“Meditation is the only intentional, systematic human activity which at bottom is about not trying to improve yourself or get anywhere else, but simply to realize where you already are.”
― Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are
I have always set goals for myself. And they have always been largely unrealized. Nevertheless, I have kept at it. I have made elaborate plans drawn to minutiae to attain these so called goals. Plans that are great in theory and set with the best of intentions invariably fall apart when life happens. But I never relent. Because goals to me, are a form of hope. That whatever it is that I have envisioned for myself, is indeed possible.
Goals are expectations we set for ourselves. To progress intellectually, physically, emotionally, spiritually from where we are to where we want to be. Many a time goals motivate us to act. But for many of us, it is a constant reminder of our inadequacies. They stem from an inherent belief that we are not happy with who we are. That we somehow fall short of who we want to be.
Some time ago, I came across this interesting concept of not setting goals. Initially, it seemed a bit far fetched. I considered it as something only a perfectly confident (and smug) person could possibly embrace. Never one to dismiss an idea from someone I admire, I stored it away to revisit it some other time. But it kept resurfacing and the more I mulled over it, the more it made sense - to not have goals. To realize that 'This is it'. To be content with where we are right now.
It was radical to think of not setting goals. A wonderful refreshing thought that you can be functional and happy without goals. That is not to say that it is an excuse for inaction. I think my initial reluctance to this shift in thinking was because I was confusing goals with focus. I do understand that it takes patience and practice to focus in the moment without aspiring to a better state in the future, but it is a very inviting possibility. Now, where I have I heard this before - ‘act without expecting fruits of your labor’ (Gita anybody?).
How wonderful would it be to completely immerse myself in whatever I am doing, with utmost focus, without being mired in expectations of tomorrows. Say, to enjoy the act of running, not to shed a few pounds, but purely to enjoy the feeling of movement. To practice yoga, not to gain physical prowess, but to be fully aware of the physical movement with breath. To read, not to show off the newly gained knowledge but to gain a better understanding of life, of people, of places and experiences. To write, not to expect praise or fear criticism, but to express creativity and to find clarity. To work, not to reach the pinnacle of a career in the shortest possible time (rhetorically speaking... because due to some inscrutable mental block I have never ever aspired to this) but for it to be something that propels me with meaning and purpose.
It is challenging to live life in an unconditional way and to engage without expectations. It takes courage and honesty to take a given moment as it comes and realize one's potential. It takes mindfulness to not compromise the present for some milestone birthday in the future hoping to cross-off items on a ‘to-achieve’ list. So yes, I might be able to hold a headstand now, but to what purpose? Have I learned anything from the accomplishment? Or did I meet the goal merely to gloat? I have to ask these questions because, I find that though I might have worked hard (albeit intermittently), to stand upside down, it is a herculean struggle to continue on. Now that I have arrived at my goal, what next? Handstand perhaps? I can sense a resistance in forming yet another goal. To keep scaling the mountain now seems pointless and excruciating. Inertia sets in and worse still, instead of a forward momentum, I seem to be slipping and sliding all the way to base camp. From this obscure point, it is easier to give into disillusionment. Because now, the summit, aka ‘the current goal’, seems all the more impossible to reach.
For now though, I have found middle ground. To not entirely do away with goals but not to get obsessed with them either. I am learning to use goals as a guide when I realize I have veered off from the path I want to be in. To gain perspective when I realize that the choices I have been making are not congruent with who I truly am. It is when I lose focus that my alarm bells go off.
So, here is to your moment...