LADDERS of Success: The Way Up Is Down

UPDATED 7/2/20 to add a few more songs


SUMMARY (from the two meditations that follow)

“Francis [of Assisi] knew that climbing ladders to nowhere would never make us happy nor create peace and justice on this earth. Too many have to stay at the bottom of the ladder so we can be at the top. Living simply helps level the playing field and offers abundance and enoughness to all, regardless of our status or state of belonging to religion or group.”

“Thomas Merton said, ‘People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.’”


Simplicity: Embracing Enoughness - Tuesday, June 30, 2020

I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. —Lao Tzu

Most of us have grown up with a capitalist worldview which makes a virtue and goal out of accumulation, consumption, and collecting. It has taught us to assume, quite falsely, that more is better. But it’s hard for us to recognize this unsustainable and unhappy trap because it’s the only game in town. When parents perform multiple duties all day and into the night, it is the story line that their children surely absorb. “I produce therefore I am” and “I consume therefore I am” might be today’s answers to Descartes’ “I think therefore I am.” These identities are all terribly mistaken, but we can’t discover the truth until we remove the clutter.

The course we are on assures us of a predictable future of strained individualism, environmental destruction, severe competition as resources dwindle for a growing population, and perpetual war. Our culture ingrains in us the belief that there isn’t enough to go around, which determines most of our politics and spending. In the United States there is never enough money for adequate health care, education, the arts, or even basic infrastructure. At the same time, the largest budget is always for war, bombs, and military gadgets. I hope we can all recognize how the tragic consequences of these decisions are being played out right now.

E. F. Schumacher (1911–1977) said years ago, “Small is beautiful,” and many other wise people have come to know that less stuff invariably leaves room for more soul. In fact, possessions and soul seem to operate in inverse proportion to one another. Only through simplicity can we find deep contentment instead of perpetually striving and living unsatisfied. Simple living is the foundational social justice teaching of Jesus, Francis and Clare of Assisi, Dorothy Day, Pope Francis, and all hermits, mystics, prophets, and seers since time immemorial.

Franciscan spirituality asks us to let go, to recognize that there is enough to go around and meet everyone’s need but not everyone’s greed. A worldview of enoughness will predictably emerge in us as we realize our naked being in God instead of thinking that more of anything or more frenetic doing can fill up our infinite longing and restlessness. Francis did not just tolerate or endure simplicity; he loved it and called it poverty. Francis dove into simplicity and found his freedom there. This is hard for most of us to even comprehend. Thankfully, new monastics like Tessa Bielecki, Shane Claiborne, and Adam Bucko illustrate how this is still possible even in our modern world.

Francis knew that climbing ladders to nowhere would never make us happy nor create peace and justice on this earth. Too many have to stay at the bottom of the ladder so we can be at the top. Living simply helps level the playing field and offers abundance and enoughness to all, regardless of our status or state of belonging to religion or group.



--Mahatma Gandhi


Reverse Mission: The Way Up Is Down - Wednesday, August 26, 2015

As Thomas Merton said, “People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.” Cited by Richard in the above 2015 Daily Meditation.




(from the above Daily Meditation) Jesus, perhaps disappointingly, gives no abstract theory of social justice. Instead, Jesus makes his life a concrete parable about how to live in this world. He demands of his first followers that they be living witnesses to a simple life on the edge of the dominant consciousness. Once you are at the visible center of any group, or once you are at the top of anything, you have too much to prove and too much to protect. Growth or real change is unlikely. You will be a defender of the status quo—which appears to be working for you. Every great spiritual teacher has warned against this complacency. The only free positions in this world are at the bottom and at the edges of things. Everywhere else, there is too much to maintain—an image to promote and a fear of losing it all—which ends up controlling your whole life.


There’s only room at the top for one.





But if we level the playing field/ladder, there’s plenty of room for folks to stand next to us…




(above meditation continued) An overly protected life—a life focused on thinking more than experiencing—does not know deeply or broadly. Jesus did not call us to the poor and to the pain only to be helpful; he called us to be in solidarity with the real and for own transformation. It is often only after the fact we realize that they helped us in ways we never knew we needed. This is sometimes called “reverse mission.” The ones we think we are “saving” end up saving us, and in the process, redefine the very meaning of salvation!

Only near the poor, close to “the tears of things” as the Roman poet Virgil puts it, in solidarity with suffering, can we understand ourselves, love one another well, imitate Jesus, and live his full Gospel. The view from the top of anything is distorted by misperception, illusions, fear of falling, and a radical disconnection from the heart. You cannot risk staying there long. As Thomas Merton said, “People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.”

I believe that, in the end, there are really only two “cauldrons of transformation”: great love and great suffering. And they are indeed cauldrons, big stew pots of warming, boiling, mixing, and flavoring! Our lives of contemplation are a gradual, chosen, and eventual free fall into both of these cauldrons. There is no softer or more honest way to say it. Love and suffering are indeed the ordinary paths of transformation, and contemplative prayer is the best way to sustain the fruits of great love and great suffering over the long haul and into deep time. Otherwise you invariably narrow down again into business as usual.

Gateway to Silence:

“Every change of mind is first of all a change of heart.” —The 14th Dalai Lama



Up Against the Wall Music

Alok & Sevenn - The Wall (Official Music Video)

--animated look at the rat race – the wrong wall? The second mouse gets the cheese.

See more of these cheesy jokes at my “Mangia” blog post.

A second Alok & Sevenn animation on the same theme – are the rats winning this race?


Moron [sic] Walls


Cinco de Mayo - Walls can keep people out and keep people in. What kinds of walls are we building? Blog post


Anti-climb-actic [sic] ending

Man uses rope ladder to climb border wall claimed to be unclimbable.


Simplicity in Song...simple country/metal, folk & dance (added 7/2/20)


Simple Man - Lynyrd Skynyrd

"Oh, take your time, don't live too fast

Troubles will come and they will pass

You'll find a woman and you'll find love

And don't forget, son, there is someone up above"


"Forget your lust for the rich man's gold

All that you need is in your soul"


"And be a simple kind of man

Oh, be something you love and understand"


"Boy, don't you worry, you'll find yourself

Follow your heart and nothing else"


Some personal reflection on this theme

This has worked for me...Troubles have come and gone and, by Grace, I'm still here.

I was led to Eileen...and she's still here.

I've been blessed with enough to live on and some to pass on to John and others.

Some days, I'm still looking for myself...but that is profitable, as it's a searching for my True Self, my soul...the essence that's supposed to live forever. I'm trusting this with my simple faith. And, as my journey moves along, life is more about subtraction than addition...about letting fall away that which obscures my True Self.


Simple Gifts - Judy Collins

'Tis a gift to be simple,

'Tis a gift to be free,

'Tis a gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

It will be in the valley of love and delight.


When true simplicity is gained,

to bow and to bend, we will not be ashamed

To turn, turn, will be our delight,

'Til by turning, turning, we come round right.


"Simple gifts" from "The lord of the dance"


#RichardRohr #ladders #success #FranciscanSpirituality #ThomasMerton #AlokAndSevenn #PinkFloyd #Gandhi #walls #LynyrdSkynyrd #JudyCollins #dance #LordOfTheDance

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