The Success of Failure

There is a thought-provoking story about the surgeon who first advocated for kidney transplants, before these were standard procedure. As is often the case with trailblazers, the wider community of surgeons claimed it could not be done, or at least, they claimed, no successful one had been done at that point that would warrant any other surgeon performing the operation.

As it happens in these stories, the surgeon proved everyone wrong. He performed the operation successfully and began publishing about the procedure in medical journals and presenting his results at conferences. Most importantly, the success of his once-experimental procedure inaugurated an entire field of medical research and practice that began saving many lives.

However, some months later, the surgeon discovered that, in fact, the procedure had not been successful. The transplant had been rejected by the host’s body and therefore the results that he had presented were null and void. But by this time, of course, it hardly mattered much, for there had since been countless successful transplants recorded, and the fact that the first one had failed made no difference to an area of medical practice that had now been substantiated by a string of successes.

The beautiful truth that this illustrates is that it doesn’t take perfection to point in the right direction. It is often the accidents and the failed attempts at change that inspire the most profound shifts in the status quo. Countless surgeons began a procedure on the false belief that it had been done successfully before. What was instrumental was not that the belief was true or false, but that there was belief period. It is this kind of belief that must function for us practitioners on the days that our practices don’t seem to be delivering the goods.

Of course, I don’t mean to advocate blind faith or belief for belief’s sake. There’s enough of that in the world breeding its own kind of ignorance. This is a belief in the transformative potential of belief itself, where a belief in the effectiveness of practice, an intention, (like a belief in the effectiveness of a kidney transplant) assists us in bringing to bear the fruits of the practice.
           
Often, in our culture, we place too much value on the tyranny of “proof”, waylaying action until that dream of a day when we can be absolutely certain that the practice will bear fruit. Only then will we begin. But every yogi knows that the proof is in the process, and if we were satisfied only by hard proof and quick-fix prescriptions, we would never stick around long enough for the subtle beauties encountered along the path, a path that sometimes derives bunk experiments like that first kidney transplant.

Not every seated meditation is a blissful moment. Not every vinyasa practice leaves you with that yoga buzz.  It’s the big arc, the trajectory, the truth of the practice that keeps us experimenting day after day. The wise know that the peaks would not be peaks without valleys. Success and failure are two sides of the same Reality.


Jacob Kyle is a writer and yoga teacher living in New York City. He is the co-founder of Five Tattvas and Editor of the Embodied Philosophy Blog, which he created in an effort to share the transformative teachings of the yoga wisdom tradition. jacobkyleyoga.com

Jacob Kyle is a writer and yoga teacher living in New York City. He is the co-founder of Five Tattvas and Editor of the Embodied Philosophy Blog, which he created in an effort to share the transformative teachings of the yoga wisdom tradition. jacobkyleyoga.com

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