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The Great Failure: My Unexpected Path to Truth (Insight: the Spirit Behind the Words) Paperback – Oct 2005

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Product details

  • Paperback: 209 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; Reprint edition (Oct 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060816120
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060816124
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 1.3 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 300,424 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Paperback. Pub the Date: October 2005 Pages: 224 in Publisher: HarperOne One of America's favorite teachers. Natalie Goldberg. has inspired millions to write as a way to develop an intimate relationship with their minds and a greater understanding of the world in. which they live . Now. through this honest and wry exploration of her own life. Goldberg puts her teachings to work.

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AFTER MY ZEN TEACHER DIED, a fellow practitioner said to me, Natalie, your writing succeeded. Read the first page
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32 of 37 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 4 April 2005
Format: Hardcover
What can you say about a woman who has written about writing then writes about her extremely personal journey through the labyrinthine path of two losses? This is bare, exhausting, revelatory writing. What you would expect from Natalie Goldberg. The connections she discovers between her experience with her beloved but inappropriate father and her adored and flawed teacher will ring, no doubt, for many women who have entrusted male figures with an almost mystical power. Natalie lets us know that to have feet of clay is simply the human condition. Her gift, beyond her incredible handling of her craft, is to hold all the ambiguity inherent in this profound journey without losing the pain that brought healing.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Once again Natalie Goldberg writes with such honesty, humour that you cannot put this book down. A must read for anyone who wants to write.

I found this book so interesting, and could relate so much to Natalie
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 33 reviews
72 of 76 people found the following review helpful
A new direction for this author 29 Oct 2004
By Dr. Cathy Goodwin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book differs in subject and style from Natalie Goldberg's previous books. Here she writes of feeling betrayred by two father figures, her natural father and her Buddhist teacher Katagiri Roshi, the bartender and the monk of the subtitle. Attending an abuse group, she begins to remember episodes from her childhood and she wants her family to acknowledge how they harmed her.

Without sparing herself, and with a hint of irony, Goldberg writes of confronting her parents by letter. They react with almost comic bewilderment. Goldberg's mother, Sylvia, a child of immigrants, views the world literally: did you eat and sleep? Were you warm? Her father, Buddy, ran a "rough" bar for years. His response to Goldberg's accusations was, "Were you on drugs?" Psychology, the author summarizes, was developed in a country outside Brooklyn.

Even after the family reconciles - which means she begins speaking to them after three years - Goldberg's parents still don't understand her new life. When Goldberg offers to give them a Zen experience, her father begins singing along with the silence bell. In one of their last visits, Buddy whispers an insulting remark about Natalie's weight.

The author gets her second shock, as word spreads about Katagiri Roshi's numerous love affairs with Zen students. She begins to remember episodes she'd tried to ignore. She recalls Roshi's remarks about her beauty. And ultimately she recognizes that Roshi gave her a tremendous gift, regardless of his personal life. She writes (page 136) that both artists and religious leaders can be "enlightened" in their work, yet function "cruelly and ignorantly" in their personal lives.

Toward the end of Great Failure, Natalie writes about crashing her car while fiddling with knobs on her tape deck. She adds, almost casually, that she'd been given "two or three" speeding tickets in the past six months, including one where the police actually chased her down. These episodes were disturbing.

She realizes she's acting out rather dangerously, and she realizes she's in an in-between phase, losing Roshi but not finding another touchstone. She doesn't judge herself, just reports, and in fact people often do behave in unusual, even bizarre ways when they're in the eye of the transitional hurricane.

I think the key to this book is Natalie's wish to be remembered like her heroes, not just as a writer, but as someone who dealt with loneliness and made mistakes. Because she tells these stories about herself, that's exactly how she will be remembered.
57 of 60 people found the following review helpful
A strange memoir 4 Dec 2005
By S. D Temple - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The oddest and most disturbing memoir of abuse is perhaps Kathryn Harrison's book "The Kiss", about her sexual relationship with her father, a relationship that extended into adulthood. In contrast, Natalie Goldberg's book is odd precisely because it is difficult to figure out who did what harm to her, despite the fact that the book is packaged in the language of sexual expoitation. That her father could be boorish, insensitive, unattuned to his daughter's needs, and at times frightening, is not in doubt. Whatever sexual doubts and insecurities the author harbored, were only amplified by his grossly unattuned parenting of her. And while the author takes pains to document allegations that her beloved Zen teacher, the renowned Dainin Katagiri Roshi, she states that he never sexually expoited her. To be sure, both men disappointed her. And this seems to be the crux of the memoir. It is really a lament about disillusionment, important people in the author's life who were flawed and imperfect, despite her emotional needs that they be otherwise.

