The Sweet Relief of Failure


“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” 

– Oscar Wilde

 You can’t get there by bus, only by hard work and risk and by not quite knowing what you’re doing.  What you’ll discover will be wonderful.  What you’ll discover will be yourself.

– Alan Alda


It was early March, 2003.  I was lying face down on the cool cement floor of the rebar-and-cinder-block room that was ours for the two-week Buddhist retreat.  Observing my discomfort, despair and self-doubt, my dear friend Dave exclaimed, “Oh, Lauren, look what’s happening!  You came all the way to India, and brought yourself!”


The ghats on the Ganges, Varinasi, India.  Photo courtesy: Dave Adair

The ghats on the Ganges, Varinasi, India.            Photo courtesy: Dave Adair

Good grief, he was right!  And what had I expected?  I’m sheepish to admit it, but here – in the safe, privacy of the worldwide web – I will confess that a part of me had journeyed to the sacred land of MotherIndia believing I would, through magical osmosis, become a Mother Theresa, a Dharma Teacher, an enlightened Buddha.  And that if I didn’t, I. Had. Failed.


And what feels even MORE “wow” about that, is that I have done this repeatedly in my life.  When I arrived at Carnegie Mellon’s drama department, I was an impressionable 18 year old who believed (because I auditioned and got in), that I knew something about theatre.  My peers and that school worked me, and I misinterpreted most of it, convinced that I was supposed to become that…or them.  And that if I didn’t, I. Had. Failed.

Lil Abner, Theatre West Virginia, 1994

Lil Abner, Theatre West Virginia, 1994                 (Far left is me)

Last week, I was gifted with a very special opportunity.  I received a scholarship, given to one woman cyclist each year, to attend a training camp designed for ultra-distance cyclists.  I was excited, and a little nervous, but what the heck?  I ride 200 miles in a day sometimes, I know something about cycling.  Uh-huh…

Due to scheduling complications, I arrived late and tired, which made the first day of training ambitious.  The second day was hard.  The third day was harder still.  Endurance cyclists, I noted, were ridiculously humble, and for good reason: no matter how far one rides, another can (and will) always ride farther.  My fellow campers were insanely accomplished ultra-distance cyclists.  The familiar, wobbly feelings were back; and they were preying upon my mind as steadily as the bumpy road and relentless headwind on my tired butt and wind-burnt face, If I don’t ride a trillion-gazillion miles on my bike and cross every continent in 6 hours by the time I’m fifty, will I. Have. Failed????

Once again, I had come ALLLL the way to brand new life experience, and I had brought myself.


“You are you. Now, isn’t that pleasant?”
― Dr. Seuss


PAC Tour selfie, Coronado Nat'l Forest, AZ

PAC Tour selfie, Coronado Nat’l Forest, AZ


Sometimes, I have to REMEMBER it’s pleasant.  It’s preceded by the very UNpleasant part of forgetting.  In such moments, I am extremely grateful to those of you who firmly remind me that:

  • We already had a Buddha
  • The necessity of artistic expression extends beyond receiving a Tony award
  • It’s completely okay if I do not love the pain that is saddling a bike for 36+ hours

There is a sweet relief in failure.  In the dissolution of Being and Not Being, we see once more that “being me,” is a moment-to-moment invention.  We actually get to choose, over and over again, how we want to receive what’s being offered.


Last Day of Training Camp with PAC Tour hosts/cycling-stars, Lon and Susan

Last Day of Training Camp with PAC Tour hosts/cycling-stars, Lon and Susan

But don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others.  Unfold your own myth…

Start walking toward (your Love).  Your legs will get heavy and tired.

Then comes a moment of feeling the wings you’ve grown, lifting.



Leaving the Rule Book on the Floor

Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.

– Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī 

In motorsports we work in the grey areas a lot.  You’re trying to find where the holes are in the rule book.

– Danica Patrick


My guess and my hope is that there are more Eco-chaplains out there.

– Lauren Van Ham, Renewing Ceremony (2007)

 When the solution is simple, God is answering.

