The hidden face of failure

“Brave are the bull and the bullfighter, everyone in the stands are cowards. This phrase is attributed to the Spanish painter Pablo Picasso”, said Loureiro, the shoemaker who loved wine and books, while he filled his mugs with the coffee he had just made. This conversation had taken place many years before. At the time, I was recounting the experience of publishing my first book, a crime novel, with approaches that were different from the ones that my texts carry today. Like every beginner writer, I had cherished the certainty that, in the very first weeks, I would become a best-seller, acclaimed by readers and critics, a common, though veiled, desire among authors. But that is not what happened. The readers showed no more enthusiasm and the reviews were harsh. Some were quite harsh, even aggressive, advising me never to write a single line again. Devastated, I withdrew for a long time, vowing never to show my face again. The arena of existence is not a safe place to live, I thought.

I had spent almost two years devoted to this romance. I used weekends and off hours. I wrote in the early hours of the morning. Pages instead of hours of sleeping. When I considered the work finished, I sent it to a friend, a dedicated and competent editor. He decided to publish the book. However, he didn’t make any comment; at the time, I didn’t realise why. We held a launching evening with dedications and autographs. Many friends came to celebrate. It was a delightful party. In the following days, I waited for the applause that didn’t come. In the few phone calls I received, there was more politeness than excitement. Then came the devastating reviews. Literally, I had the distinct feeling that I had been destroyed. At first, I cursed humanity for its lack of sensitivity. I was bitter. Then I censured myself. “Why get me into doing what I have never done?”. It would be better to stick to business as usual. This had to be enough. However, I didn’t know that what is really enough is only what makes me grow.

For several months I was loath to open any book because it reminded me of my own failure. I avoided friends because I felt ashamed of myself and feared hearing more criticism or, worse, compulsory words of consolation. Yes, pride and vanity corroded me while pretending to protect me. I felt like the worst of men and I didn’t want people to know this. I didn’t want to face it. Until I travelled on holiday. I boarded a daytime flight of many hours and the movie streaming system on the plane was malfunctioning. Realising I was bored, with nothing to do, a polite lady, sitting next to me, offered me a book to entertain me. It was my book.

I took the book and thanked her. I said nothing about the authorship. Upon rereading, after months away from the work, I found the story dreadfully poorly written. Humanity was right, as a writer I was worthless. I promised myself that when I returned, I would buy all the books and burn them in the flames of a large bonfire. This would prevent me from continuing to expose myself to the world. Deep down it was nothing but a melodramatic scene to hide the desire to erase the past that I considered shameful.  

I commented to the lady sitting in the armchair beside me about the terrible quality of the book. The plot was poorly told, and the characters’ motivations were extremely naïve. All very childish. It was not worth the time invested, I said. She looked at me softly. Politeness is a powerful virtue, because it is exercised by those who do not admit any harm to anyone and, for this reason, are careful in their personal dealings. The lady disagreed: “I don’t think so. In fact, the author proved to be awkward in putting the plot together. However, I loved the way he approaches the soul of the characters. As if, deep down, they were different from what they are. The author shows a life in potency that may or may not happen, depending only on each of them. There was a story hidden inside the apparent story. This is exactly what happens to us. When the novel is bad, there is always a sensitive hidden philosophy, like a seed that needs to force its way into the soil in an inevitable effort to germinate.”

“It is possible only when it breaks the barrier of the earth that hides it and supposedly also protects it,” the lady paused, as if to seek distant thoughts and questioned her own words, “The earth protects the seed from what? From life? From remaining a seed without ever becoming a tree? Is it really a protection? Or is it an escape? What is the value of existence if we don’t take the risk of being all that we can be?

Then she resumed her reasoning: “when the seed tears up the soil and its shell, in search of life, it meets the sun. Then everything changes. The darkness of the underground no longer interests it. However, it also exposes itself to the predators of the world. It will need boldness and courage to continue to grow and one day become flower and fruit. She paused again before concluding: “Otherwise, without coming out of hiding, it will not know all its possibilities; it will deny itself. It will die a seed”.

Finally, the lady concluded: “I had the distinct feeling that the author told a story when, without realising it, he wanted to talk about something different. He is a writer in search of his own story”. Those words touched my heart, but I said nothing. I made no confession about not having thought about any of that when I wrote the book. I knew little, if anything, about the subject that she said had been subliminally addressed in the work. She saw something in me that I did not know existed. It was my life in potency.

I spent my vacation maturing those words. At night, when I returned from my walks, I began to write about the frustration I felt and the fear of going on. About the wounds opened by criticism, which not only addressed the evident mistakes of creation, but maliciously suggested the defects of its creator. As if nothing good existed. In those days, there was an enormous fear even to emit a simple opinion on any subject, such was the dread of exposing myself. I wrote about my doubts and anxieties. Like a therapy, I wrote in an attempt to understand myself.

It was then that a friend sent me the originals of her book of poetry. It would also be her first book and she asked me to analyse it before sending it to the publishers. Still with a bitterness, I read the poems with the bitterness that was left in my heart. I even wrote a harsh critique of her work. Before sending it, in a moment of rare light, I realized that that harshness was nothing but a mere and foolish revenge. Not on her, but on the world. It was then that I understood how much personal bitterness there is in each criticism, the opaque eyes of frustration about one’s own life that prevent one from perceiving the beauty existing in others. I realized that a criticism can never have the strength to destroy anyone. If there is sarcasm, malice or irony, we should have compassion; for those things are a reflection of the heart of the critic, not the work itself. It speaks more about the bitterness of the critic’s soul than the eventual mistakes of the work. On the other hand, if it is fair, they will point you in a direction or suggest a good road. So, take the opportunity to improve yourself. So are compliments. Many are just for politeness, don’t get intoxicated by them; however, celebrate those that you understand that are honest. This goes for all moments and aspects of life.

