The Wisdom of Inadequacy

“I screwed up…”
“I’m a failure…”
“I’m not good enough…”
“It’s my fault…”

Everyone has thoughts like this from time to time. Everyone sometimes experiences the emotions of shame, inadequacy, guilt, and remorse.

The pop psychology/New Age/spirituality world has given these thoughts and feelings an unequivocally bad wrap. They are thought of as toxic, limited: something to be cleansed from your system as quickly as possible, through one of the many kinds of psychic enema available today — for a fee.

Of course, previous generations adhering to Catholicism, Puritanism, and Judaism went overboard on these feelings: they became pervasive, a form of self-flagellation without any break. But I am going to suggest to you here today that we might… just maybe… some of us… have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

The book I am working on now (which should come out sometime later this year) is about brilliance. It explores how and why some people have original, life-changing ideas, and indeed why many of us just go on repeating regurgitated thoughts that we have heard somewhere before. I have been teaching people to foster brilliance for close to twenty five years, and I guess I have learned a thing or two along the way.

You may have already read my blog about the Brilliance Cycle which explores the four phases of brilliance: something like the face of a clock.  

brilliance cycle

At 12 o’clock is infinite mind, resting in your true nature, becoming familiar with the source of thought.  3 o’clock is the place of creative flow where impulses are flowing through you in a way that is effortless and full of energy.   6 o’clock is the place of action: it is where creativity gets channeled into deadlines, agreements, budgets, responsibility, and most of all, decisions. As soon as you commit yourself to creating something solid and tangible in the world, you put both feet into the realm of “doing.” 9 o’clock is the phase of letting go, dissolving back into the source of which you are made and out of which you are arose, like a wave collapsing back into the ocean.  9 o’clock is the phase of facing your inadequacy as a separated entity.

One of my very favorite books that I ever read in my whole life was Steps to an Ecology of Mind by Gregory Bateson. Bateson was arguably one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century. He coined the term “double bind,” which explains how human beings grow and evolve through facing seemingly impossible choices. Hamlet faced a moment like that. So did Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita. And, in fact, so have most great heroes and heroines in literature. The thing about a “double bind” like this is that whichever choice you make, there is some feeling of regret, a feeling that you did the wrong thing. We try to deal with this kind of dichotomy by “learning from our mistakes:” as though by paying close enough attention to the sequence of steps we went through, we will be able to avoid the painful split of the double bind next time around. But what if, as Bateson suggests, double bind is intrinsic to getting involved in life, to growing and evolving? What if, as Leonard Cohen once said, “We think the purpose of our life is to succeed at our given mission, but later we discover that the point was to fail, but not take it personally?”

Nine o’clock in the Brilliance Cycle is the place of failure and collapse. It is the place that no one wants to go to; it is also the place that pop psychology offers a million and one formulas to avoid. I want to suggest to you that utter and complete failure and collapse, the feeling of giving up, of being nothing and nobody, is actually an incredibly healthy part of the cycle of brilliance, and of being a truly integrated human being. When you have these feelings, instead of “pepping yourself up” with alcohol or fast company or self-help books, you can instead dive deeply and temporarily into the despair. Allow the story of inadequacy to become real… for a while. Fall apart and give up.

You will open to the inevitable truth that your small human existence is more or less completely ephemeral and irrelevant, in the bigger picture. Just on planet earth, for most of us our names and the small triumphs and defeats of our lives with be completely forgotten within a decade or two. Even the great ones like Shakespeare or Mozart only manage to spin it out for a few centuries: a blink of the eye in the whole history of humanity, and not even that in the history of our planet. Then, if you widen your perspective to see that we are dancing our little dances on a small rock in a tiny corner of  an unimaginably vast universe, our irrelevance becomes even more stark.

If you relax into these feelings of irrelevance and inadequacy, as you might relax into falling asleep at night or into letting the thoughts settle during meditation, they become a portal into something bigger. They become a trigger for the Mother of all Prayers: “Not my will, but Thy will be done. Whoever the heck you are, about which I have not the first clue, do your thing, use me in the service of your vision.” 

Here is the clincher: if you fight with these feelings of inadequacy and see them as toxic and destructive, it requires building up  an inflated sense of “me” as important and significant.  That is more or else what we refer to as “ego.” But if you relax into them and accept their essential truth that, “Yes, it’s true, I am inadequate, as a separate, contracted entity; I am more or less just an interference pattern to the great force that gives me life…” they pass quickly. They become nothing more than a bardo state into Ahhhhhhhhhh, the deep relaxation of being played like a hollow bamboo instead of holding onto the struggle and pressure of success and failure.

