“Nurturing hopes is meaningful in and of itself. It is worth working toward them, regardless of the outcome. When we make this shift away from results, we will find greater courage to act on our aspirations for the world.” H.H. the Seventeenth Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, The Heart is Noble.
I have ambivalence about goals. When I was younger, the ambivalence was because of pessimism and passivity. Now, it’s because of contentedness and reading the Dharma. I have a feeling that this is the first of many posts I will write on goal setting!
The idea I have for returning to simpler living by autumn 2016 is a goal. A big one. I’m going to have to check off a long list of items in the next two years to accomplish it.
But as a Buddhist, I try not to be attached to outcomes.
A few years ago, I decided I wanted to challenge myself to climb a mountain and raise $ for the National Parks. I hadn’t set myself a big goal for over ten years and had been adjusting my life reactively as change occurred.
For five months, I immersed myself in physical training: going to the gym early most weekdays and hiking in the mountains all weekend. I was committed to the goal. But there was a cost.
My obsession with training blinded me to the fact that my mother, diagnosed with cancer three years earlier, was now in her last month of life. Weekends that I could have spent talking more with her, I was in a rush to get on the trail to continue my training.
I cancelled my scheduled climb to return home and be with my mother as she passed on.
The next year, I trained again, but my heart wasn’t in it. The obsession and guilt from the previous year took most of the joy out of it. My climb group did not summit due to the weather, but by that point I had already accomplished my goal: I raised close to $10K, trained, and showed up prepared. Friends joked about my “failure” and asked when I would try again, but I have no interest. Even now, I have not returned with any regularity to the hiking trail.
Since then, I’ve had and met other large goals, but my simpler living goal is the biggest yet. The effort and discipline it will take are crucial, but not at the expense of something more important. Just because I have documented my goal in this blog and discussed it with family and friends, I will not be afraid to postpone, cancel or adjust it as necessary as life happens in the next few years. I won’t consider that giving up. My intent is good and goodness will follow each step towards the goal.
Part of the challenge is being comfortable with the seeming contradiction: I am committed to actively striving for the goal, but also to holding the goal very very loosely and being open to revisions in both the steps and the outcome. Fear of failure has never been a concern for me. The only failure I’d consider for this goal is if I don’t even try. And it’s already too late for that.
The Heart is Noble: Changing the World from the Inside Out by H.H. the Seventeenth Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje
Creating Your Best Life: the Ultimate Life List Guide by Caroline Adams Miller – a book with its roots in positive psychology that I find helpful with goal-setting.