Monday, 13 May 2013

The sticky shadows of success & failure

I have been following a blog by John Stepper.  Although not always relevant to my life, I find his posts are often very thought provoking.  His most recent post is about how people bloom if they are treated as people with potential, and it brought to mind my own experience of this from my school days.

In junior school (ages around 7 – 11) I was treated as what John Stepper calls ‘a bloomer’.  And indeed I bloomed.  Much was asked and expected of me in an encouraging way and I blossomed as an achiever.  I was very happy in this school, worked hard and loved my schoolwork.  At that time there were still grammar schools which you could only attend if you passed the 11+ examination.  I did pass and so was able to go to grammar school.

Based on my performance at junior school I was placed in the ‘A’ stream at the grammar school.  At this school however, the atmosphere was not so nurturing.  I was just one of the many able students and came from a very ordinary working class family, and consequently was regarded as of little consequence.  I was no longer treated as a bloomer and my capacity to bloom withered away.  Soon I was moved down to the ‘B’ stream.  I worked hard, but left the school as soon as I could (aged 16).  Despite achieving good examination results, I somehow felt that I had failed.

Throughout my life, despite many successes, I have often felt that I was still shaking off the feeling of being a failure because of this school experience.  Such neurotic patterning is regarded as self indulgence for a practitioner of Vajrayana and has to be allowed to dissolve.  Practitioners let go of their history and the sticky shadows of success and failure.  We cannot use the past as an excuse or justification for responses and behaviour in the present.

Ideas of success and failure are connected with the eight worldly dharmas (jigtèn chö gyed – jig rTen gyi chos brGyad); gain and loss; hope and fear; praise and blame; meeting and parting.  These four pairings are reflections of form and emptiness.  We like the form qualities but dislike the emptiness qualities.  We continually attempt to create form in our life: success, praise, pleasure, gain; and avoid or become distressed when their opposite occur: failure, blame, pain, loss.

If I had stayed in the ‘A’ stream at school and been treated as a bloomer perhaps my life would have been different.  Perhaps I would have been more successful, perhaps happier – but not necessarily.  It is actually completely irrelevant to the present moment.  Everyone has potential – everyone has the potential to awaken, to discover realisation.  John Stepper has recognised this in the context of the corporate world and suggests that employers can enable all their employees to bloom.  Vajrayana practitioners have the responsibility of recognising this in each and every moment and in each and every situation so that they can offer all sentient beings—including themselves—the opportunity to bloom.

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