A Zen’s-Eye View: Don’t plan the results

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This slogan undercuts our attachment to either success or failure. It is a kind of positive giving up. Abandoning any hope of having things go the way we want them to go does not mean abandoning projects and ambitions. Instead it points to a way of living that is present-focused rather than results-fixated.

When we do anything, we usually do it for a purpose. We have some aim in mind and we hope to accomplish that aim. Of course we hope to succeed rather than fail. That is fine. But what often happens is that our thoughts of success or failure begin to overpower the task at hand. The fear of failure can make us timid and unwilling to take necessary risks; our clinging to a successful outcome can tighten us and block optimum performance. We become impatient and grit our teeth trying to force the desired outcome. Hope of success and fear of failure go hand in hand. They are all about trying to control the future — a futile endeavor.

So much of education and conventional thinking about how to motivate people is based on the model of hope and fear. We learn that positive action in the present moment is not enough, that what we do is valuable only if it brings positive results in the future. This attitude robs us of our lives, which can only be lived right now. Education and culture have conditioned us to expect some kind of future reward and confirmation if we succeed and to expect some form of punishment when we do not. The idea of heaven and hell, for example, is based on this basic delusion that is inherent in the human mind. But according to this slogan, it is better to abandon the whole approach of working for future results and think, speak and act as best we can for the sake of being the best we can be right now. In that way, when we act, there are no hidden agendas or selfish ulterior motives.

Even the practice of developing loving kindness through slogan practice could be tainted by this desire to be recognized and confirmed. Our attempts to develop loving kindness may begin to be more about cultivating an image of being wise and compassionate than actually helping other people. Because of our need to confirm ourselves and to prove to ourselves that our efforts have been successful, we may try to force a reaction of appreciation or gratitude on those we are supposedly selflessly helping. According to this slogan, there is more room for real kindness and compassion to arise if we let go of our attachment to results, or at least loosen it a little.

Today’s practice: How is it possible to maintain your focus, to “keep your eyes on the prize,” without getting fixated on results? As you go about your activities, pay attention to the difference between having a goal and being taken over by your hopes, fears, and speculations.

This column is a long series of short essays exploring the meaning of the Lojong Slogans. It is inspired by the work of Judy Lief.

Kuya Minogue is the resident teacher at Creston’s ZenWords Zen Centre. For more information, she can be reached at 250-428-3390.