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 [http://truecenterpublishing.com/zenstory/maybe.html].

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:

http://berkana.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/BeyondHopeandFear.pdf

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