How do you want to live?

Barbara Hebert – USA

Theosophy BH 2 Jasmine

Barbara Hebert and ... Jasmine

I had the joy of babysitting for my youngest granddaughter recently. Jasmine is almost a year old and is learning to walk. She pulls herself up on a piece of furniture and when she feels steady, she lets go. Eventually, she takes a step, swaying as she tries to maintain her balance. On occasion, she finds that balance and takes another step. At other times, she plops down onto the floor, and the process begins again. My role in this process was to cheer and clap for her when she successfully took a step or so and to encourage her to try again when she fell.

All of us are familiar with this endeavor of a toddler’s attempt to walk; but, as I watched Jasmine, it occurred to me that as human beings, we tend to focus on the goal rather than on the process. We focus on walking rather than learning to walk. She focused on it, and I focused on it. Many of us seem to live goal-oriented lives rather than process-oriented lives. 

Why do we focus on the goal rather than the process? What is the goal? Is the goal more important than the process? What are we missing by not focusing on the process? The answers to these questions are likely to be different for each one of us; however, each one of them deserves a more in-depth look. Some of us may even spend some time in contemplation about them, or about our answers to them! 

Please note, I am not trying to say that we should not set goals and then work to accomplish them. However, I do think that it is useful to think about our focus and direction, especially from a spiritual perspective. 

Why do we focus on the goal rather than the process of achieving it? One may wonder if it is part of our “immediate gratification” way of life. If I want something--my goal--then I want it now. Therefore, I focus solely on achieving that goal. Or perhaps, we value the goal (whatever it is) more than we value anything else at the current time, and this pushes us toward the end result rather than allowing us to focus on the journey toward it. Another possibility may be linked to the feelings we experience when we do eventually reach our goal. We may experience feelings of satisfaction, pride, happiness, and perhaps even ecstasy! We may feel successful, or we may feel as if we have changed in some way. The bottom line is: when we achieve a goal, we feel good! This feeling is actually brain-related. When we get something we want, the brain releases dopamine, the “feel good” neurotransmitter. 

While it is probably accurate that almost all of us want to “feel good,” we also know that we are not the physical body which we inhabit. Many work toward controlling the physical body rather than being controlled by it. We may begin to wonder if our focus on achieving goals is the product of the physical brain, which then leads us to wonder if this is useful or not on our spiritual journey. 

Therefore, we may want to begin by considering the goal itself. Goals can range from the simple to the sublime, touching almost every point between. As we are all aware, some individuals have goals that focus simply on the current incarnation. It may remind us of the saying, “He who dies with the most toys, wins.” This type of goal focuses on the accumulation of wealth, position, and possessions, among other things. However, those of us who do our best to walk the spiritual path and follow the Ageless Wisdom teachings recognize that this type of goal is very short-sighted, if for no other reason than because of its impermanence. Hopefully, most of us are working to achieve goals that facilitate our journey on this path. But, even with this focus we are faced with a dilemma. What is the motive behind achieving a spiritual type of goal? Do we want to become great meditators so that others will recognize our expertise? Is our goal to become an expert on a certain set of teachings so that we may become acknowledged as such? Again, the answers to these questions (and many others that are similar) will be different for every individual, but it is essential to be ruthlessly honest with ourselves about the answers as they help us maintain our balance on this razor-edged path which we have chosen.

We eventually are led to the question of whether achieving our goal is more important than the experiences we have on our journey toward the goal? The first thought that comes to mind is, “Don’t the experiences we have provide the stair steps to achieving our goal?” In other words, we don’t suddenly reach our goal simply by aspiring to it. We reach it by taking steps toward it. Each step is part of the journey. Each step provides experiences, knowledge, and understanding that allow us to reach our goal. With each step in this process, we are growing and learning. This elicits the question, is it possible to achieve any goal without going through some type of process?

While it certainly does not seem possible to achieve a goal without going through some type of process, one might wonder how much we focus on the process. As we have already said, we focus on the goal. What do we miss when we focus only on the goal, if we travel through the process without paying much attention to it? From my perspective, we miss everything! If our focus remains on the goal, then we are living in the future and not in the present. For many of us on the spiritual path, we seek to live in the present moment. What is a conundrum! If my goal is to live in the present and I’m constantly looking forward to the time when I achieve that goal, is it possible to achieve it?

The Ageless Wisdom tells us that we are on this spiritual pilgrimage, inhabiting physical bodies, in order to have experiences that allow us to expand our awareness and our consciousness. If we are constantly looking toward the end of the journey, then we are not experiencing the journey itself. It is reminiscent of the saying “Stop and smell the roses.” The origin of this quote is from a book entitled The Walter Hagen Story and the actual quote is even more appropriate for our topic. It is: “You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry. Don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.”

It is the moment to moment, day to day, experiences that provide the underpinnings of our growth. We may rightly wonder how our journey might be different if we focused on these experiences, rather than looking toward the future when we may have achieved the goal.

All of these thoughts and questions come together to ask the most important questions: What type of life do we want to live--a goal-oriented life or a process-oriented life? Which type of life is most valuable as we walk the spiritual path? Which type of life provides the most help as we work to raise the consciousness of humanity as a whole? 

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