Jul 302010

happy I’ve noticed a synchronicity lately with regard to the idea of “goals”. At the very time when I’m feeling some personal frustration at not meeting some of my important goals – two of my favorite bloggers, Steve Pavlina and Leo Babauta, are posting about the idea of reducing the importance of goals in our life.

Leo, in his Zen Habits blog, writes that the problem with goals is that they may force us to work on things we aren’t really passionate about.

Goals as a system are set up for failure. Even when you do things exactly right, it’s not ideal. Here’s why: you are extremely limited in your actions. When you don’t feel like doing something, you have to force yourself to do it. Your path is chosen, so you don’t have room to explore new territory. You have to follow the plan, even when you’re passionate about something else.

The ideal life, according to Leo, is one in which we follow our inspiration and passion at each moment. This is the kind of life that produces truly great results. Coincidentally (or not), Steve Pavlina has been trying an experiment in which he tries to follow his inspiration and passion in each moment. In the past, if a flash of inspiration came to him, he would write it down for later planning and scheduling. Now (or at least for the next few weeks of the experiment) he just DOES it.

When an inspired idea comes to me, I act on it almost immediately. I know that I have about a 48-hour window — maximum — to write and publish that idea. Otherwise the energy is gone. Trying to create that same content later is possible, but it’s much more difficult and takes a lot longer.

The experience is like catching a wave. I might wake up one morning and get an idea for a new article, and I know I need to grab my laptop immediately and let it flow through me. In those situations I can write nearly as fast as I can type, without having to pause to think.

This is an interesting tie-in to something Eckhart Tolle said in A New Earth. If you do something – even the simplest thing – in complete harmony with your higher self (and I’m paraphrasing a bit) then what you do will improve the entire spirit of the planet – even if what you’re doing is sitting on a mat watching the birds fly by. On the other hand, if you try to do something wonderful, and it is NOT in complete harmony with your higher self, then – no matter how externally wonderful it may seem – you are harming yourself and everyone on the planet. You are bringing an energy of disharmony into the world, and ultimately, that energy is negative and will have negative effects. When we work from the higher self, we are a conduit for the Spirit into the world:

For it is God who works in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure (Phil 2:13 WEB)

Some degree of planning or scheduling is probably useful in a world where everything runs by the clock and people are expected to produce on schedule. But perhaps we overdo it. I’m going to reconsider the importance of goals in the larger scheme of things.

Of course, this can be risky. As Steve Pavlina puts it:

Dealing with the unpredictability of what’s going to happen next is extremely unsettling. In order to make it through this, I have to let go of trying to control anything. I have to let go and trust

Which is what faith is all about. It’s not about clinging tenaciously to a dogma. It’s about trusting that Spirit will see you through.

Jan 282010

Personal Power II – Anthony Robbins. As I wrote in my introduction to Anthony Robbins, I never really paid much attention to Robbins because he seemed so faddish – appearing on every TV channel for years. Also, his high-energy style isn’t a very good match for my laid-back personality. But I found a copy of his Personal Power II CDs in the Library and decided “What the heck?”

So… I listened to them. And the verdict is – Not bad. Not bad at all. Let me make it clear that Robbins basically deals with psychological techniques. But he does that quite well. The CDs are full of interesting and effective techniques for changing your mental state, breaking habits, and achieving goals.

In fact, the other day I was driving and passed by a drive-through and had a terrible craving for some food that wasn’t on my diet. Normally I wouldn’t have been able to resist. But suddenly I found images flooding through my mind. Images of the negative consequences of not following my diet. And positive images of the good things that would result from sticking with it. And I passed the restaurant by.

Only after I passed did I realize that the images in my mind had come from a technique I had listened to on one of Robbin’s tapes a few days earlier. It had been an exercise in finding the “leverage” to change a behavior. And it worked better than any psychological “trick” I had tried before.

So if you like an upbeat approach, and want some excellent techniques to turn things around for you – try Robbin’s 30 day program. You can find it used for a pretty good price from Amazon, and the techniques haven’t lost any of their effectiveness.

