On being goal less

Last night at my meditation group I  got in a discussion about goalless practice. This is a Zen thing – the idea that the state you are in at this moment is perfect and goals imply that you are imperfect in this moment and that you need to somehow change.

This idea of not having a goal is crazy hard to grasp, especially being informed by Western, and even, American culture. Goals are such a huge part of who we are. Who am I if I don’t have goals? What kind of a person doesn’t have goals? A person who veers off in every direction. A person who has no focus. That seems like a crazy idea to me. I was born into a strict set of things I should strive for in my life. I am supposed to get married. I am supposed to be a homeowner. I am supposed to have a good job my entire life and then retire at age 65. These are the basic goals that have been instilled in me from the time I was born.

However, as I get older, I have been warming up to the idea of being goal-less. Indeed when I ask myself that common interview question “where do you see yourself in 5 years” I kind of draw a blank. In fact, that question kind of scares me a little. I like the idea of life taking me where it wants to take me. I think life is more exciting that way. I think that, if you let it, life will unfold in ways you will never expect, and they can be completely amazing beyond your imagination.

Lately I’ve been saying things to myself like, “Why don’t I read ‘The Heart Sutra‘ everyday and see what happens.” Or “What would happen if shot one large format pinhole photo everyday.” Basically doing  these things to see what will come of it.  I am naturally a very curious person and this kind of experimental living works well for me.

As a result, I have found myself  more immersed in the moment, rather than focused on the outcome. And when I do notice an outcome from doing this “thing” everyday I am surprised and excited by what I’ve learned. The wisdom seems to bubble up from inside my heart somewhere, rather than it being all in my head. For example, the outcome of reading The Heart Sutra everyday has been that I have learned about self compassion – which has been what I’ve needed to learn about! The outcome of shooting a large format pinhole shot everyday was that I learned a ton about how my camera works.

So now I am thinking about how I can apply this to health goals. This might be harder. I have some specific things I want to do with regard to health. I want to lose some weight – at least 15 pounds. The sad thing is that I’ve  been trying to lose this 15 pounds for a long time. It has been an elusive goal. So maybe it is time to let go of this goal. Maybe instead I should say, “what would happen if I went to the gym twice a week?” Or “What would happen if I ate a salad everyday for lunch?”

Embracing goalless practice when it comes to health might be harder to do…

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7 thoughts on “On being goal less

  1. At least when it comes to diet, I have found being goalless to make a huge difference. I have done many diets. Lost enough weight that had I not gained it back, I would weigh less than zero today. I don’t have a goal, I don’t have a diet, I don’t have a plan. I ask myself if I am really hungry, do I want to eat all of what has been served, is that treat healthy and what I really want? I’ve lost 56 pounds since February. I don’t know that I would want my entire life spent adrift. But I don’t want a daily checklist of where I am against goals that may no longer apply either.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is good stuff, Moni. I have reached a point in my life, at middle age, where I’m kind of done trying to rule the world and just want to enjoy the rest of my journey. I want to live with as much peace and joy as I can encounter. And so I’m trying to go goal-less, too, even though I didn’t really know it. I have direction: I like making software for a living, so I’ll keep doing that; I like taking photographs and writing, so I’ll keep doing that; I want to be set up well enough so that when I can’t work anymore because of age or health I can get by financially. So I’m trying to do things in the moment that enable those things, but I’m holding on to those directions loosely in case another more interesting direction presents itself, and so that if things don’t work out I don’t feel so much loss.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! Exactly this! Maybe I’m feeling the same effects of middle age for me. Or a result of failing at goals so much in the past. Though I don’t feel cynical- it’s more a feeling of curiosity. Follow my gut and see where it leads 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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