To Be Defeated By Greater And Greater Things

Diane Musho Hamilton & Miles Kessler

Do you see defeat as a good or bad? If you’re like most, defeat is something you would probably rather avoid. In fact, in some cases, the thought of defeat can be so unacceptable that you’d rather not participate. But even though defeat may feel completely undesirable, what are the possible upsides to defeat? What did the mystic poet Rainer Maria Rilke mean when he said: “the purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things.”

Diane Musho Hamilton & Miles Kessler

In the below “Dharma Bite” I continue in my series of Dharma Discussions with Integral Facilitator & Zen Sensei Diane Musho Hamilton on this very topic. In this excerpt, we talk about the tendency of practitioners to make the “spiritual bypass”, and the need to apply your practice to your life.

Like Diane says, “The good news is that [through your practice] you are developing new skill sets. The bad news is that now you’re going to have to use them.”

It’s precisely it this point that Rilke’s quote offers direction. As wonderful as it is to develop skills from our path practices, they mean nothing unless and until we apply them to life. The very process of application is by its nature one of trial and error. You will have wins, and you will have losses. Guaranteed.

But if you manage to stay on your path of practice, every time your applications fail they will lead you to re-setting, re-assessing, and giving it another shot. With the sustained application of your practices, eventually, you will master these skills in your life.

In this sense, Rilke’s quote is nothing less than bestowing a blessing to anyone who is walking on a higher path of practice. Because it is precisely there that we come to understand that “the purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things”

Click below to watch this “Dharma Bite” w/ Diane and I. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic so be sure to leave any comments or questions on the below video.


Question: How do you relate to those moments of “defeat” in your practice? Join the conversation by leaving your comments below!

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