Lately I have been reflecting on my life. I have been assessing where I have been, where I am, where I am headed, and if the pattern of my life is congruent with my highest vision and deepest purpose.
Such times of stepping back and looking at my life — the quality of my days and relationships — has been an essential practice.
Indeed, the unexamined life is not worth living. Socrates spoke these words to the jury in the court of Athens in 399 BC, after he had been found guilty of heresy and sedition for speaking the truth — which conflicted with the structures and ignorance of his time. For his refusal to violate his integrity, he was sentenced to death.
Speaking in his defense, Socrates explained that he felt it was his responsibility "to let no day pass without discussing goodness and all the other subjects about which you hear me talking, and examining both myself and others." He felt that this activity "is really the very best thing that (one) can do, and that life without this sort of examination is not worth living."
One thing I have been examining is success. What is success? How is it measured? What creates it in a balanced way? Many successful people and great thinkers have said much on the subject. Some of their thoughts have found their way onto motivational mugs, posters and the like, as well as a Kunlun mountain (BL 60) of books and audio programs.
Bessie Stanley (1867-1941), in her 1905 poem mistakenly attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), had this to say about the subject:
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived;
This is to have succeeded.
For me, success is being my authentic self for the good of the whole. It is serving love's purposes above personal preferences and hurts. Success is expressing the finest quality of character I can in each situation, just as it is, without requiring that it be otherwise. It is to express the truth of love in my living without concern for results. Success is expressing the positive, creative, initiating energy of spirit through my thoughts, words and actions.
Every successful man I have heard of has done the best he could with conditions as he found them, and not waited until next year for better. — Edgar Watson Howe
After graduating acupuncture school in 1996, I drove cross-country alone. Before changing my practice to include the art of acupuncture, I wanted to clear my mind, and replenish study-depleted qi. On that journey there were days, like today, of stepping back and gaining perspective.
Late one night, with insect sounds and moonlight filtering through my tent, I awoke with a question I had been pondering: "What is the measure of a day, of a life?" The answer then came: "To the extent that I brought love into the world this day, regardless of how much I accomplished externally, this was a good day." In other words, a successful day. What is true of a day goes for an interaction with a patient or colleague, a career or a life.
Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.— Albert Einstein
Success also refers to being effective in the world. It is allowing excellence, creativity and abundance to manifest through our work in the world. A practical and transcendent perspective on work was presented in an address titled, "The Extraordinary Privilege of Selfless Service," given by Yujin Pak:
"At the material level of work, show up, and on time. This is part of what builds a powerful container. We are responsible and accountable. And then, having shown up on time, create excellence where we are.
"What about the spiritual aspect of the work life? There is another responsibility beyond the one of showing up on time, to create excellence. Engage in that outer work from the highest inner level of perspective. Not only engaging in the work in an excellent way, but doing so from the highest perspective possible, and therefore delivering vibrational world service through the work we have at hand. There is enormous opportunity to engage in work consciously and mindfully so that the factors that arise through our work—of thought, feeling—are used as contact points for spiritual radiation into the world.
"The last one is, enfold the emergence of others. This is part of our work responsibility. Enfold and nurture the emergence of those around you. How conscious are you of the process of birth and emergence in those around you? And how willing are you to provide thoughtful enfoldment and encouragement to them? This is part of our responsibility and accountability in the privilege of serving."
Essential Habits That Foster Success
What brings success? First, I thought it was just about working hard. So I did. I worked so hard I burned out. The money and accolades I earned seemed shallow and fleeting, as my body crashed from my ambitious excesses.
Then I thought success came just from working smarter. I delegated and held back, so I would not burn out again. I took it slow and easy. It worked to a point, but I was bored and uninspired. I did not feel fulfilled because I was not fully engaged with my work of treating patients and teaching. I coasted, fearful of pushing myself too hard again, and found that wanting too.
What produces success in an internal or external sense? What creates spiritual or worldly success, which are deeply connected anyway? It has to do with expressing the finest quality of character we can in each situation. Since everything is connected, and we live in a holographic universe, the spirit that we express in each moment and situation affects every other aspect of our life, and the whole of the cosmos of which we are a part. And it has to do with the closest relationships we have—those with whom we share the deepest spiritual intimacy. It is about how we care for the things and people most sacred to us. How deeply are we centered in that which is most central in our lives? Or are we generally distracted or governed by our problems, issues, past, desires or fears? A teacher of mine once said that integrity is the refusal to violate sacred things. How committed are you and I to holding sacred what is most precious, what is most central in life? For me this manifests, in part, as the clarity and love that is present between me and those closest in my heart. And they are not always those with whom I spend the most time. Some of those closest to me I see quite infrequently.
