Failed Success

Failed Success

Failed Success
They say failures are stepping stones to success. Lately, however, I’ve been thinking how success can be a slipping stone to failure! Swami Prabhupada once commented how he faced two great tests in his life. At one point he was stripped of everything, left penniless and alone, an unknown mendicant with no fixed abode. Later in life, however, he achieved unimaginable success and recognition as a powerful spiritual leader of an international movement. He saw both as divine tests. Both required immense equanimity of mind. Both were opportunities to draw closer to God. Dealing with failure is no mean feat, but maintaining spiritual purity in times of achievement and prosperity is just as tough.

Success can divert our attention from the internal journey we are on. If success gives birth to pride and breeds a mentality of looking down on others, then what have we really achieved? If success instigates complacency, inattentiveness and a false sense of security, then how bright does the future look? If we become intoxicated by success, enjoying the limelight and fame instead of using it for a higher purpose, then how long before we are humbled? It’s interesting that we often identify external success as a sign of spiritual vibrancy. But maybe it’s not.

External success is surely a gift of God, but those achievements must be kept in perspective. Real success is internal success. Sincerity of purpose, purity of desire, dependence on divine grace, dutiful and determined effort – these are the components of internal success (not necessarily detectable by external signs). In 1965, upon arrival in America, Swami Prabhupada made an incredible prayer: “make me a success or failure as you wish”. For most of us the thought of failure is scary, demoralising and humiliating. Not something we’d welcome with open hands. Am I ready to try my best, be an outright failure, and still remain happy and satisfied? That complete detachment from external results, however, is unimaginably powerful. It comes from a heart which values internal purity and recognises divine grace in whatever form it may come. Will I ever be able to submit such a prayer with genuine feeling? It seems a long way away, but I sincerely hope so.

First World Problems, Third World Solutions

First World Problems, Third World Solutions

First World Problems
I had been in front of a computer for long enough. Doing battle with a failing PC, trying to find new software for a Mac, having Chrome crash on me every six seconds while looking at updates for the site and having a message about Skype crashing even though I had closed it about an hour ago.. And all after I had spent an hour dealing with the Urban Monk accounts and helping another monk with a tonne of admin and some e-pub files that had not gone to plan.

It was just another day at Urban Monk HQ, and there I was at quarter to six, staring at a computer that would just refuse to do what I asked it. It was increasingly becoming impossible to work with.

When in frustration I turned to one monk, he laughed and said, “Welcome to the world of first world problems…” And it hit me. “You have lost serious perspective!” a voice in my head shouted.

I was feeling like the world was melting down just because I couldn’t use a computer. I’d had a day where sixty-million-and-one things had happened and I hadn’t had time to even think, but really how much of a issue was it?

I’m still going to get up tomorrow.

I’m still going to be able to eat.

My life will not end just because I’ve had a busy day and been so unconscious that I chose to get stressed and not think about it.

The sky hasn’t caved-in just because I couldn’t get something up on the Urban Monk site NOW, so really what is the issue?

When I sat there for a couple of minutes I realized that there wasn’t really a big issue. Bad things happen to us on a daily basis, but unless it’s a genuine issue like I’m covered in honey being pursued by a grizzly bear, how much of an ever-present danger is it.

For most of us in the West I think this is something we can relate to.

We don’t have food-shortage issues, in fact some of us have a food-excess issue.

For most people who are reading this blog I think it’s safe to say that shelter isn’t an issue.

We have clean running water.

We won’t get attacked by snakes if we go for a walk up Primrose Hill.

But still… somehow we need some drama in our life.

I was thinking back to when I was in India late last year. On my travels I stopped at a small farming community which had two buildings with more than one floor. All the others were less than grandiouse – thatched rooves, mud brick walls. Basic. With a temple at the centre of town.

One thing that struck me about the people there. They weren’t stressed. In fact, quite the opposite. You could see that the men and women worked hard. They had minimal education but by the age of about 11 they were out in the fields with the family, and then in the evening all the families would gather together at the temple and speak on spiritual subjects and practice mantra meditation to music.

It sounds like paradise doesn’t it?

