Sunday, November 30, 2014

Infernos and Asymptotes: On Abandoning Hope of Fruition


When I first read the next slogan, I laughed and then groaned and then laughed again.
Abandon any hope of fruition.
Really, this is the one sentence version of my biggest hurdle with Buddhism. Letting go of that hope of perfection, that ridiculous hope, isn't impossible but it is incredibly difficult for a recovering Type A like me.

Not that I needed further explanation, but I still went through the motions of research.'s alternate translation, "Give up any hope for results," confirmed what I already knew. However, their explanatory paragraph did add bit more about the "why":
"Hope for results takes you out of the present. Do what needs to be done now because it needs to be done now, not for the result it might bring."
Living in the here & now is the goal, after all, so anything that takes me out of the present is a problem. I get that.

Next step was Tricycle Magazine's take on this slogan, written by the inimitable Judy Lief. The entire piece kind of hurt to read, but one passage that really stood out was this:
"So much education and so much of the conventional thinking about how to motivate people is based on that model of hope and fear. We learn to expect some kind of reward or confirmation any time we succeed and to expect some form of punishment when we do not.  But according to this slogan, it is better to abandon that whole approach. In that way, when we act, there are no hidden agendas or ulterior motives."
Wow, a bit too close to home for comfort, but it's exactly when I'm out of my comfort zone that I tend to learn the most.

My first thought after I'd finished all my reading was of that oft quoted line from Dante's Inferno. I think that's why I groaned and laughed. Diligence and results are are the point of a Protestant work ethic aren't they? I may have been raised Jewish and I may have become a Buddhist, but I was raised in this country and it's impossible to get away from that mentality.
But then I remembered my favorite mathematical concept, "Asymptote." I bring it up here because the concept was first introduced to me in some book or article about positive psychology and its applications. Beyond its strict application in math, for me an asymptote is about two lines that get closer and closer but never touch. I like to think I take that approach to Buddhism: of getting closer and closer to the ideal but giving up any hope of being an actual living bodhisattva.

Lief's advice for how to act on this teaching is particularly daunting to me, but all the more important for that:
"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."
 So that's what I'll be doing this week. Until next time, namaste and all that.

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