This is certainly not a Western idea, and it’s a really difficult concept for a lot of Western minds (including my own) to accept. In America - especially here in New York City - we are all highly motivated by results. Like, work X number of hours and receive Y dollars on your paycheck. Put a certain amount of work in, and get a certain reward out. We tend to structure our lives around these types of transactional exchanges, viewing everything we do as part of a big equation that is always working us somehow towards greater success, wealth, happiness, and so on.
We are all taught these things: Achieve your dreams. Reach for the stars. Go for the gold.
I’m guilty of thinking this way and of wanting these things, all the way back to grade school when I was taught: work hard, get A's. Get A's, go to college. Graduate college, get a good job. Get a good job, be a success in life, and so on. The entire first two decades of my life were largely goal oriented in this way - doing one thing, to achieve another thing, to do something else, to achieve something even better.
We all know, of course, that even when you try to think and live that way, real life is much more complicated and nuanced than that. If you don't learn this on your own, the reality of being a human being in the world will probably teach it to you eventually. But these values about goals are things that we learn early, and they can dominate our lives if we let them. I still grapple with these feelings in different ways at different times, of wanting my hard work to be rewarded. Sometimes, I do want to feel validated and feel important, I want the "pay off" for the things I have done. I feel myself reaching. I want to be a "success." And yet....
Have you seen the sand mandalas that are made by Tibetan monks? Elaborate sand paintings that groups of monks spend weeks and maybe months creating, one intricate detail at a time. And when the mandala is finally finished, after all those weeks and months of hard work, it is ceremoniously dismantled and destroyed. The sand is collected into jars and released into a river, where it is absorbed right back into nature.
So what is the point?
What if there are no goals?
What if there is never any "pay off?"
For the Tibetan monks (and for us too, maybe), the work itself is the meditation. The placing of each grain of sand, the hard work and the focus - all of this is the journey, and there is no other destination. You know that inspirational poster cliché, “Life is a journey, not a destination”? Well, yeah. This is like that poster.
It's just the way living a life works out - there is never only one destination, just an unfolding journey with lots of twists and turns. If you've ever had a goal and achieved it, you've probably felt the truth of this. After your "goal" is claimed, life goes on and you find something new to strive for. And so you keep reaching, and you keep searching for more and more, trying to grab onto something that will infuse your life with meaning and purpose.
But what if that meaning and purpose already existed within you, and it existed separate from any goals and any specific markings of "success?"
This is the idea that inspired me last night. This is what reminds me to stop reaching out, and instead tells me to reach deeper in. It's what shows me that my right path is to keep living and working and exploring this journey that I'm on, making the most of every experience I have and doing my best every day to live a life full of as much joy, inspiration, and gratitude as I can.