Lao Tzu, in the Dao De Jing, says that the wheel has many spokes, but it is the hub that makes it useful. The hub is our innate spiritual identity, our true self. The hub is also the core of those with whom we share the deepest heart connection, the deepest pattern of spiritual agreement. The spokes of the wheel are the lines of force or energy that connect who we are with our work in the world. The outer rim of the wheel—the tire on the bicycle—are the myriad expressions of our lives, our work in the world, what we create in form.
Teacher David Karchere spoke of this in an address titled "The Momentum of the Flywheel:"
"Where is our greatest point of leverage for the movement of that flywheel? It can seem to be about our external pattern of service and leadership—and those things are important. I think there's another range of our function that is at least as important, and probably more so, where we have the greatest point of leverage for our work. It is the field of our closest spiritual relationships. It has to do with those people with whom we share the greatest spiritual intimacy."
So, success begins at home. Not home and an external sense of those we live with — family or roommates. But home as the place inside where what is most sacred and precious can live, grow and be safe. If that is right, then external achievement comes without effort or struggle.
Do I spend time in the still place within — the quiet place inside, where nothing is wrong and all is well? And from there invite my world to know and share the same? Are the relationships I have with those closest to me honest and true? Do I support in the flowering and emergence of those close in? Do I provide a place of sanctuary for them, which helps them fly? Or do I make them constantly deal with my human nature characteristics, my "stuff," so I don't have to?
Do we hold each other's hearts as safe and precious? Is there something stable between us that is not shaken by things which come up to be worked through? If not, then what I can create in the world will be quite limited, and will only come by much struggle and sweat of the brow (and depletion of Jing). If the pattern of agreement between the ones who are closest to me spiritually is right, then success in the world is a piece of (organic) cake.
David Karchere went on to say:
"These are core issues in our lives. I think they give indication as to how that flywheel gets moving in a way that serves our world. It moves as that closest circle of relationships is handled in the finest way in which we're capable of handling it. Ultimately, that movement begins with me. It comes back to my clarity with Source, because only as that's present can I be creative in those relationships. And if there's something creative happening through me at this most central level of function, if something big is happening there, then the rest is easy. And if that's not happening in my closest relationships, the rest is never going to happen. I'm not going to be doing great things out there in my world if what's happening in those people with whom I have my closest relationships is not supremely creative. I suppose I might be able to create something, but nothing of great value.
"I invite us to truly pay attention in this area and to do our work—the work of letting personal transformation proceed so that we open enough to let the greater spiritual radiation come through. That radiant energy allows our closest relationships to be creative, and it powers our collective movement."
Tom Stanley, PhD, discusses one aspect of this principle in his research. In his book The Millionaire Mind, he interviewed more than 1,100 millionaires to find the habits and attitudes they found essential to their success. One of the top five success factors they noted was having a supportive spouse. For me, this is more than having a beautiful wife to accompany me at social and professional functions. It is creating together a field of stability, of harmony, of centering in that which is higher, that fills and permeates my home, and then goes out from there to energize my work in the world. The same applies to those few who are closest to me in what is most precious and central in living.
I have known times in my practice, teaching and association work when things were not working well at all. The practice was slow, my treatments and lectures uninspired, legislative and inter-association issues seemed overwhelming. At those times, invariably, there was conflict, or at least a lack of clarity and vitality, in my core relationships.
When the practice has been "smokin'" — full appointment book, deep and effective interactions with patients, brilliant and moving lectures, and a sense, in legislative battles when I was president of the Acupuncture Society of New York, that I was part of an irresistible force ("resistance is futile"), there has been a common thread. Things were right within and with my inner circle of companions. There was stability, a steadiness held over time, which brought to bear in more public areas of my life; a positive, creative and radiant energy of spirit, which is indomitable.
So, I invite you in these days to reflect with me on these things. Together, let us identify with and express the positive, creative, initiating energy of Spirit. Let us see how we can more deliberately care for, love and appreciate those who love what we love, who are in agreement with us about what is most central and precious and our lives.
If we can make that clear, strong, right, steady and stable, there is no limit to what we can accomplish in our world. It is the deep and potent movement of spirit through us and those closest to us that magnifies the radiance of life coming through us, in service and blessing to our world. Let our hub be right and the spokes will have no limits.
Just as the super=hot and pressurized core of the sun produces its awesome radiance, so let what is right at our core radiate out into our world. This is the true source of our success and fulfillment in our lives and in our world.
Michael Gaeta is a teacher, practitioner and writer in the field of natural health care. He holds New York licenses in acupuncture, nutrition and massage therapy, and is a Doctor of acupuncture in Rhode Island. He can be reached at