We all know how setting goals is vital if you want to get something done. It’s easy really:
- Work out what you want
- Set a measurable goal
- Give yourself a deadline
- Work out how to get from where you are to where you want to be in the available time
- Make a plan
- Do it!
And that is basically that.
The weird thing about goals
If you’ve ever achieved a goal you’ll probably have noticed the big fat ‘YES!’ moment you get when you achieve it.
You may also have noticed that a ‘What now?’ moment followed soon after.
You may even have felt a little depressed.
The common response is to…. set another goal!
For many ‘successful’ people, this is life. It goes something like:
Do stuff. Achieve the thing you set out to achieve. Do more stuff. Achieve again. Do more stuff.
Some people seem to be very good at keeping the blinkers on, ignoring the sheer inane mundanity of it all.
Others get depressed. The bubble bursts. They fall and fall hard.
What’s the answer?
The apparent meaninglessness of all of life’s great endeavours used to really bother me. I struggled to function because of it. It was a big deal.
In a way, I became a Buddhist as a way to handle being an existentialist!
Life is futile? OK, but I’m alive, and sitting here feeling like life is futile isn’t doing me a lot of good.
It’s the other side of the coin from feeling like life is one big competition or adventure.
Both attitudes are extremes – the have more to do with the mind of the person than they do about life itself.
The Middle Way
The Buddha spoke of a ‘middle way’ between eternalism on the one hand and annihilationism on the other.
This relates primarily to the concept of ‘self’: the middle way between the idea that there is an eternal soul, and the idea that there is nothing and when we’re dead, we’re dead.
But it has so many more implications. Take our current conundrum for example. What if there was a middle way between ‘Everything really matters!’ (eternalism) and ‘Nothing matters’ (annihilationism)? What would that look like?
Love the process
As far as I can work out, humans are creative beings. We need stuff to do, and it needs to be a bit challenging.
This galvanises our energy, engages our brains, and gets us out of bed in the morning.
On the other hand, we get into difficulty when we take it all too seriously. We either feel stressed out, or when we get the sneaking suspicion that it isn’t actually that significant, we fall into listlessness and depression. Or denial – because we can’t bear to acknowledge the ever-looming demon of our own insignificance.
The trick with this stuff is to enjoy the process of creating, rather than being too attached to the significance of the outcome.
The Tibetan sand mandala practice is a good example of this applied to Buddhist practice.
In Zen, the practice of ‘just sitting’ (shikantaza) is an application of it from the Japanese tradition.
And finally, the Heart Sutra perhaps ‘explains’ it best of all.
You see, the Middle Way is not about being moderate or mediocre. It’s acknowledging that form is emptiness, and emptiness is form.
It’s a fundamental turning about in the deepest seat of our consciousness.
And that’s what we’re trying to do, right? Get enlightened.
And then we’ll have to come up with another goal…