My blog last week touched a nerve for some. One irate gentleman felt I was dead wrong and practically challenged me to gladiatorial combat in the form of a debate. He also impugned my qualifications to write about purpose because I did not reference ‘research’ or provide ‘expert citations’ to ‘substantiate’ my assertions.
I also received many messages thanking me for freeing the authors from the tyranny of trying to be the best they can be and from the constant fear that they were ‘not doing enough.’
Think of the burden you are constantly carrying. The hankering for more. The striving to achieve. The pain of failing. The fear of falling behind or possibly ‘losing’ everything.
All of this comes from trying to ‘be something’ rather than ‘just being’.
Let me elaborate on what I said last week. It is incredibly difficult to ‘just be’ rather than ‘being something.’
I have frequently urged my students to stop being obsessed by goals. The function of a goal, I tell them, is to establish direction. Once this has been done, pour all of your emotional energy into the activities you have to undertake to reach your goal. If you reach your goal, fantastic. If you do not reach your goal, fantastic. The real benefit of this approach is the learning and growth that happen to you and in you as you try your level best. And, frequently, when you do your level best without being obsessed by the goal you have set for yourself, the results you get exceed your expectations.
This is the strategy that John Wooden employed and taught and it made him perhaps the ‘winningest’ coach in basketball history. Some claim he was the best coach across all sports.
Now let us go deeper down the rabbit hole.
When you are ‘trying your best’, you are not ‘just being.’ You are ‘being a person who is trying their best!’ And, straightaway, you run into a web of entanglements generated by your mental chatter. Are you really doing your best? Should you put in a little more time by perhaps cutting into your sleep? Should you eliminate things you enjoy like watching junk thrillers in favor of actions you think will help you reach your goal? And so on.
Annamalai Swami, a disciple of Ramana Maharshi and an enlightened sage in his own right, provides the solution. Complete surrender.
If you are devout, you surrender to God in whatever wisdom tradition you are a part of. If you are agnostic or an atheist, surrender to the Universe. You become the instrument through which the Universe is acting.
Here is how the Pilgrim described his life when he did this.
There were days when I covered forty-seven miles or more, and I didn’t even feel the effort of walking. The prayer alone filled my consciousness. When it was bitterly cold, I would pray more fervently and soon I’d feel warm all over. If hunger threatened to overcome me, I would call on the name of Jesus Christ with renewed vigor, and soon my hunger was forgotten. If I felt ill and pain racked my back and legs, I would give myself over to the prayer and soon was deaf to the pain.
Complete surrender is when you reach the Kingdom of Heaven. That is what led St. Paul to declare “I live, yet not I, Christ liveth in me.” This is what led Ramana Maharshi to Tiruvannamalai where he spent the rest of his earthly life.
Now a word of caution.
Complete surrender is not an aspirational goal. It is not something you can ‘do’. It is something that happens when the time is right. There are psychological pitfalls waiting for those who try to force the process and exert will to make it happen.
So where does that leave you? What should you do?
Simple. Live life as you do. Set goals and try your best to achieve them. Enjoy the journey. Don’t be obsessed with reaching the destination.
Be aware that you are ‘being the person who is trying their best,’ but don’t shoot second arrows at yourself because this is where you are. Loosen your preferences and begin dropping them gently. Start accepting what comes your way rather than forcing your will on the world.
Gradually, gradually, you will observe the changes in yourself. Likes and dislikes become weaker and then vanish. Life becomes fun and independent of what it brings to you. And, one day, you realize that you are ‘being’ and not ‘being something.’
We are not talking days and weeks for this to happen. We are talking lustrums and decades.