Well even paradise has its problems…

I was speaking with one man who was like the head of the town, and its spiritual leader too. I told him that a lot of people would be envious of his lifestyle seeing it as paradise compared to all the issue that come with ipad’s, software updates and social networking. He looked at me and laughed. (This is a strangely re-occurrent theme for me when I speak to people… I wonder why?) He said, “Yeah, we have problems too. Drought, that’s a problem. Then no rice. Then we have other problems like GE crops.” He went on to go through all the issues that face a village like younger people wanting to move to the city or bring the city to the village, people wanting to sell-out to major companies and move elsewhere for what seemed like a better life.

I had to ask him. “So how do you deal with your problems?”

“I meditate and I remind myself that there are always problems, there will always be problems, but if you have spirituality then you have one thing that will not fail you when things go wrong.”

In the heat of the moment it is very easy to get wound-up in what we think matters, but these little problems are not as big as ones faced by people in other countries and they are still happy. They don’t become a catatonic of mess if their iPhone malfunctions. We need perspective.

I realized that I’d lost perspective and I went to my desk closed my laptop that had well and truly crashed, picked up my meditation beads and went for a walk.

It works, trust me!

Intrepid Monks: Sharing Spirituality Behind-Bars

Intrepid Monks: Sharing Spirituality Behind-Bars

“You ain’t got nothing until you hit rock bottom.”
The Dandy Warholes

Spirituality Behind Bars
When Urban Monk started it was a group of three monks who wanted to push the envelope of sharing spirituality with people of today’s world, people who want spirituality but may not always be easily placed to go on a retreat or come to a spiritual festival. Urban people.

As Urban Monk grew and expanded we started to find ourselves in all manner of interesting environments to share spirituality with other people. JD, our resident-magican/street philosopher is no exception. While jet-setting recently around north America, he and a very special friend of his; Candramauli Swami went to the Snake River Penitentiary in Oregon to teach inmates about spiritual life and how we can become the people we want to be through spiritual practice. Below are some thoughts he shared with us.

“Going into a prison is a strange environment. In the US most prisons are in the middle of nowhere, so if you wanted to escape you wouldn’t have many options. At least that’s what I figured.

But not just that, inside it’s a really strange vibe, the lower security prisons still have this air of being caged but it’s a little more friendly than in the super max prisons. We tried to go to one in Idaho and it was the fourth time the monks had been refused to go and visit someone who had been corresponding with us for a long time… 4 hours to get shot down is a long drive!

But by far the coolest experience I had was meeting Randal. Randal was a native American, and 6 foot tall. Big guy. But really softly spoken, I would have never guessed that he had an anger-management problem.

Randal was really open about how he got into prison. It was apparently time number three for him, this time because he ‘got a bit mad… and beat up a cop.’

Randal was a really candid guy, he told me all about his problems with anger, how you shouldn’t call a Native American a ‘Red Indian’ and about his time inside prison. He was telling me that in his time in prison he had learnt three very powerful lessons:

1) Accepting the consequences and moving on:

Randal explained to me that after going to prison two times when it really come to it he just had to learn to accept the choices he had made. He said ‘Every one gets what’s coming to them, we don’t always see it, but they do. For some people its swift, for others it may not be. We don’t have to be around to see it either. But what you got to do is accept it when it comes to you. Don’t have a fit about it, you accept and you get on with your life. This is the life you chose… Sometimes things happen and you don’t even know why, but you still got to accept, right, you cant go round like a kid crying for it to change when you know it won’t. That’s what I did, I accepted I made mistakes, so now I look to see what I can do with what I have.’

2) Spirituality is the only thing to help you make real changes:

Randal then went on to explain to me how he really felt that in his life spirituality had made the biggest impact and helped him to change. ‘When I went in this time, I swore to myself I would do it differently. I had done this every time, you know how it is. But this time, I actually forced myself to follow through. That’s when I started practicing Bhakti Yoga with the prision Bhakti Yoga society. It changed me, forced me to look at myself, ask real questions about who I was, and it made sense ya’ know. I had been to self-help seminars before. I had tried to do the Tony Robbins thing, and you change a bit, but it never lasts. But spirituality is the key to make lasting changes I’m telling you.

