: a place molded, sculpted, alive in a theater rich with flora and fauna, delighting in an endless dance through the seasons over eons of time, a place that expresses the fundamental nature of the flow of life.

“Failure is simply success in progress . . . for the only mistakes in life are the lessons not learned.” 

– Albert Einstein

Like our human experience of life, the river encounters obstacles in the form of boulders, and sometimes narrow and confining walls that it must find its way around and through on its journey forward, as this is the very nature of its being. And, although life and death are a natural part of the forest environment, there was something strikingly metaphorical about the dead and decaying tree that had laid itself across the river, coming to rest on the canyon wall, that somehow struck me as a symbol of failure in a context of human endeavor.

Through the ages much has been said about the purpose and meaning of failure in any and all aspects of the human experience. As we have come to know in our own lives, the path to success in any endeavor is strewn about with episodes and artifacts of our efforts that reflect near misses, or often, complete failures of one sort of another. As Einstein observed, failures are negative only if we don’t appreciate and thereby acquire the benefit of the newly found wisdom embedded and revealed in their experiencing. We experience success more often, in fact, when we realize and embrace the knowing that we learn far more from our failures than our successes. So, it is my experience that success is for celebrating and failure is for learning. As such, success, like life, is always a state of becoming. And failures, like the fallen tree across the river, add a beauty, richness, and, ultimately, meaning to the ebb and flow of the river of life. Thus, both risk and the real possibility of failure are inherent dynamics of living and in our very DNA of success and ultimately, happiness.

“What we think and believe, we become, for our world is just ourselves pushed out”.

-Abner Prior