“What does it take to use the life we already have in order to make us wiser rather than more stuck? What is the source of wisdom at a personal, individual level?

The answer to these questions seems to have to do with bringing everything that we encounter to the path. Everything naturally has a ground, path, and fruition. This is like saying that everything has a beginning, middle, and end. But it is also said that the path itself is both the ground and the fruition. The path is the goal.” 

– Pema Chodron in Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion

In our results driven society we prize ambition and productivity. I would venture to say that the strategy many of us take in living is either in resistance to or embrace of our ambitious idealism. We can use any number of reasons to explain why we choose to set goals or discard them, and often these reasons can be spiritual in nature.  We may say we like to “live in the moment” to explain why we don’t set goals or we are “fulfilling our calling” to justify the intense drive we express. When you use a reason like one of these, do you ever feel a twinge of doubt, like maybe you’re making an excuse? Or are you the person that is certain of your rationale?

Goal is defined as “the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result; the destination of a journey; point marking the end of a race.” With a goal there is inherently a measure of success or failure attached. We bank so much on these measures and spend countless hours, days, and years comparing the results. One of my favorite questions of Caroline Myss’ is, “What is success? Who defines that?” Really, who does? How many times have you had an expectation of what success should look and feel like only to find, at the end of the day, that it was not what you thought? Maybe the high of victory didn’t last very long. Maybe no one noticed and you were disappointed to find yourself alone. That exceptional review, appraisal, or reward might have left a hole in you that was there when all the lights went out. It very well may be that this achievement left you insatiably hungry for yet a loftier win. Or, you could just be filled with regret for all you sacrificed along the way.

Then there is not setting goals. There is wandering aimlessly through life. As long as we stay in the moment and the moment is joyful or comfortable, we are content. It is when the moment brings suffering, pain, or grief that we are not content. So many are currently caught up in the wave of “positive thinking”, but here is another question. How many times have you decided to “stay positive” and found that your situation still didn’t improve? That apparently perfect day may still have found you feeling alone or tired with no explanation. Maybe you started to wonder what the purpose of this all is. There’s a chance that in the middle of the night, you were holding on to a weak thread of hope that suddenly snapped. Maybe as everyone else around you continued with the long faces and the condolences you had the outrageous desire to punch them. Sometimes, the moment is just so terrible, so down right gruesome, that all you want to do is escape. Who would chose to hold themselves in a rotten moment? Then you start dreaming forward to a better future or backward to a lovelier time, or you are gone all together.

Once again, I am reminded that strategy is not God. It is when we become autocratic and choose one method to the exclusion of all others that we risk causing harm and/or losing our way. Be it fear of idleness or distaste for greed, we must remember not to choose a strategy based on self-defense. I dreamt last night of war and of losing two men I loved. They represented the two sides of my psyche that I explained above. Each was lost to a bullet wound to the head. They had been casual on the battlefield, not taking the conflict seriously. Their logic is no longer of service. The two characters left in the dream were an Indian princess, full of precious innocence and a vivid spirituality, and the German soldier who had delivered the bullets, without remorse and viewing life with objectivity. We may all have a warrior and a princess within. We can be filled with ambition and with peace. The princess had adorned herself with fake jewels and the soldier ordered her to take them off. She had gotten too caught up in her dream of life. The warrior was doing her a service in bringing her back to humility. She too would offer temperance in her ability to help the man forget the war as it was no consequence to her. Her focus was on living.

How is the battle inside you as you make decisions on daily basis whether to follow your ambition or stay in the moment? The path is the goal and the goal is the path. Consider each as different sides of the same coin. The coin can say heads or tails, but it is still a coin spinning through the air swaying the course of events.