I read the poems once more, now with the purity of my soul. In fact, they were beautiful! With sincerity, I wrote this to the poet. Little by little, I was breathing pure air again, which is only possible when one rediscovers one’s own beauty.

Sometime later, I looked for the editor. I questioned the reason why he had decided to publish the novel. From his experience, he must have known the low quality of the work. With the same softness as the lady on the plane, he explained: “I published it so that you could understand which writer is inside yourself”. Then he made a comment similar to hers, about there being a life in potency in the existence of all the characters, that is to say, inside of all people. “You have written a novel, yet I got the distinct feeling that there is another story to be told.” I immediately took out of my backpack the notebook in which I had written my holiday reflections. The editor didn’t even open it. He just laid it lovingly on his desk and promised to tell me his opinion later.

The editor passed away a few weeks later without us speaking again. A few months later I met his son, a cultured and educated young man like his father. He told me that, while tidying up his father’s things, he had found a notebook with notes, which he believed were intended for me. A few days later I received the papers. Among them was my notebook. It contained several grammatical corrections and a final note, written in large letters: “Every naked soul in front of the mirror is fascinated by creation and the Creator!!!!!!” Just like that, with many exclamation marks.

It was then that I decided to study philosophy and metaphysics. A little psychoanalysis too. Not by chance, I met the Elder, Starry Song, Li Tzu and Loureiro, lights that helped and still help me to understand who I am and who I am yet to be. To understand my shadows and how to transmute each of them into light. This is primordial to know myself, the world, to give meaning to life and to light my own light. Each day with a little more intensity. The road has no end.

It was fundamental to notice the power that exists in every soul. To develop ourselves it is necessary to leave the stands of existence and dance in the arena of life. It is necessary to show your face, expose yourself to criticism, frustrations and even the inevitable evil; courage and boldness are indispensable. Only in the audience there is no way to live the transformations and evolve. It is necessary to assume the protagonism of our own destiny.

There are those who long for wings; there are those who make slingshots. These never take the risk of flying. They believe they know everything about the beauty of flying, without ever having launched themselves into the air over the abyss of existence. Without admitting it, or even understanding it, they suffer with the frustrations born in the emptiness of what they could have been, but did not dare to be. Then they return the suffering through the shots of erudition they fire; they need to believe that they are their own masters, even without knowing who they are. Encased, they will never be shot down in flight, however, they will never know the joy of flying.

Stone or bird? that is the question. In truth, the choice is yours.

I studied and reflected on questions of the soul even while I was working. I began to carry a small notebook and a pencil in my pocket everywhere, avoiding to forget any thought or idea that occurred to me. I wrote and wrote and wrote. Then I would write some more. Writing became a personal ritual of light and protection. I understood that, for me, writing brought the exact sensation of entering a temple. I started to attend this temple every day.

At the suggestion of one of my daughters, I created a blog to publish my texts. Contrary to the previous expectation, when the novel was launched, I no longer cared or wished to become a best-seller. Winning is not about being the first. Success lies in the lightness of just being yourself, of living our dream and gift, even if under the heavy rains of rejections. Victory lies in looking at yourself, even drenched by the storm, and having reasons to smile.

I wrote with the feeling of a survivor who throws into the sea a bottle containing a note. Maybe nobody would read it. It didn’t matter, I wrote for myself. This was enough for me. It was my way to find a master, the one who hides in the core of all people.

One day, I was in a small Chinese village, in my studies of the Tao Te Ching, when I received a brief message from one of the very few readers who followed my new stories on the Internet. In brief, he said that my words had prevented his suicide and made him regain his zest for life. I commented on the fact with Li Tzu. He told me: “Even if nobody else reads your texts or appreciates your words, believe me, it was already worth it. The Tao teaches that whoever rescues a soul saves the world”.

I expressed my surprise. I pointed out that I had never approached the issue of suicide. In the text mentioned by the reader, I had only stressed the importance of love as the cornerstone of transformation. Li Tzu shrugged and smiled in reply, as if to say: “Do you got it now?”

On that day, with watery eyes, I thanked the sweet lady who, on the plane, travelled in the seat beside me. An angel who did not let me give up and lent me a glimmer of her light so that I could find my own. I never saw her again nor do I know her name. Of course, there were other angels. One of them was the editor, with his deep gaze and long fingers, for helping me to tear off the armour, see the sun and build a tomorrow that, at that moment, I could not glimpse.

I could not fail to thank a great master for having transformed and enlightened my life: failure. It does not happen to determine an end, but to signal a turning point. Then the possibility of an illuminated road, the one that leads you to find yourself. In truth, things go wrong so that they can go right.

Rocks or birds? That is the question. In truth, stones teach birds to fly higher.

While the statement is true, it is not enough. One should not divide or classify hearts. The world needs everyone. Seeds need to break through the husk to grow in the sun.

Stones or birds? That is the question. In truth, stones are only birds that still refuse to fly.

It is necessary that each one, accordingly to his or her uniqueness, at his or her own pace, taste and way, can expose him or herself to failure. Then, to know one’s own beauty. And with it, the wings.

Failure is a wonderful factor of transformation. An important ally in the good fight, never an enemy. It shows us the hidden road, the potency of the soul, the hidden part waiting to be discovered and developed. Its gift and dreams; it reveals the Way. Not those of the ego’s desires, but of the soul’s longings. In it, its light.

Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.

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