3) is the key to a happy life:

Finally he shared with me something amazing that happened because of his journey: ‘I realized that being humble is the key. We all think we gotta be a big guy to get ahead. In prison that’s usually how we roll. But I realized that that’s not the way. Humility doesn’t mean being a door-mat, what I means is being grateful, accepting and understanding that if someone is up-in-your-face then that’s just where they are at. But you can help them by not getting into a fight or trying to see it from their side. That’s acceptance.

Some nice words of wisdom from a man who said its taken him three big mistakes to learn to do things a little bit differently. Randal asked me to share this with you, so hopefully you don’t have to do the same.”

Life is a marathon…

Life is a marathon..


Life is a marathonIn December I was traveling; not really a holiday – monks don’t go on holidays so much – we call it a retreat, it sounds much more structured. I was just in the frozen north of the UK with a few other monks.

In the month leading up to Christmas so many people go on a marathon: those who work for charity organisations go on collection marathons, people go on marathon shopping-sprees trying to get the next coolest gift.  Monks are no exception. We go on marathons trying to share a combination of spiritual living and street philosophy, spiritual books and think-out-loud sessions in far-flung places.

I was based in the not-so-frozen-North and met a lot of people, but one thing struck me after speaking to a charity worker.  They were talking about when you go through a period of intense focus on one activity for a relatively short period of time.

We may think of something as a marathon, but a marathon means long term. We may have relatively long stints, like a ton of exams for college or university.  Or we have a marathon project that may last even months or years.  We may even be an athlete training for an actual marathon.  But what we often forget in the short term, with myopic-absorption, is that life is actually a marathon.

So here’s three ways of keeping you focused and keeping you going while your on that marathon:

1)What’s the goal:

When you’re in a running marathon you have to consider your goal.  In one sense it’s simple: its there, it’s the finish, the feeling of ‘oh wow, I just ran 42 KM.’ (or 26 miles, depending on your system of measurement)


But life is a little more complex than that, and if you don’t know what your goal is how can you keep focused? How can you keep motivated? You can’t. Those 10,000 people who didn’t even make it to the start line are people who couldn’t remember what the goal was, or they thought that after all their months of training it wasn’t as important as they had thought.

If you’re 100% clear on what the goal is before you even set out then you will see things in perspective. Speaking as someone who used to be a competitive open-water-swimmer in New Zealand, there were times on the 25km races we did that I would think ‘why the hell am I doing this?’ That is only natural – mine was just to do it for the sense of achievement.  But if your goal is set then you will push yourself to continue, even if you’re behind, getting buffeted by the tide and way off-course. Be like that determined little engine: goals set determination and with determination we achieve.

2)Proper focus and proper training

To achieve something you have to have a plan on how to execute it. So to reach the goal of a marathon you have to know whats coming, that means training and consultation. Before any novice goes into anything they always check with people who have been there and done that. They may not be running the same marathon as you but, still, the experience is invaluable. So spend some time planning, figure out what you need to prepare for and then go and train/spend time with those who can help you. You are the company you keep, so make it count.

3)A marathon is about going the distance, not necessarily winning.

This is probably my favourite point and one which I think of most often. Actually, most people who go on marathons aren’t all about winning.  Most of the people who entered the 2012 London Marathon that I spoke to said they attempted the marathon just to say they had done it or for a sense of achievement. Really when we see life as a marathon we get the sense that life isn’t about winning, because who can really win your life? Doesn’t make sense right?

So, if it’s not about winning what is it about?

It’s about giving it your best shot, its about the journey.  You have the goal in mind and you work progressively toward it.  If you realise that you’re not in competition with someone, if you really understand that you are the only one running the marathon of your life then you put the goal in perspective. It loses that tension, that anxiety. It means you can slow things down, re-evaluate how you are running if you need to.  You don’t feel like you’re losing out… because you aren’t!

Think about it, it’s a little bit revolutionary isn’t it?

So with these three thoughts in mind, why not start planning the marathon of your life a little more, and start running at a sustainable pace.