Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Problem with Goals and Purpose

This is a bit off-topic, but my interests and thoughts range widely and I’m getting back into speaking my mind, so here goes…

I recently came across a motivational speaker, someone famous for their accomplishments. He spoke about the unorganized expenditure of energy for people not connected to a goal and then stressed the importance of having a goal and then driving towards that with everything you’ve got.

I feel differently about all this. I don’t have an issue with having a goal or striving towards something. What I see is that, generally speaking, the goal itself is not the end. Once that goal is attained, then what? A new goal perhaps. Okay, fair enough.
What this looks like to me is the very real potential of a you becoming defined by what you are pouring yourself into. What happens when that thing that made you special- your unique power, your skill, your insight- is no longer available for you to offer? The stunt-person who is permanently injured, the surgeon who loses motor control, a once famous actor whose fame has passed. Who are you then?

There is also a very real potential of a goal becoming all-consuming, limiting the expression of one’s spirit in the pursuit of a narrow goal. Family and friends may fall to the wayside. Other opportunities to experience life are passed up.

This is all material for worthy journeys of self discovery, the unfolding of which offers infinite insight to those able to see.

I’m not disparaging goals or intense focus- it can achieve miraculous things, perhaps the most miraculous things...

Come up with a definition of yourself that contains no reference to something aside from you. You are...What? No job titles, no family or relationship status, no place of origin or time period. Does any way someone else might try to sum you up feel complete? Is that who you are in all circumstances, throughout your life, always capturing your essence? In what way can you speak about yourself that would feel like an accurate representation of who you feel yourself to be- 10 years ago, now, 10 years from now? 80 years?

My point is that there is something larger happening in our own individual lives that is bigger than any particular goal. Goals play a part of the story, but they do not define the story, nor do they define you. Conversely, being without a goal also does not define you, nor living without goals. What it comes down to is- what is your life experience as you are setting, striving, and attaining goals (or not)? If the pursuit fills you with joy and gives you more energy to keep doing it, then by all means, dive right in- as deeply as the arising motivation powers the engagement. If the world is benefiting from your pursuit, that's really the ideal.

In contrast, goals striven towards without intrinsic connection to the internal, in-the-moment motivation have many cards stacked against it. The most powerful being that if something is not feeding you energy to do more, then it is requiring your energy. Energetically this is not a sustainable situation even if there are other things that re-energize you such as family or nature. The spirit itself suffers when it is giving energy but not simultaneously receiving energy. The endeavor trickles out energy until it, very likely, stops- generally before attaining the goal. This is why these incredible goals we learn about people achieving are so rare (the other week a man solo trekked across Antarctica!)- anyone else who dares to do them for whatever reason cannot follow through with the same internally-driven tenacity. Generally speaking, in order to accomplish these goals, the people must find their drive energized by their pursuits. These people will do anything it takes.

This kind of singular goal striving is, I would argue, relatively rare in our world. Some people come into this world with spirits that have laser (or potentially neurotic) focus. I do think that their incarnation in this realm endows them with a few legs up on this capacity we all have. There is a spectrum of this level of achieving- it could be a single goal that defines them or a lifetime of distinguishment with multiple goals.

The flipside is not having any particular goal, which is where the majority of us reside. Even those who have been single focused and driven at one point will likely find that drive gone when the goal has been accomplished, unless a new goal is whipped up.

“Purpose” is a word that has been around me for the past 10 years or so. The value of purpose, the potential difficulty of feeling a ‘lack’ of purpose. I was 36 and feeling a lack of energy moving through me. I felt a general listlessness in my life. I learned about ‘masculine purpose’ and the concurrent issue with lack of it. ‘Purpose’ is very similar to ‘goal’ but goes deeper and is more enduring. While ‘goals’ may frequently change, ‘purpose’ usually resides on longer arcs. One’s purpose may change, but generally much less than one’s goals.

I see that my thoughts about ‘goals’ is similar to my thoughts about ‘purpose’ which is this…

A ‘goal’ and a ‘purpose’ exist outside of you. They are not you. YOU are the ‘entity’ that engages the world in pursuit of these things. YOU matter, your experience matters, your feelings matter, your perspective and thoughts matter. At the very least, these aspects of your experience have to matter to you. Your own personal experience is what moves forward the story of your life. The act of engaging life itself is what drives the story. The story goes flat when you are not feeling the inherent energy of life coursing through you. You might be moving towards the most amazing accomplishment, but if it was pushed upon you or you pushed it upon yourself out of any reason beyond inherent desire, then achieving that goal will not feel quite so victorious. Doing something to prove yourself or to please or appease another, doing it out of duress, doing something for any other reason than naturally emerging inspiration is our life energy poorly used.

