by Tanis Helliwell
“Life is what happens we are busy making other plans.” — John Lennon
For many years I have set goals at the beginning of the year. This process has been an excellent teacher of many qualities I wished to learn among them focus, belief that I could have what I wished, and a sense of accomplishment. I’d like to think that these goals had intrinsic merit for others as well as for myself and I would still recommend goal setting to anyone who needed to learn what I did.
The Limitation of Goals
Now however, there are other lessons to be learned and other ways to learn them. Goal setting, I have realized, is always about achieving something in the future that we don’t have now. It’s about wanting more or less of something than is present in our life now. For example, we might have goals to get married, buy a house, write a book, be happy or improve ourselves in some way. Goals are, at their root, a lack of acceptance of the present moment of what is.
Goals are externally focused and never ending. When we accomplish one goal there will always be another beckoning us with the result that we never finally arrive. We are always in a state of becoming. Journeying from goal to goal in life, even if the goals are worthy and of benefit to others, keep us going around on a wheel in a cage like hamsters. No matter how fast we peddle our feet we never really go anywhere, although we might have the illusion that we are making progress.
Yes, we can see that we are accomplishing things ‘out there.’ Perhaps we get married, buy that house and write that book but….and this is a big ‘but’…..we still will not have inner peace unless we get off the wheel. And the way to get off the wheel is to no longer want something that is different than what exists in the present moment.
Non-Attachment to What Is
Our ego loves to do something, to move from place to place accomplishing tasks that it can then check off its’ list. Through achieving goals our ego receives momentary satisfaction and happiness, which is followed soon afterwards with returning feelings of anxiety until our ego finds another goal that it erroneously thinks will be ‘the answer.’ Sooner or later we come to realize that happiness does not lie ‘out there’ and that we must deeply accept the totally of our situation and embrace our life as it is. When we do this an appreciation, even gratitude is released in us for our present life situation, even if the situation is painful, because we realize that the life situation is transforming us into who we really are. And who we really are can only be perfect. In this state of being our Self there is nothing to prove and nothing that we must achieve or earn.
From this place of deep acceptance and surrender to what is a surprising thing often happens. The goal that eluded us when we strove for it might now come to us with no effort. However, even if the original goal does not come into our life a course correction will occur and we will find ourselves better aligned to the wisdom of the universe and new directions will enter our life. I could say new goals come into our life however we only use the word ‘goal’ if we can understand that goals no longer have and energy charge of attachment to result. In other words, we still act in the world but without yearning or need for things to be different than they are.
Witness What Happens
During the process of watching what we thought we wanted enter and leave it is essential to remain in neutral-positive. Neutral is a place of non-attachment and positive is the optimism of knowing all will turn out for the best even if we do not see this immediately. Another word for optimism is faith and this quality is necessary in order to continue to more deeply accept what is. Faith is the antithesis of fear. Fear is contractive and shuts us down to being in peace in the present moment and faith is expansive and opens us up to embrace life and its many surprises.
As we rest more and more in the state of neutral-positive, regardless of what is happening in our life situation, we develop an inner witness. The witness is not the ego, the little me who likes to control our life and get what it wants. The witness is neutral and accepts what is and deeply trusts everything that is happening in our life regardless of the ego’s labels of good and bad. The more we turn our attention to our witness the more present we are and the more spacious we become and the deeper our peace.
From this spacious non-attached place the universe can now play with us. It can present us with opportunities that we never would have dreamed for ourselves. Also in a neutral- positive state we become more effective in assisting the world in everything that we do. Our real gift in the world is not what we do, it is who we are. Our being, not our doing, is how we contribute the most to the world. When our being and our doing are the same we live fully in the present and accept what is. This is the only way to lasting peace.