Merton, Hope, Fear and Outcomes

Because of teachers, friends, life, contemplations and other stuff, this old quote from Thomas Merton has been rolling around in the rock tumbler of my mind, and getting smooth:

“Do not depend on the hope of results … you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself…you gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. … In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.”

Let’s take this part first, “you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect.”

This isn’t new territory, but my experiences are deepening my understanding and uses of success and failure. Success and Failure are both designations of possible outcomes, but I think I see that they should not be the primary focus.  They are best as ways to categorize outcomes, but that categorization is often a moving target. Something that seemed in your favor turns out to not be that way, later on. One success may lead to a bad outcome later. It’s all mushy as life rolls on. There are many cool stories in various wisdom traditions that go over this. One of my favs is, the Maybe Farmer [].

Wisdom, logic and intuition lay a best course for action. Then the success or failure of that action informs your current, present situation and the wisdom, logic and intuition for your present situation. Whether failure or success, it is still just data for the present. Which leads us to:

“As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself”

Wisdom, logic and intuition are best accessed from a calm, open state of mind. Any survival guide, book on leadership, meditation, etc. will let you know this.

It is from an open and calm state of mind that you discover all possibilities. You aren’t closing your mind and heart to possibilities through fear, hope or preconceived notions, philosophies, or ideals. The focus is not on winning but on the best way forward. If that ends up wrong, you re-evaluate and move forward as more information comes in. Best way to receive information? A cool, calm, open mind.

Sports teaches us this too. When you are in the zone, in baseball, pitching, you focus on this batter, this pitch. Not winning, losing, the next pitch, the last pitch. Only this one in the present moment. Shooting Free throws, same thing. In the zone, the body, just doing what it knows, and what is practiced. Swish.

Success or failure, that information is there to feed your current situation. Your current attempt.

“you gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. … In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.”
This is where I am. This is really the current re-discovery.

It seems these lessons I learn again and again, like the tide coming in, further and further up the beach. Oh, this lesson again, but it goes deeper.

Usually, people leave this section of the letter out of the quote, but I think it is important.

“it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.”

Through my contemplations and google searches on this, and looking for the Merton quote, I found an excellent article on everything I’ve been thinking on hope, fear, outcomes and Merton:

…”Merton spoke truthfully. It isn’t outcomes that matter. It’s people, our relationships, that give meaning to our struggles. If we free ourselves from hope and fear, It isn’t outcomes that matter. It’s our relationships that give meaning to our struggles. If we free ourselves from hope and fear, from having to succeed, we discover that it becomes easier to love. We stop scapegoating, we stop blaming, and we stop being disappointed in each other. We realize that we truly are in this together, and that’s all that matters.

“I know this to be true from my work, through The Berkana Institute, with colleagues in very desperate places. Zimbabwe has been the most compelling teacher—watching our friends and colleagues there deal with the descent of their country into violence, terror, and starvation, the result of a dictator gone mad. We’ve stayed in close contact by e-mail, phone, and periodic visits. We’ve learned that no matter how despairing the circumstance, it is our relationships that offer us solace, guidance, and joy. As long as we’re together, as long as we feel others supporting us, we can persevere.

“A Zimbabwean, in her darkest moment, wrote: “In my grief I saw myself being held, us all holding one another in this incredible web of loving-kindness. Grief and
love in the same place. I felt as if my heart would burst with holding it all.”

“Thomas Merton was right. We are consoled and strengthened by being together. We don’t need specific outcomes. We don’t need hope. We need each other. ”

I recommend reading the whole article:

Road Trip 2017: Colorado

Later this month, I’m heading out on the open road. The first out of state road trip in quite some time. I’m ready and excited. Well, it is a bit off and on, really. I’m excited and a bit unsure sometimes. But I’m going either way.

I’ve never seen the Rockies. That will be fixed on this road trip, and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen proper mountains, and I mean to drive deep into them. Alone.

I’m studying the maps, my Lonely Planet Guide for Colorado, and Google; looking for the places to go. A bit worried about the warnings to not hike alone. I’ve also had advice not to worry about that advice, or to just hike popular trails. We’ll see what I do. I’m happy to meet people on the trail and hook up with a team or something.

My most northern point will be the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya. Essentially, this trip is a pilgrimage to that Stupa. I was real reticent to go on this road trip, until this destination was added. Then it was like, now I have to go. Sincerely. It will be wonderful to see this Stupa and the Shambhala Mountain Center.

I’ll also take a weekend class at the Denver Shambhala Center with Shastri Nick Kranz. I’m excited about this class as well. I like the Shastri, and well, this is the originating reason for the trip. This is the best chance this year I have to take this class, with this teacher, and my heart says it is the right thing to do.

I hope to go to the Rocky Mountain National Park, Red Rocks, Fort Collins, Denver, Colorado Springs, etc.

I’m excited. The adventure begins soon. But I am nervous. I’ve never traveled so far, by car, alone. It’s a lot of driving, by yourself, especially that west Texas, high desert to Amarillo. That part of the trip is about an 8 hour drive alone.

I also had the feeling, quite a few times, that I’m not coming back.

