Chapter 4; Week 2
There is nothing wrong with striving to improve your life situation. You can improve your life situation, but you cannot improve your life. Life is primary. Life is your deepest inner Being. It is already whole, complete, perfect. Your life situation consists of your circumstances and your experiences. There is nothing wrong with setting goals and striving to achieve things. The mistake lies in using it as a substitute for the feeling of life, for Being. The only point of access for that is the Now. You are then like an architect who pays no attention to the foundation of a building but spends a lot of time working on the superstructure.
– Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now
When I first started meditating in 2007, I was pretty “blissed out” and grounded by the practice and Zen Buddhism in general. With a job I was thoroughly passionate about, it helped me to be intentional, brave, and present at work. It felt great, until I needed to begin crafting the next stage of my life. It was time to make decisions: Should I leave Mississippi now? Where should I move? Should I go back to school? What kind of work do I want to do? What are my most potent passions? Instead of pausing everything to get back in touch with my desires, I tried to live peacefully and got by making decisions based on a blurry intuition that was once knife sharp. I tried to apply the lessons I learned in Zen philosophy and that stuck feeling… stuck around. I stopped meditating based on a hunch that Buddhism in general and meditation had turned me into a passive person- the idea of which I detested. Five years and two US cities later, I’m just now snapping out of this funk, answering these questions, and trying to understand why an ambitious and goal oriented person like myself was even in this funk for so long.
I don’t blame Buddhism, but I do blame myself for attempting to integrate its teachings into all aspects of my life. By doing so, I believe that I neglected to actively tend to my life situation. While I do believe that everything happened just as it should, I’m still intrigued by the difference between what ET (I like this nickname) calls “our life situation” and “Life”. Existentialism asserts that we must take responsibility for ourselves, continue creating our lives each day – which suggests that spending time focusing on our life situation is also incredibly important.
Over the next two weeks I invite you to pay attention to the effects of meditation on your life situation while also spending time off the cushion identifying and working on your personal goals and ambitions.
- Continue meditation morning and night (this will continue until the end of the month). I have urged Beth to follow traditional zazen form/instruction at least half of the time she sits so she has the opportunity to inherit the tried and true wisdom alive in that practice. The other half of the time, we agreed that she may do more of a free form meditation that she creates on her own. (Be aware that traditional meditators would tell you that your made up routine is not meditation at all. It’s just your own crunchy, earth mother spirit, dream catcher floor routine.)
- Begin identifying your personal short-term goals (1 year), mid term goals (5 years), and lifetime goals. Consider any/all aspects of life that are most important to you right now: work, relationships, income, place, health, etc. Let yourself think big. A good way to stimulate this thought process is to finish the sentence: “If I were to die in a year, 5 years, 10 years…”
- If you are unclear what your goals are and you are out of touch with your desires, pay attention to your needs, your slightest preferences in every circumstance- no matter how slight. For example, “You know what, I do have a preference for what we eat for dinner, I’m really not in the mood for sushi…” Begin acting on these slight desires and preferences and slowly you will become more aware of your larger preferences.
- When you define your goals your fears will surface immediately. Fear is an inevitable during times of change and while trying something new. Try to get comfortable with the fear, make friends with it a bit- sort of like your list of reoccurring issues from last week. Try envisioning yourself not overcoming your fears, but working towards your goal while feeling the fear. Envision what that would look like and feel like.
- If you are inspired to begin taking steps on a personal goal, take some steps and get started.
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