-Albert Einstein

Last week, in session with a holistic therapist, I was challenged on a few life practices I’ve not once questioned:  I mentioned the loyalty I felt to my Ordination vows, the dedication I put into creating harmonious relationships, and the gratitude I feel for the amazing parenting efforts of my Mom.  And the therapist said,

“Sounds like a lot of rules….”

Whoa.  Lying on the table, my eyes closed, I crept my Ego over to this new point of view…and I took a look.  “What’s happening?” questioned the therapist.  Stifling a shriek and feeling my heart fight to remain in my chest, I said, “I feel like the etiquette book just fell on the floor.”

Has anyone seen the etiquette book, please?

Has anyone seen the etiquette book, please?

There is no Rule Book.  In my life I have so often wanted one, that I create them.  Continuously.  Consciously and unconsciously.  It’s ok; you can say it!  I’ve known for a long time now that I’m a late bloomer.  Nevertheless, at the ripe age of 41, my world is rocking with this ancient, duh!, love-it-or-hate-it-but-you-can’t-change-it realization.  There is no Rule Book.

At first breath, this scares the bee-jeebies out of me.  I mean, c’mon, there are a few things I can count on, right?  Well yes…sort of.  And sort of not.

So, I take a deeeeep breath.  Then I remember (because I keep forgetting and re-remembering) that I wasn’t put here with some expectation to figure it out, or hold it together, or for that matter, to live out any specific agenda at all.  Zoiks!

How freeing is that?  I mean, wow!  When we look around, it’s abundantly clear there are a lot of ways to live a life.  This sacred, miraculous, mammalian, fragile, resilient life of ours….

Flash to Danica Patrick.  Ummm, did the Eco-chaplain really include a quote from Danica Patrick in her blog intro?  She did  (no rules).  [note: it is ok if you’re learning right now that Danica Patrick is the most successful woman in the history of American open-wheel (car) racing.]  Without a rule book, Danica has made some pretty lively choices.

And then there’s Albert Einstein.  Choices made by Albert in his rule-free life help me to see the Great Web that holds us, a web of which we’re all a part.

And in these intricately woven threads of existence are all the rules and the not-rules.  Some (me, Albert, you?) might call it God(dess).

Photo: Thanks to Rose & Clint

Photo: Thanks to Rose & Clint

And there’s me, Lauren, who for lack of a better name, refers to her life’s work as, Eco-chaplaincy.  Please tell me if you relate to this: when I get too tied- up (attached?) in the importance of what I’m doing, my choices begin to take the form of an agenda, a series of rules.  When I can dial that all back, though, when I remember first simply to live, then going about making choices feels more like, “Dungeons & Dragons,” a Choose Your Own Adventure.

Look at these Berkeley residents, for example, creating some night-time folly and activism outside the City Council meeting last week,   "Save our P.O" (Post Office is threatening to close)

Look at these Berkeley residents, for example, creating some night-time folly and activism outside the City Council meeting last week, “Save our P.O” (Post Office is threatening to close)

From this place, I experience a wellspring of support.  It’s the Source from which I feel inspired to move, and to learn, and to love…with no guarantee of success.  When all of the other Rules have fallen to the floor, maybe this is the rule that remains.  See what I mean?  I can’t help myself….

It seems fitting to end this blog with a tribute to one of my favorite Eco-chaplains of this century.  Please enjoy

magnolia magic, while meandering UC's campus, Berkeley

Magnolia magic, UC’- Berkeley.

Why are We Here? What are We Doing?

[This post is the homily I had the great privilege of delivering for the three individuals called and ordained to Interfaith Ministry on September 22, 2012, by the Interfaith Congregation for Creative and Healing Ministries.  Thank you and Congratulations, Reverends Bob, Elaine, and Hanna!  ALSO: for another version of this post, please visit my friends at Lumunos, a very special Christian organization, focusing on Call and Relational ministry.  I’m delighted to share that, for the next few months, I’ll be joining the Lumunos blog as a guest!]