To her credit, Natalie Goldberg is a fine writer, who manages to put her own frailties on the page for the reader's scrutiny. She deserves credit for this. The book will lead readers to question our own assumptions about teachers, about parents, and about the failure of those important people in our lives to be 'perfect'. Goldberg doesn't provide any neat and tidy epiphanies here. But in a sad and loving tribute to her teacher, she leaves the best lines about this matater for Katagiri, himself. In response to a question from a student, asking if "it's okay to just listen to yourself?", Katagiri responds: "Ed, I tried very hard to practice Dogen's Zen. After twenty years I realized there was no Dogen's Zen." Dogen was the 13th Century Zen monk who founded Katagiri's sect, and Katagiri seems to be saying that real spiritual growth involves taking responsibility for our own growth, and freeing ourselves from the grip of childlike fantasies of perfection. This by no means excuses expoitive misconduct by spiritual teachers or, for that matter, parents. It does mean that if, at least in adulthood, we know it's "okay to listen to yourself", the teacher's power to harm is diminished. While there is no sign the author has quite learned this lesson, she at least understands it well enough to make it available to the reader.
31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
The Greatest Failure of All 1 Sep 2005
By Jeanie C. Williams - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
"Of course, we are drawn to teachers who unconsciously mirror our own psychology," writes writing guru/Zen practitioner Natalie Goldberg. In The Great Failure, she ponders her own psychology after a life-shattering realization causes her to reassess her relationships with her father, her Zen teacher and ultimately herself while she searches for balance in both her spiritual and writing practices.

Goldberg describes her father (the bartender) as an old-fashioned man's man with fluctuating boundaries. In daring to capture the full bravado of her larger-than-life Jewish father, she illuminates the intricacies of a precarious father-daughter relationship. She writes about how she tried to teach her parents to meditate during one of their rare visits to Santa Fe from Long Island. Her father interrupts the session by launching into his personal rendition of "Hello Dolly" while accompanying himself with his daughter's meditation bell. This and other more inappropriate behavior by both of her parents led Goldberg to reduce their contact to letters for several years; this tenuous relationship also leads Goldberg ultimately to Dainin Katagiri Roshi, a dynamic, celebrated Zen master.

Goldberg explores the link between her charming father and her charismatic Zen teacher when she learns a few years after Roshi's death that he'd had affairs with some of his female students. Faced with this truth, Goldberg's perceptions about her teacher are completely shattered. "I had the illusion that he (Roshi) was perfect," she writes. Complicating matters is the fact that she wrote lovingly of her devotion to Roshi's teachings (and about his death) in an earlier memoir entitled Long Quiet Highway.

Goldberg describes the betrayal she felt regarding Roshi's secret life, and how it mirrored the feelings of betrayal by her own father when she learned of his adulterous past. Ultimately, these two very powerful and provocative relationships in her life cast doubt on her understanding of herself.

In spite of her piercing honesty and elegant writing, Goldberg's latest feels self-centered and precious, like writings from a diary rather than a compelling narrative. Many readers may conclude that this story isn't so significant after all and will probably wonder about its relevance. Disillusionment is so very often the stuff of life and there are scores of brilliant books on the matter that stand out brighter than this one. However, the writing is provocative and straightforward and Goldberg's mission here-as it always has been-is personal. Full of Goldberg's generosity and trademark gifts for both humor and teaching, The Great Failure ultimately touches our hearts and minds as we come to recognize the ways in which each of us fails to confront our own illusions.

If you are looking for writing advice in The Great Failure you will be disappointed; however, Goldberg's fans will appreciate her dogged determination to get at the truth and to come clean about personal failings. This is the path Goldberg has unwaveringly navigated throughout her writing life. In The Great Failure, Goldberg puts her teachings to work.

Reviewed by Jeanie C. Williams
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Poignant and Insightful 4 April 2006
By Katherine Masis - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Idealization of spiritual teachers can be so strong that news of their ethical misconduct is just as shocking after their death as while they are alive. In her latest book, The Great Failure: A Bartender, a Monk, and My Unlikely Path to Truth (Harper San Francisco, 2004) Natalie Goldberg poignantly reveals her dismay and disappointment at finding out, several years after his death, that Katagiri Roshi, her Zen teacher, had slept with some of his female students. Similarly, Goldberg shares her dismay at finding out about her father's extramarital affair after his death.

