Who’s Keeping Score?

“Falling down is what we humans do. If we can acknowledge that fact, judgment softens and we allow the world to be as it is, forgiving ourselves and others for our humanity. The Buddha’s First Noble Truth – that suffering exists – is, in itself, a permission to be human and not demand more of ourselves than we’re capable of. Our compassion arises from our very fallibility, and love takes root in the soils of human error.” – Lin Jenson, founding teacher of Chico Zen Center

This is the time of year in our American culture when many students (young and sometimes old!) have just recently graduated from one educational institution or another. It’s a time of ritual and ceremony as one chapter of a person’s life comes to an end and another chapter begins. It’s a time when we gather to celebrate accomplishments, hard work, and the overcoming of obstacles; a time when we set our sites on the hopefully bright future ahead.

Once upon a time in our American story, these events took place primarily on high school and college campuses, but nowadays we frequently find ourselves at middle, elementary, and even preschool graduations! And while I find these rites of passage to be deeply meaningful, I sometimes question if they’re feeding our individual and cultural need to be “good,” to be “successful?” If they’re supporting a cycle where we measure our internal self worth through external accomplishment? It’s a layered inquiry, with many possible answers and interpretations, but it guides me in the direction of something I would invite us all to explore: our relationship with our “failures.

And in this investigation of our relationship with our “failures,” in the spending of some quality time simply acknowledging our own humanity, I invite you to reflect upon this question: Who’s keeping score?

There’s a teaching in Buddhism known as the Eight Worldly Winds, pairs of opposites that we can all get swept away in. The Buddha, in an ancient Pali text known as the Lokavipatti Sutta, named these opposite winds as follows: gain and loss; fame and disrepute; praise and blame; pleasure and pain. In this teaching, the Buddha shares that these winds are “inconsistent, impermanent, subject to change,” but that we often spend a majority of our time welcoming the pleasant and rebelling against the unpleasant. We spend a great amount of energy inflating and/or deflating our ego’s sense of itself.

Sound familiar? Again: Who’s keeping score?

When we’re swept up in these winds, what is it we’re after?

In a 2014 commencement address that Pema Chodron gave to the graduating students at Naropa University, Chodron turned the concepts of “success” and “failure” inside-out by stating that failure is actually an underutilized skill. That failure can be “the portal to creativity, to learning something new, to having a fresh perspective.”

So, when we’re caught up in the often habitual response of labeling ourselves as “good” or “bad,” when the worldly winds of “success” and “failure” are blowing strong, it may be of benefit to simply widen the lens, soften our hearts, and get a little curious about what’s going on? It may be of benefit to gently meet our strong emotions and great expectations with kindness, compassion, and a small (or large!) dose of Who’s keeping score?