Allow yourself to be not enough, for real, now and then, as part of the ride of being alive as a human being.  Then feel the deep relaxation of being carried by a wave far greater than your own understanding.


This is, I know, a very unusual view these days.  I’d like to hear your thoughts.  Please post them below….   If you have trouble  ( some people have had trouble posting here lately) then please send a quick mail to Mira, my guardian angel.

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17 Responses to “The Wisdom of Inadequacy”

  1. Joe Gagliano September 22, 2016 at 12:34 pm // Reply

    You are right on the money, brother. The Phoenix always rises, but it seems it must always crash and burn in order to do so.


    • Arjuna Ardagh September 23, 2016 at 4:05 pm // Reply

      WE just need to learn to enjoy the free fall and the flames when they happen!


  2. Alexander Reichenvater September 23, 2016 at 8:13 am // Reply

    It is probably the hardest thing for human beings to just stop and feel what is there. We tend to push away those feelings even at their slightest appearance. as soon as some little flinge of unease or sadness appears, we immedeatly turn on the radio or tv, ring up a friend or take a good zip of wine, eat some candies, whatever. Staying \”there\”, feeling deeply what is there, confronting the abyss, takes a lot of courage. once you stay there, dive into the darkness, there is a good chance, that the darkness suddenly turns into the brightest light you have ever seen, revealing to you the very secrets of existence, the timeless, limitless and immortal being that you are. If you get stuck to long in the darkness, not seeing any light, go to a psychotherapist or see your favourite shaman. good luck, god bless you all.


  3. Bruce Carne September 24, 2016 at 10:53 am // Reply

    Thank you Arjuna, Today I need this support & encouragement.
    I have been feeling brilliant & peaceful, for awhile now.
    But today I fell into that hole of despair & self criticism, you wrote about in this blog.
    I now can see that I am really OK.
    Just passing through another moment of understanding.


    • Arjuna Ardagh September 24, 2016 at 5:48 pm // Reply

      Despair and self criticism can be your greatest friends. They are the fastest route to handing it all back to the unnamed Great One who does it all through us


  4. Mareille B. September 24, 2016 at 1:06 pm // Reply

    Yes!!! I just completed directing a play with 25 young people-and yes, it is really good work…Now its on stage and I go watching what we have created every night. Thats the most difficult part for directors-nothing can be changed anymore, you just sit there…Since I learned first with Chameli and than with Awakening Coaching to ride on all, all the waves of live and being able to come back to our true nature all the time, it turned out to be a good place to sit there…Seeing good and bad and failures and brilliant young people and all of it. Thats what live is about! 9 o´clock is defenetely a very important place for any creative process! With love and gratitude from Mareille


    • Arjuna Ardagh September 24, 2016 at 5:47 pm // Reply

      Congratulations on your work with teens, dear friend!


  5. Joe Gagliano September 24, 2016 at 2:07 pm // Reply

    I am with you there.


  6. Sara Robinson September 24, 2016 at 3:07 pm // Reply

    Learning a lot about this these days as I draw closer to retirement and feeling the fear of letting go of my life\’s ambition to be successful. I am thankful for the years I\’ve spent in awakening consciousness. And also want to mention that I really enjoy the book \”conscious men\” that you wrote with John Grey. I have a much deeper understanding of men now and what they need from a woman. Thank you.


  7. Emma September 24, 2016 at 8:49 pm // Reply

    Arjuna this was exactly what I needed right now. I have just had a big career disappointment and I have been feeling like a complete loser. Byron Katie\’s the work has been helping me to see the truth in the situation rather than just my ego\’s perspective, but I was still fighting the feeling of being a failure. Your words to accept and relax into it, as failing is an equally valid part of the human experience, have completed the puzzle and my entire being is breathing a sigh of relief. Thank you.


    • Arjuna Ardagh September 26, 2016 at 2:51 pm // Reply

      This is great news. Emma. Thanks for being so open!!!


  8. Steven September 25, 2016 at 4:29 pm // Reply

    This is great and really beautiful. Unfortunately I’m TRYING so hard to let the process just take place, and yet I can’t – or at least don’t – stop fighting it. But that sounds like a very beautiful thing. Letting myself fail on healing (that’s what I’m always working on) AND NOT TAKING IT PERSONALLY. Like get myself out of it. It’s brilliant. But I hope I can get more out of it than just the intellectual level.


    • Arjuna Ardagh September 26, 2016 at 2:50 pm // Reply

      Thanks for being so open, Steven. You sound like a very real and innocent person. I hope to get to know you better…


  9. Steven October 2, 2016 at 12:21 am // Reply

    Thank you Arjuna. I wrote that in a tough part of the cycle!


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