We have all been present to someone doing something for us who genuinely wanted to do it versus someone who did not at all. The difference is palpable and can impact the entire interaction and beyond. There is a continuum of this, and life will present us opportunities to appreciate how nice it can be when this flow of doing things that we want to be doing is happening, as well as how much is sucks when it is not. To paraphrase what a physicist friend once remarked to me, ‘We are happening to Life, and Life is happening to Us.’ We will all have to do things we would rather not due to circumstance beyond our control. Ideally these moments in our lives few and far between.

I am saying that in the course of our lives there is a spectrum of ways that we will be engaging life itself. The journey of our spirit in this life is to grow as much as it can. For some spirits that will mean a lot, for others maybe not so much. It is not for anyone to judge. For those who have awoken to this perspective on life it becomes immediately clear how operating from a place of consciousness and connection makes the process of learning and growth way less turbulent and dramatic. From the awakened perspective, growth can more often come from a place of laughter and embrace rather than anger and pain.

So here’s how I see it:

At the end of our lives the experience of living is all we really will have. Nothing will go with us into the beyond aside from our spirit’s essence (which I do believe in). We carry the experience of our journey, we carry the cumulative vibration of our lifetime. If our experience is generally one of disconnection and unhappiness, perhaps in part due to dissatisfaction with how one has spent one’s energy such as working in a job they dislike, the energy of which, consequently, likely carries over into one’s family life and other personal places, how energized must be the spirit underneath? Spending time draining your energy is a recipe for intense dissatisfaction which can easily become dissatisfaction with life itself- depression, frustration, anger. However it plays out, consider the converse- if one’s general experience is engaging in ways that enliven and feeds energy back to the spirit, how might life feel differently? This is a spectrum and plays out for all of us in different ways and is a prime motivator of personal development.

The energy that drives us to do something, and what we are tapping into within ourselves while we are doing that thing and having that experience, charges that moment- it charges the people involved, the people those people will pass that charge onto, the thing being created/the action carried forth, and on and on. The vibration of that charge now exists in the world in some way and has a bit of life of its own. Our kind actions as well as our malicious ones have a ripple effect that spread out into the world. Indeed truly, what comes around goes around.

A guide for being able to see ourselves more clearly is to reflect upon the impulse for our actions. Is it coming from a place of inner and outer connection to the reason for the action, to the action itself? If ‘yes’ then it will likely be received as congruent and authentic. Is the action inspired by feelings of fear, lack, unworthiness, judgement or other emotions that pretty much all people feel as de-energizing? If so, then the action will be infused with those feelings, even if on the surface the impression one is putting out is the opposite- like a saccharine greeting at a big box store.

A goal is a fine thing to have when it enlivens the spirit and evokes energy for forward movement. It’s not so great when there is dark, demotivating energy attached to it, whatever the source.

More important than having goals is awareness of one’s own emotional experience as it is happening. Our emotions tell us what our experience is as we are having it. As a fairly effective general guide for life, follow the feelings that your heart responds to. If you feel constriction that is a generally good ‘no’ and if you feel expansion that is pretty good ‘yes’. If you lived your life this way, at the end of it all, you could look back without regret, because how can you judge a life that is lived through doing what feels right and avoiding what feels wrong as a general guideline? In contrast, how does it feel looking back on something that you knew felt wrong at the time you were doing it? But if your heart were feeling expansive at the time you put energy towards something, you would likely look back without negative judgement even if things did not work as desired. This is particularly applicable to doing things with slim odds of success. If there is internal motivation to strive towards something, even if success seems unlikely, that might be all that is needed to tip the balance in your favor. Or not, but at least the effort could not be disparaged, for what other way would you rather engage life?

Goals are a fine thing to have. Just don’t try to create them. Let them create themselves. Or rather, let it be a dialogue between you and the goal. Let the goal arise from a place of forward, self-propelled motion. When you feel yourself become more expansive when engaging something, finding the energy to undertake the less desirable actions that contribute towards the goal, it is a sign from the universe. It is your way of knowing that you are in the midst of something special.

