Sunday, 14 December 2008


Every year at this time, I have a look at the goals I set last year and sit down with my next year's journal and start coming up with some goals for next year. I've been doing this for a long time. But this year, I have questioned the value of it.

It's not because I haven't met a lot of the goals I've set over the years. In fact, I've achieved the major milestones I planned as long-term goals: lost weight, kept it off, increased fitness, bought a car, built up a bit of a savings nest egg, got married, got my UK citizenship. The only long-term goals left from the list are to get my driving licence and buy a house. I'm sure those will also happen. Of course, there are also many goals that I have not met, lots of elaborate plans that I've not carried through on, and lots of things that I thought ought to be important that I tried to force to be important, like going out on a regular basis, making an effort to get more involved in the community, stuff like that. And I've set goals year after year related to establishing a regular meditation practice, none of which I've consistently followed through on.

I looked at the 2009 journal this year and the thought of filling in all those places reserved for goals just made me feel--empty. I want to move beyond all this striving. It just felt to me like setting goals keeps my eyes always toward the future. Every day, I strike off a day from my month-at-a-glance page, I tick that I've done my workout and met any other obligations for the day. Then the day is gone. I've wished it away. I've got up in the morning, got ready for work, been there all day yearning toward quitting time, gone home, got through my workout while thinking about what to cook for dinner, got through dinner while watching TV, gone to bed thinking about the next day. All those moments passed me by, and how many of them have I paid any attention to? Even though I keep a blog dedicated to mindfulness! I might spend 5-10 minutes a day, tops, in mindfulness. And no, I'm not trying to criticize myself or set some sort of 'mindfulness goal' about it, although it might sound like that...and I don't regret leading a quiet life, I'm not saying I wish I'd been out at parties or anything like that. I don't mean, what did I accomplish? I mean, what did I notice myself actually doing? What was I aware of while doing it? I can tell you. I was caught up in the continual storm of past and future, and I completely let the present slip away from me. Even as I type this, I am thinking about what I'll take for lunch tomorrow, wondering what time I'll get to bed and how many hours of sleep I'll get, thinking about how I have to cancel the doctor's appointment first thing in the morning, feeling guilty that I haven't called my parents in a while, and constantly having images from the past--sometimes the quite distant past--flick into my mind. It's the 'ongoing story narration and mental time travel', ruminations and self-referential judgements that occupy all our minds all the time--unless we consciously learn to rise above it. That's what I mean.

So this year, I've sat and looked at those blank pages a lot. I've looked over the journals from the last few years and thought about it all a lot. The pages are filled with notations about how I must do better, I must try harder, I must improve! This sort of striving toward the future and working for goals is applauded where I'm from, America, that 'land of opportunity', where you can become whatever you want if you work hard enough for it. I know I was always raised to think it was a good thing, and I do think it's a good thing. There's nothing wrong with working hard. But how about a radical thought. How about working hard while being present in the moment that you're working, instead of striving for the goals some time in the future? How about eating a healthy meal while thinking about the beautiful earth that produced it, the people who worked so hard to raise, harvest and deliver it, and the miracle of how our bodies make use of it for nourishment? How about being present in your miraculous body while exercising, feeling the joy of movement, the pleasure of being alive in a physical body right then and there?

What if the only goal you set for the entire year was to be present in the moment? Not to live for the moment, but just to be present in each moment. What would you be like by the end of the year? What miracles of growth would have occurred in you? Where would you end up after 31,556,926 seconds of present moment living? And with what serenity would you meet whatever was occurring then?

I look at the face and hear the speech of people like the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Eckhart Tolle and other people who I consider my teachers and boddhisatvas, and I see a level of peace and serenity, hear a depth of love and forgiveness and acceptance that no amount of striving could possibly achieve. And all of these teachers have only one lesson: you have only moments in which you live. Are you paying attention to them?

So, my goals for 2009 have been drawn from some notes I jotted down in a notebook in May 2008. I read Eckhart Tolle's 'A New Earth' and copied out some lines I considered striking. It's something I often do. And I've found a quotation to answer all the 'goals' in my 2009 journal:

'Nothing is going to make us free because only the present moment can make us free. that realisation is the awakening.'

Personal Growth:
'Nothing that you can find out about yourself is you. Nothing that you can know about you is you.'

'Both abundance and scarcity are inner states that manifest as your reality.'

'Joy does not come from what you do, it flows into what you do, and thus into this world from deep within you.'

This one answers both Personal Relationships and Belongings:
'The fact is: whatever you think the world is withholding from you, you are withholding from the world. You are withholding it because deep down you think you are small and that you have nothing to give.'

There are several other goal-setting pages, but I'm not setting any goals on them. I'm going to put in more quotations instead, that remind me of what is really important.

And every year I write something on the title page of my journal that is meant to be the main focus of the year for me. Here it is for 2009:

Your purpose is to be where you are and do what you're doing,
because that's where you are and what you are doing.
Until you get up and do something else.
Then that becomes your purpose.

~Eckhart Tolle

Can you imagine what attention you could pay and what satisfaction you could get from the most mundane task if you turned your hand to it as if it were your very purpose in life? The point is, as you have only the moment in which you are presently living, whatever you are doing in this moment IS your purpose in life. Get it?


Tess said...

Ahh very buddhist :)

I try to live in the moment but get very impatient a lot. But I have changed the way I think. I try not to dwell on the past and I don't obsess about the future nearly as much as I used to.

I love buddhism :) it answers all the questions

Carla said...

We all have the same struggles. I get impatient a lot, too, and carried away by my emotional reactions to things, and to thoughts of the past and future. We can't stop these things from happening, but we can become aware of them. We can step aside from them, acknowledge them, and realise these thoughts and feelings are not who we are. That's my goal!

Anna Down Under said...

Reading this post reminded me of when I first read Ekhart's books and watched the live webcasts with Oprah -- it all made so much sense and I was determined to try to live in the now, not focus on the future or the past -- and for a while I could, but I started to get bogged down in all the problems life was throwing at me and then I forgot. Thanks for this post, because I needed that reminder.