A few weeks ago I sat with Bob, Elaine and Hanna to talk with them about this day.  I asked them what they were hoping to have conveyed in this segment of the service, and one of them said, “In a nutshell, Lauren, we want you to explain ‘why we are here and what we are doing.’”

GRAND questions!  Why are we here?  What are we doing? 

First, Why are we here?  I have three ideas:

  1. For starters, as family and friends who love you, we’re here to honor and celebrate your sense of clarity.   Any person who comes to know his/her Right Work in this world deserves, at a minimum, recognition and more appropriately still, a ritual to proclaim it and to bless your way forward.
  2. As a spiritual community, we’re here to honor the practice of Interfaith.  I’m using the word, “practice,” very intentionally, because the word, Interfaith and how it is defined carries multiple truths for many people.  As a community, we’re here both to engage with and to celebrate the dynamic tension and stimulus invited through our Interfaith practice.
  3. Also, as individuals within the greater human family, I will boldly suggest we’re here because within each of us, there is a hunger or desire for things to be other than they are; for the Big Picture to look and feel different.

A day ago, I fell into a conversation with a handful of women I barely know.  We were reflecting on a local news headline that had us all distressed. Sighing softly and – I thought – inaudibly, I uttered, “We need to do something different.”  The woman across from me, put her hands to her chest, “Oh my gosh; that’s it!  We need to do something different.”  And this segues into the next question…what are we doing?

In Sanskrit, there is a phrase, “Neti; Neti.”  Translated, it means, “Not this; neither that.”  When something isn’t this…and it isn’t that, what remains?  This question actively informs our studies at The Chaplaincy Institute, and our spiritual practices as an Interfaith Congregation.  As a first step, we endeavor to better understand the “this” and the “that,” in their unique wholeness.  For example, we study the core teachings of Christianity, and the core teachings of Sikhism.  We strive to appreciate the light and the shadow imbedded in all the Wisdom Traditions.  And then, as Interfaith Ministers or Chaplains, we venture on, a little further.  Valuing the completeness of two ideas, what happens when we actively lean into the space that’s in-between? 

We all have experience with this concept; most commonly, it appears when we try to resolve a conflict, but it also shows up when humans are trying to do something different.  The work of interfaith ministry is not only about this, nor only about that, but about tending the possibility, as it arises.

I won’t lie: this work is DICEY.  Doing something “different,” means living unrehearsed.  It means responding to uncertainty; it means speaking truth when the stakes are high; it means searching for justice and embodying peace, it means sitting with others and allowing our powerlessness — our inability to fix painful situations — to be the offering of suffice.  Is this work reserved for clergy?  Heck, no!  In these times, it’s all hands on-deck.  On behalf of all species, the human family world-around; our resources, businesses, cultures and support systems all in flux and varying states of innovation and break-down, we are ALL being invited to engage in this practice.  AND, we need support.

And, this is why we’re here and what we’re doing.  Today, Bob, Elaine and Hanna are heeding a deep sense of Call.  Responding to their faithful belief, their trust in the Divine, they are offering themselves as resources of support.  In co-creative practice with the Divine, these three are signing-on to companion and witness the rest of us in the holy, unpredictable patterns of life and death, joy and sorrow, coming and going, growing and grieving.

And on this day, the Interfaith Congregation is both celebrating your Call and recognizing your accomplishments.  Your studies have strengthened you to do this work as authentically as each of you – Bob, Hanna and Elaine – can vulnerably-bravely-resiliently-wisely-and-compassionately muster.

March 2011 Ordination, Laying-On of Hands. Photo: V. Weiland

Each of us, responding to our hunger for greater connectivity, more intimacy, deeper understanding has arrived here today to bless your way forward.  Thank you for your courage; thank you for saying “Yes!;” thank you for inspiring the rest of us to ask if there’s, perhaps, something out there that might just be refreshingly, soothingly, soul-shiftingly different.

To close, I bless you with the words of Rumi and his poem, Always You:

First when I was apart from You, this world did not exist, nor any other.

Second, whatever I was looking for was always You.

Third, why did I ever learn to count to three?