The Heyoka (Sacred Clown) or Why I Think My Life Purpose is to Fail (Part 1: Upside Down and Backwar

I’m not saying that I am a heyoka or that I have heyoka medicine, but I have been attracted to the concept of the sacred clown for as long as I knew it existed and even though I am by no means an expert (or even intermediate in my knowledge of the concept) I would like to apply my idea of it for this point (I hope this doesn’t offend anyone and if anyone has any corrections or knows more about heyoka please share them with me! Thanks!).

When I was a kid (9? 10? I don’t remember the age) we went on a family vacation to Arizona. That was one my favorite vacations for a number of reasons. One of those reasons was that I discovered these amazing items called Kachina (hopefully that is spelled correctly) dolls. I didn’t know what they were, but I fell instantly in love with and in awe of them.

Later we learned that they were representations of Native American gods, or spirits (this is coming from my memory not research so I apologize if I am not being accurate). I loved all of them, but my absolute favorite for a reason I could not explain were the least colorful and most human-like. They were men (or women) with black and white horizontal stripes from head to toe. On their heads (though you could not see a start or finish) it looked like they wore caps with tassels hanging off the sides. For some reason many of their images included watermelons.

I really loved those things and I counted up my allowance in hopes of buying a little statute of them (I don’t remember if I did actually buy one—if so it must’ve gotten lost years ago). My sister saw me looking at them one day and told me that they were clowns.


I was disappointed. I don’t like clowns.

I don’t know if I said this out loud or if she read my expression, but she reassured me, They aren’t like normal clowns. They are sad clowns and they have some kind of sacred meaning.


My sister was only a kid too (3 years older than me) and she knew this from a museum we had gone to earlier in the week. She had actually paid attention to the exhibits while my younger brother and I ran around and spent the day in the “kids area” making crafts.

Yeah. She told me, explaining to the best of her ability, they are upside-down clowns, or backwards and they are supposed to teach important lessons.

Upside down, backwards clowns! How cool. (I don’t know why being upside down or backwards made them cool, but somehow it did). Now I liked them even more.

Time moved on. We saw the Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest and then went home, and I didn’t think anymore about upside down backwards, colorless clowns who for some reason really liked watermelon.

I didn’t think about the sacred clowns again until I was in college. It was in one of my sociology classes (I don’t remember which). We were reading a memoir (we read a lot of those). I don’t remember much about it, but I remember that at one point the author talked about a lightning strike and shamanism via the sacred clown.

It was about falling down in order to learn how to teach others to get back up.

There was a lot going on in my life at that time so again I just moved on…

In the past year I’ve been learning a lot about spirituality (Via Youtube mostly) and it has been an amazing journey. At some point in the year a video showed up on Heyoka. If I can find it, I’ll attach it below.

Why does this matter?

It doesn’t—except that it brought the concept to the surface of my mind where it has been floating around waiting to form into a full thought.

So going back to the title of this whole thing; why do I think my life purpose is to fail? (well that might be a hyperbole, I don’t think that’s my sole purpose or even that I’ve failed completely). Here is the thing: Heyoka medicine (at least to the best of my understanding) is about shattering perspective to teach a greater truth. Again, I’m not claiming to be a shaman of any kind... but I have noticed something…

Every time I’ve decided to define the term “failure,” I’ve managed to fulfill my own criteria.

In Jr High I thought that not getting straight A’s meant failure… I got a B and cried. In High School I thought that not fitting in would basically equate to failure: I was consumed with mental illness and did not fit in at all (thankfully there were people at my school nice enough to be my friend anyway). I thought in college that failure would be to graduate with nothing… I got my degree and I couldn’t use it. I lost my friends. I blocked as much of that experience from my mind as possible. Failure. Failure. Failure.

I went to graduate school; I had to quit my internship because my supervisor noticed I was struggling with anxiety. I ended up dropping out altogether.

I got divorced—twice (failure?). I stopped being able to work. Failure.

I wanted so badly to be normal but… I have schizophrenia (failure?), I’m gay (failure?), and I’m gender fluid (failure?)… You get the idea.

I have spent a lot of my time defining failure (bad idea btw) and then meeting my own criteria and from that I have learned that I am getting to be really good at failing.

😊 I’m kidding—sort of…

Actually, I’ve also learned that failure isn’t a real thing; it’s a definition I’ve made up and then by focusing on it have ended up fulfilling (in some case I made it up after I fulfilled my own criteria because I was fighting myself). I’ve also learned that it has never killed me-- on the contrary it has pushed me to live.

Finally, and most importantly, I’ve realized that maybe failure is my way of practicing the sacred clown medicine… My way of helping others. I’ll explain more in the next post.

Here is one of the videos I mentioned earlier (Note: This is not my video, the copyright does not belong to me).

#PersonalGrowth #LifeLessons

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