Our obsession with goals

I listened to a Q&A with Krishna Das the other day. One woman said she struggles with implementing her daily yoga and meditation practice. Did he have any advice?

If you’ve experienced KD yourself, the following exchange won’t surprise you in the least (I paraphrase):

KD: “Why do you think you need to practice every day?”

Woman: “Because I’m not progressing. I’ve been doing this practice for so many years and I feel I should be more advanced.”

KD: “More advanced? But where do you want to get to?”

She pondered this for a while and then said: “Look – I don’t know.”

KD: “So how do you know if you’ve arrived?

They both laughed and I couldn’t help but smile. Because I’m exactly like her.

And because I’m like her, I plan things. There are goals, time frames, achievements. This morning I went for a run. When I u-turned, I checked the time. Then I periodically checked on the way back to see how much I had slowed down because of tiredness. I tried to calculate how long it would take to reach home. I thought of the cold shower I would take. I thought of a million other things. I thought about the Q&A with Krishna Das.

And then I realised that I was still running. But I wasn’t even there.

I slowed down. Listened to the birds. And guess what – I was enjoying myself. I was actually enjoying myself, but I hadn’t realised it. How sad is that?

I was having so much fun, the run gave me so much pleasure (similar to a meditation session), but I wasn’t “there” to tap into this joy. I was focused on arriving at home.

This approach fits in nicely with our image of life. Life is supposed to be linear. It’s all arranged on a time line. Birth, school, university, the first job, kids, a house (or the other way around – don’t say there are no options!), another job, and maybe another few – retirement, death.

This way of viewing life means we need to get somewhere. We need to reach somewhere. We keep progressing, and we’re certainly told to avoid going back. That’s why sometimes you hear people say: “Oh but I’ve come this far, I can’t stop now”, even after they realise that what they started doesn’t give them the joy they were hoping for.


But what if life is not linear? What if life UNFOLDS? Like a flower? What if we grow in various directions? The way we talk about “growing up” suggests that we only grow upwards, where in reality we also need to grow “sideways”, we need to take up more space overall. We need to EXPAND.

I feel life is like a mandala. You might start colouring in at the centre, the nucleus. Then you grow. You add interests, skills, tastes, activities – and then you might decide to drop them. It doesn’t mean you’re going back. It just means you’re expanding in a different direction.

I like the image of unfolding because a fulfilling life would not be viewed as one where you “reach the goal” or the “end”, but where you allow yourself to expand in all directions.

Adding a hobby, activity or skill therefore wouldn’t need to fit in with our overall direction in life. It would just need to be something that we feel like bringing into our life.

Wouldn’t that be nice?


Image credit.

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