Psychotherapists, doctors, school teachers, college professors, and supervisors at work may represent parental figures from the past to their clients, patients, students or employees. These relationships may evoke yearnings and expectations in clients, patients, students or employees that may or may not be met. "I needed to be reflected in another," Goldberg admits (p. 101). This is what Freud had called "transference," and the relationships between spiritual teachers and their students are fraught with potential for sticky transferences that may become very difficult to work through-especially since they are rarely, if at all, acknowledged or commented on in the spiritual teacher-student relationship. "Unknowingly, Roshi became my mother, my father, my Zen master" (p. 102).

Not only do spiritual teachers represent parental figures for their students-in a very real sense, they represent, for want of a better term, the Divine. For example, Zen students may believe that their Zen teachers are deeply enlightened individuals who, because of their many years of meditation and training, and because of the authority vested in them by virtue of ceremonies that sanction the transmission of the Buddha's teachings, are infallible spiritual heroes. "I had made him [Katagiri Roshi] perfect," Goldberg confesses. "Because of my family abuse, I was driven to get what I had longed for in my family" (p. 101). "He spoke to me evenly, honestly. My hunger was satiated-the ignored little girl still inside me and the adult seeker-both were nourished" (p. 118).

As Goldberg looks back on her six years as Katagiri Roshi's student, she identifies moments when her idealization was weakened:

"I had a glimmer then of the chasm between the Zen master and the lonely, insecure man. That moment was an opportunity to hold contradictory parts of him, to understand life doesn't work in a neat package the way I wanted it to. I could have come closer to his humanity-and mine. But I wasn't ready or willing. I had a need for him only to be great, to hold my projections. In freezing him on a pedestal I had only contributed to his isolation" (p. 115).

As a former Zen student of fifteen years (eleven under the direction of one teacher), I recall how I, too, needed my former teacher to "be great." Would I have idealized her less if my own personal needs had been less, or if I had acquired enough perspective of how the Zen institution had contributed to mythmaking through the centuries? Goldberg was fortunate to have that glimmer. Was Goldberg an unusually perceptive student, or did her Zen teacher allow himself to be revealed in some ways, however small? Many Zen teachers in the west seem to do everything possible to avoid being seen as real people: they put on a façade that is impossible to live up to, or hide behind their role, or discourage reading and study about Zen-a necessary element for placing the Zen institution and the teachers who represent it in an appropriate historical and cultural context.

Sooner or later, façades come tumbling down, hypocrisy and secrets reveal themselves. One would expect that long-term idealization would come to an end, or at least be compromised. "Eventually, as the teacher-student relationship matures, the student manifests these [projected spiritual] qualities herself and learns to stand on her own two feet. The projections are reclaimed. . . . We close the gap between who we think the teacher is and who we think we are not. We become whole" (p. 91).

One would hope. Goldberg describes the best-case scenario, and rightfully points out the student's role in growing up spiritually. But spiritual teachers themselves have a part to play as well. If Zen teachers are savvy enough, their relationships with their students will become more down to earth and horizontal-and not just regarding the meditation practice itself. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Many longstanding western Zen students are unable to reclaim their projections, precisely because their Zen teachers, threatened by such reclaiming, do not foster it and cling to authoritarian, top-down ways of relating to their students.

Goldberg describes her struggles with deep loneliness and lack of a sense of purpose after losing her Zen teacher and her father. Years after the death of Katagiri Roshi, Goldberg realizes that the "regimented practice" of formal Zen meditation no longer fit her (p. 97). Goldberg goes on to share her ongoing process of making peace with her Zen teacher's and her father's past in her journey toward writing as spiritual practice.

Although at times Goldberg leans a bit too heavily on the individual student's role in idealization and subsequent disappointment in Zen teachers, The Great Failure offers solid insights into the often problematic transferences that develop in students with respect to their spiritual teachers. Written with honesty and sensitivity, this book is recommended reading for anyone who has ever left a spiritual teacher for any reason, and for those who wish to understand the nature of the relationships between spiritual teachers and their students.
21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Finding out the Truth is never Pretty or Pleasant 15 Oct 2004
By B. A. Hill - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I disagree with one of the reviewer's who claims Natalie wants to portray herself as a victim. To the contrary, this book, more than any of her other books, deals with all the emotional turmoil inherent in being betrayed or discovering a betrayal of someone you love. Betrayal is an insidious act and healing from it is not an easy ride. In many ways it is much like Kubler Ross's stages of death -- anger, denial, bargaining, etc. etc. Natalie leads us through all her stages, and in the end, we see the human beings behind the betrayers....and after all, being human, she lets us know we each in our own way betray someone at some point. Americans tend to like "happy endings" when it comes to stories like this one. The ending here transcends happiness and ends up embracing acceptance, which is the ultimate act of healing from any betrayal.
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