This is not about whimsy and simply living in the moment. I mean, *it is about that* on a certain level, living in the moment includes being with the whimsy of life. What it means to me is being in the moment with myself, with my own responses to life as it is happening. My own emotional-body experience will tell me how to move, or at least give information for growth through contemplation.

In the meantime, between these moments of catching the inspirational energy wave, continue to engage life itself from the same place all the while. I don’t need a purpose or a goal to treat someone kindly- it feels heart opening for me to treat someone well and heart closing to treat someone poorly. My expressions of love for my son are evoked from me through the in-the-moment joy I get from being in his presence as well as the larger sense of joy I experience through him being in my life. The latter offers a stronger energy, helping me overcome the times when I am absolutely feeling constricted by something that I’m attributing to him (like when he screams I’m being mean when I’m doing something purely for his own benefit).

Living life at the level of being aware of our moment to moment emotional experience, we will be aware of the times when our spirit is being energized, which often translates into some form of feeling good somewhere inside ourselves. Our body becomes looser, we breathe more deeply (or more excitedly), we look forward to more engagement. When these moments arise, follow them, see where they go. They may go nowhere, but at the very least it could be said that the experience was invigorating to the spirit- unless it stops being so, in which case time to change course. But perhaps the inspiration over time starts to illuminate a path that was never visible or existent before. Perhaps that path starts to become clearer as leading somewhere. Perhaps you see that something not yet achieved is now within the realm of possibility, and thus arises a goal. At this point a new level is reached and the wheels that move these things forward switch into a higher gear.

The point is that inspiration- the inspiration for an idea or for any particular action- cannot be sought after. It can only be recognized when it is felt.

When that inspiration is not palpable, then what? Then do something that does contain palpable inspiration. If nothing is arising, then perhaps do nothing! If the life experience itself is feeling draining, then it is very possible that the constrictions have overtaken you and it is time to take action.

That action would look like what I would advise everyone to incorporate into their lives anyway. Unique to each person, there are things we can do that are highly likely to foster expansive and inspirational moments- both in-the-moment as well as over the longer arc. These are activities like meditation, a physical practice such as yoga or biking, engaging nature, connecting with others, engaging crafts, travel, journaling, volunteering, reading, creating art. Meander amidst the possibilities that life can offer and see when your natural curiosity pokes out its head and shows interest in what is ‘just over there’.

There are also approaches to life that make the finding of ‘direction’ much more likely. Try something new. Try the new thing again even when the last several tries were ‘meh.’ Let go of expectations and surface judgements when engaging someone, especially someone new. Maintain a curious mind about all things and actively engage the curiosity- what’s around the next bend in the trail, where does this path go, what if I do this, how might that taste? Place loving attention to the ways in which you may close yourself off due to potentially unresolved emotional injuries.

Engage life while keeping an attitude of openness to what arises. Then be open to when you feel an internal ‘yes’ to doing something. That ‘yes’ might show up as a raised eyebrow or a quickened heartbeat or a holding of breath or a sense of deeper curiosity. Follow that inspiration until the feeling wanes. Then meander some more.

Meander all the time anyway, which, going back to the beginning, is one of the problems with single focus. The intense dedication to a single goal may cause us to miss the rest of what life has for us. Perhaps removing distractions is what we need to complete the goal- fine, I say, as long as the decision to narrow focus is coming from a place of inspiration to stay focused rather than a forcing of focus (unless the forcing of focus is energized by the inspiration that drives the movement towards the goal!). This is complex territory, but there is a thread- how are you feeling about what you are doing? In the overall, does your spirit feel more expanded and stronger? Or does it feel deflated and spent?

Your purpose will emerge of its own accord. All you have to do is engage life. Engage life in the way that feels good to you, with others or solo, out loud or in your head. Just do something that feels good. Do something that might feel uncomfortable in the moment but might likely feel good in the overall, like a repair talk with someone who hurt you or going to a social event.

Be attentive for those times when your spirit feels especially invigorated- a person you vibe with so nicely, an activity that you look forward to doing more, a cause that your heart responds to. Go towards those things. That is your spirit saying ‘yes’. It is you giving yourself direction. Give yourself permission to explore further, without concern for what it is supposed to become. And be aware of when the opposite is happening- people in whose presence our spirit shrinks, actions that deplete us energetically, things that we dread doing again, causes that repel our heart.

I guarantee you that when living life from this perspective you will not regret any decisions you make. Things may not go as desired, or be fully what had been projected, but that’s life- we learn and we continue forward. In the end it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all :-)

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