I’m not certain how to understand this. Perhaps I mean, working with the nervousness and fear will be transformative. I am adventuring outside my comfort zone, into a lot of unknowns, and thereby when I get back, I’ll be different? Maybe? Or maybe this is some subliminal nod to the cliche that travel changes you, if you’re open to it.  Or maybe, because of some sort of death/rebirth metaphor, or maybe this is just more fear for me to work with, and will lead to a realization of the true self, especially upon seeing a building that promises liberation upon seeing (Stupa)? I’m not sure. I’ll have plenty of time to think about it on the road.

It could be that I will fall in love with Colorado. I don’t see how I could love another state more than Texas. But mountains. Mountains!

We’ll see. I’m up for the journey.

waxing crescent

lonely for whalesong
and the touch of volcano

clouds at sunset

Contemplation, Earth as Witness

I enjoy meditation outside, in the shade and dappled light of a canopy of trees, preferably near a stream, creek or river. For me, it’s good, restorative and invigorating. There’s plenty of research that backs up the goodness of forests, walks and outdoor meditation. I encourage you to search for these articles and studies, but even more than the research, I encourage you to do them, to try them for yourself. To taste is to know. Get outside and see if you can gain the testimony of the Earth, or as it is in the story of the Buddha, Earth as Witness. See if you can divine what that phrase means to you while you are outside. That phrase, Earth as Witness, is even in the Old Testament. Moses calls upon the Earth as witness, along with Heaven. I like to contemplate what these stories are getting at while I’m out in the wild. Why is the Earth’s testimony unassailable? What does this mean, to me?

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Light and Lightness and Love

My life is full of struggle and victory.

I found my dreams, they were eclipsed by old habits, which I quit about a week ago. If I ever told you, which I have to many people over many years, that I don’t remember my dreams, let me tell you, they are back and vivid af. If last night is any indication, some of those dreams are quite angry. No worries. It all reminds me of a line from the movie, Jacob’s Ladder, which uses a quote from Meister Eckhart (A favorite Christian mystic of mine), and I’ll paraphrase poorly, when you stop fighting your monsters, you find they were really angels all along, helping to set you free. One of last night’s many dreams was a nightmare about “something” trying to get in. Turning knobs, unlocking locks and pushing against doors. If I don’t wake up from fear, next time, I will invite it in.

I am interested in lucid dreaming
slightly less
than lucid living.

The hard realization from the weekend is how much I lied to myself about those habits. How hard I worked on their behalf, like an over-priced lawyer. I was good too.

But the heart wins and wants what it wants. My heart wants more clarity. More experiences. More fullness of it all. Everything.

Better days, my friends, filled with more light, and lightness, and love.

Comfort from the Book, Milarepa

I’m reading, “Milarepa: Lessons from the Life & Songs of Tibet’s Great Yogi” by Chogyam Trungpa, and Edited by Judith L. Lief. I’m really enjoying it.

Yesterday I read passages that brought me comfort:

“…one’s first meeting with aloneness is a meeting with one’s real ego, without any clothing…The feeling of loneliness is that the ego has no one to comfort it, no one to act as moral support.

One of the differences between this stage and earlier stages is that there is less aggression. There is no blame and no hatred. The aloneness is simply the feeling of being nowhere, not even lost. Obviously, there is tremendous sadness that there is nothing around you that you can hang on to. But it is your own ego acting as the voice of that sadness and loneliness. You cannot blame it on anybody or get angry. There is no point of reference, no source of communication.

…taking part in a retreat is a way to express that aloneness, that loneliness, that desolate quality…Cooking, sleeping, or walking might become a source of entertainment. There is little to do, so you are thankful that they provide something. But even that comes back to square one.

Eventually, you tend to get somewhat disillusioned with all that. You see that those retreat experiences are not exactly feelings of wretchedness, but there is a very faint and subtle feeling that you are falling in love with something. At the beginning of retreat you were irritated by the insects around you, but you begin to wish you could invite them for a party or for dinner. You begin to feel appreciation. A subtle romanticism is happening, completely due to the experience of there being nothing to entertain yourself with, so that everything comes back to you. Read More

Sidewalk Swimming

For years now, I’ve been working on not holding-in my stomach. I used to do it at all times, hoping that by holding it in, my stomach would look more flat, a bad habit I began around the age of 10 when I decided my belly poked out way too much. Any time I found myself holding in my stomach, for hours, at school, I was so happy, thinking I’m really getting it now, I’ve almost contorted enough to be average.

That kind of deep, long distance training takes time to unknot. The fascia and muscle memory needs to unlearn every reason I once gave my body to tighten, to not breathe fully, to be less than my full, relaxed self. I wish I could be with my 10 year old self, and tell that little guy to relax. It’s going to be OK. On a side note, I think that was what I was waiting for someone to tell me when I was a little me, “it’s going to be ok.”

I’ve made progress on the holding my stomach in, error. I’m pretty good at telling myself it’ll be ok, too. I felt corpulent and beautiful in my full belly this morning, and even a bit bawdy as I walked the city sidewalks. I was wearing a bit of a tight shirt, but I was still in my full body, breathing without shame. All the practice of letting it go working. Moving as only I can along this planet. Swimming through the morning rush and humidity. I love swimming. I have mammals returning to the ocean moments when I swim. Long moments, almost all my time, spent underwater being a whale, dolphin, or even a manatee moving through the deep. This morning, simply moving along the sidewalk, I was gliding, reminding me of those fluid moments underwater.

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