Your aspirations could be the driving force that makes you work hard. For some, the dreams are the only hope and only reason they are alive.
Yet, aspirations are double edged swords. You can easily wait for your dream to materialize and waste your life while it never happens.
You might end up missing out on what is important in your life.
There is a way you can still have dreams and hopes but not miss out on what is valuable to you.
The practice of meditation can help you make it happen. It provides you an opportunity to relate differently to your goals.
It is through learning to relate differently to life goals, you can learn to be present for your life.
First lets get the connection between meditation and goals.
Is There a Goal to Meditation?
Does the process of meditation have a goal? Some people would argue it doesn’t.
But it does have a goal. Meditation is really mind training.
It is not an aimless practice. You work with different faculties and attitudes of mind to develop them further.
In the beginning, the goal is to train your awareness.
In order to achieve the goal, you can use an anchor. Typically the anchor is the breath, as in breathing meditation.
The goal of the meditation is to focus on your breath (rest your awareness on the breath).
Drop All Your Goals When Meditating
But paradoxically, many teachers will ask you to try and drop all goals as you practice meditation. More specifically you should try to not strive or push yourself towards the goal of focusing on your breath.
Why should we do that? Is there really a goal or not? Is it just being wishy-washy?
There may be some value in approaching your meditation practice in such a paradoxical fashion. Let’s dig deeper to figure out why.
The ultimate purpose of any meditation practice is to train your mind. You typically start with training one of the faculties of your mind, the awareness.
You train awareness by picking an anchor. E.g. the breath and practicing awareness of the breath.
As you practice awareness of the breath, you realize it is not at all easy to achieve the goal in such a practice. As your mind keeps wandering.
You may also encounter many other ‘distractions’ prevents you from achieving your goal, which is practicing the awareness of the breath (focusing on the breath).
You Are Very Good at Striving and Pushing Yourself
We are a goal driven species. Pursuing goals come naturally to you. What you are good at is striving to achieve goals. You tend to push our self really hard in order to achieve goals.
This attitude of striving or pushing can be effective in getting us close to our goals. But if your life were to turn into a series of goal pursuits, that would set you up for a lot of disappointment and the heartache.
By default, you approach goals as ends. You employ different means to reach the goal which is an end.
But that is not the only way to approach goals. There is another way of going about goals.
Goal as a Means and Not an End
Here you flip the goals upside down. In this alternate approach goals are not ends, but rather means. You still set goals but not something out there in the future to be achieved.
Here goals are just tools, means and the end is always the present moment. The end is always the now of your life.
Because there is nothing out there, for certain. There are just thoughts about what could be out there. What is certain is your life happening in this moment.
The journey is all you have. The journey of ups and downs.
And sometimes the present moment could be terrible with a lot of suffering. And that is the nature of life. Some moments are pleasant, some unpleasant and rest neutral.
You cannot expect all moments to be pleasant or unpleasant. At least, half the time things are not so bad in the present moment.
It is very common for the following scenario to play out in your life.
Aspiring Student Missing Out on Play
When you are in school, you aspire either to be a 4.0 GPA student, or you aspire to be a professional athlete. You prepare and focus on something out there which you haven’t achieved yet.
If your goal is an academic one, you skip play. If your goal is sports, you skip studies. Either way, you skip time with the loved ones.
When you reach the end of the school, you want to go to the ivy league or the college sports league. Again you sacrifice in order to prepare.
Although not many kids get into ivy leagues and college sports leagues. So you settle with what you get. Once in a college, again there is a new “out there” on the horizon.
Aspiring Job Seeker Settling With the Job
The dream job, or the dream draft. You get to work again. And after a few years of grueling work, most of you settle again.
It doesn’t end there. Then it is the promotion. Then it is retirement. It is your whole life.
What ends up happening is, you are always waiting for the next “out there” which you think will make you happy and content.
Most of the time, you don’t get what you aspire and you grudgingly settle. But even if you get what you wanted, the happiness and the satisfaction is only momentary.
The unsatisfactoriness kicks in again, as the new “out there” appears on the horizon. You end up not living your life, you end up chasing a mirage most of the time.
A Normal Guy Missing Out on Life
You only regret when you near your death. One of the worst regrets of dying is not being able to spend time with the loved ones.
I don’t mean to convey you should not engage in the activity you really enjoy, e.g. sports. Also being able to sacrifice, in itself is not necessarily a bad trait.
The problem is when such an attitude of waiting for “something out there” becomes the norm. That is when you start really missing out on life wholesale.
The Destination Is the Journey
This is why the goals as means could be a very useful skill you can learn.
Once you master this skill,
- you can still aspire to score well academically, you can still aspire to become the best sports person or
- you can still aspire to become the best sports person,
- you can still aspire for that promotion.
- But your life doesn’t depend upon that. The goal is just a tool. Your destination is the journey.
- You practice awareness much more. You are living in the moment.
- You take the time to reflect on what is meaningful to you. You prioritize your life so that you allocate time doing activities that you meaningful to you.
- You notice the urge to keep up with people around you, but you don’t give into that urge. You now know that you have a choice when it comes to your emotions and inner drives.
- You can set limits. You can easily say “no”.
- You can find contentment in whatever you already possess. You don’t obsess about losing things.
- You realize, the nature of reality is such that you can lose things anytime.
- You can lose your life anytime. But you can take all of that with a certain equanimity.
Learning the Skill of Goals as Means
How do you learn this skill? Meditation is a perfect opportunity to practice the skill of goals as means.
Things to keep in mind for practice goals as means during meditation.
- The ‘goal’ is still to orient awareness to the chosen anchor for the meditation and sustain it over there.
- You affirm that this is not the end goal. It is just a tool. Means you can relax a bit.
- You can also affirm it to yourself, that it is okay if your mind wanders a lot and you are not able to focus so much on the chosen anchor.
- The real goal of meditation is to be present or be aware. It is to be with your experience no matter what type of experience you have.
- You can expect to have some meditation sessions where it is easy for you to focus and others where it is not at all easy to focus.
You need goals.
Goals can make you lose sight of what really matters in life. As you always find yourself chasing the goals.
Goals can be ends, but can also be means to being present.
When you prioritize being present over striving for some outcome different than what you have, you are less likely to miss out on what is important.
Meditation can help you strike the balance between aspirations and reality.