I see a lot of confusion about whether it’s OK to have goals in spiritual practice, and in meditation in particular. A lot of people think it’s wrong to have goals, and think of being goal-oriented as a peculiarly western phenomenon. I disagree on both counts.
The Buddha was supremely goal-oriented, and he encouraged us to be likewise. His last words were “Strive conscientiously.”
He opens one sutta with the words, “And how, monks, does a monk cultivate the heart’s release by loving-kindness? What is its goal, its excellence, its fruit and its outcome?” In a conversation with a monk he says “It’s good that you understand that I have taught the Dhamma with total … Read more »
How firmly do you pursue your intentions? Neither too tight nor too loose a rein.
As with the balance of the capital city and the provinces, it’s worth considering what your tendencies are and if there is an imbalance. For example, some of us hold onto our goals to a fault (myself, ahem) going down with the ship – pull up! It’s a trap!! – while others give up way too soon or don’t take their own needs and wants seriously enough.
From the Buddhist perspective, the path that leads to the greatest well-being and goodness for oneself and others steers clear of over-striving on the one hand – clinging is, after all, the primary … Read more »
Once your intentions are clear, the next question is: How to express them?
There are many ways, including:
When you think intentions, you know them to yourself. Putting them in explicit words is usually helps create real clarity in your mind. Some intentions co-exist as equally vital, but many times it’s important to establish what your top priorities are. It’s kind of like filling a bucket: you want to get the big rocks in first, then the pebbles, and last the sand. Your most important aims are … Read more »
Last month I wrote about how sometimes your meditation practice may seem to be going nowhere, and how that’s OK. It’s the “seems” that’s important, because sometimes you just can’t see the change that’s taking place, slowly and gradually, in your brain and mind. Connections can be growing, or strengthening in the brain, and you can be completely unaware of that until perhaps some tipping point is reached and you notice that you act differently, or feel differently, or see things differently.
But there are also times that you might want to shake things up. Here are four things you can do to stop your practice becoming stale.
You probably get habitual in … Read more »
The human body has about 100 trillion cells (plus another ten quadrillion microscopic critters hitching a ride, most of them beneficial or harmless). Each one of your cells has aims – goals, in a sense – controlled by its DNA: cells conduct processes aimed at particular functions, like building bones or gobbling up harmful invaders. Cells also work together in larger and larger assemblies in pursuit of broader goals, such as the 100 billion neurons in your brain that run the nervous system, which as a whole is itself the master regulator of the body.
In effect, there are layers, hierarchies, of goals in the body – and a similar architecture of aims in the … Read more »
We spend so much of our time trying to get somewhere.
Part of this comes from our biological nature. To survive, animals – including us – have to be goal-directed, leaning into the future.
It’s certainly healthy to pursue wholesome aims, like paying the rent on time, raising children well, healing old pain, or improving education.
But it’s also important to see how this focus on the future – on endless striving, on getting the next task done, on climbing the next mountain – can get confused and stressful.
It’s confused because the brain:
There’s a lot of confusion about whether goals have a place in Buddhist practice. Buddhism’s about “being in the moment.” right? And if you’re in the moment you shouldn’t be thinking about the future. And goals are a form of clinging, and we’re not supposed to cling, and so therefore goals have no place in spiritual practice. Right? Well, not so fast.
Sure, there can be problems with goals.
Goals can be something we cling to inappropriately, and so we end up giving ourselves a hard time when we don’t meet them.
Here’s something I’ve experienced, and that I’ve seen happen with many other people:
Early on, when I’d not long learned to meditate, I … Read more »
Many of us start the year with great intentions to establish healthy new habits, only to find ourselves losing steam before too long. Sunada writes about her realization that reframing our goals can help us stay on track and raise our chances of getting to where we want to be.
It’s a new year, and a time when many of us think about fresh starts – like exercising more, meditating regularly, or getting organized. But as we know all too well, just wanting something doesn’t make it so. I’m sure we’ve all experienced times when we lose steam and get bogged down. How do we get around this?
… Read more »
I’m not saying it’s bad to have
Are spiritual goals dangerous triggers for grasping and selfish desire? Do we need to let go of goals in order to be truly free and happy? Sunada doesn’t think so. She argues that it’s not the goals themselves that are the problem, but how we approach them.
“Try not. Do or do not, there is no try.” — Yoda
We all come to the spiritual life with some sort of goal in mind. Like wanting a calmer mind, less anxiety, a kinder heart – in short, to become a better person. Yes, spiritual practice can bring us all these things, and they’re entirely valid reasons for starting down that road.
… Read more »
I don’t think there’s anything