Jan 042010

A few weeks ago I asked for some feedback here and on several other forums, in a post called “The Most Important Thing”. My question to everyone was, what is the ONE THING you could do, if you could do nothing else, that would have the greatest effect for good on as many areas of your life as possible.  I already had something in mind, and I expected to see a few variations of it in the feedback. Instead, I got a huge range of suggestions, and it was easy to make a good argument for ANY of them as being fundamentally important and productive.

In particular, the comments here focused on habits of mind. Open-mindedness, acceptance and love. All of which, I think, are basically aspects of the same basic state of mind. It’s impossible to argue that this state of mind isn’t fundamental to EVERY kind of positive change. And yet I’m going to argue (stubborn person that I am) that another habit is equally important. This habit is regular self-reflection.

It can be in the form of journaling, planning, or even a form of meditation. But speaking for myself, if my first and foremost habit isn’t regular self-reflection, then I constantly loose ground.

It’s interesting that as I’ve discussed new years resolutions with people this year, I find fewer and fewer people making them (or at least admitting to making them). There’s a broad disenchantment out there with the very idea of a program of self-improvement. People have failed at their resolutions time after time, year after year. They don’t want the pain of another failure. And so they’d rather not try. There are some respects in which giving up striving is a great idea – especially if what you have been striving after is an ego-based goal. I wrote about that conflict a few days ago in The Purpose of Purpose.

But surely not all growth and development needs to be ego-based. There are plenty of wonderful things to do just for the joy of them that still require some organized commitment – for example, to develop the mental outlook of open-mindedness, acceptance and love mentioned above. To treat yourself to a healthier lifestyle. To learn a new language, or skill. To practice meditation. None of these things is a one-time activity. You may need reminders. This is where self-reflection comes in. I’ll explain my preferred method for this. You can adapt it however you see fit.

You’ll need a small notebook. You can, if you prefer, opt for some kind of more elaborate planner with more organization to it. This might be particularly important if you have a lot of complex responsibilities to manage. For myself – a notebook does fine. I like the moleskine style notebooks. I usually settle for the cheap knock-off variety from my local discount or office supply store. But they’re not that expensive, so perhaps you can treat yourself.

The basic procedure is this. Every day, you set aside 15 minutes for reflection. EVERY day. This is the one key habit on which all my other self-development hangs. Take this time every day no matter what – as if your life depended on it. Take the time even (this is VERY important) if all you have to report to yourself is “I did absolutely nothing yesterday. I forgot all my goals and projects and just vegetated in front of the TV with junk food and I’m glad I did”. Self-reflection needs to be absolutely, completely non-judgmental. The important thing is that you reflect. You should view your life as if you were a saintly, accepting, compassionate outsider.

The only absolutely essential things to include in your self-reflection are the answers to these questions: What did I do yesterday? What would I like to do today? And these must be written down in your little notebook. If you reflect at night, then the questions may be: What did I do today? What would I like to do tomorrow?

As you get used to the procedure, we can elaborate a bit. Once a week, use your daily reflection time to set some weekly goals. Use an index card as your placemarker and list your repeating goals on it (such as taking a walk everyday). You can also use the book to journal, to record your daily thoughts, dreams, meditation notes and to capture stray ideas and tasks as they come up. I find that even though the day’s events and activities are all jumbled-up in my notebook, I can always find anything I wrote down easily.

As you progress with this practice, you will begin to notice patterns. You will notice that you seem to be avoiding some tasks and goals, and you can gently and objectively ask yourself about it. Is it something you really don’t want to do at all? Explore that. Are you noticing, in your review, that certain people and situations cause problems in your plans. Certain behavior patters may emerge where you can, with loving detachment, notice the cause and effect that operates in your life.

But the key point is to keep up the habit. No matter what. Let me show you why I think it’s key. Suppose you make a new-years resolution to exercise every day. In the normal course of things, you will probably go regularly for a week, then taper off to a few times a week, and then, a month or two down the road, gradually drop it. Another failed resolution. But if you are re-visiting this goal every day in reflection, one of three things is going to happen. In the first case, you will be reminded to exercise and it will become a permanent part of your routine. In the second, you will start to notice the long stretches of time when you don’t exercise and you will be forced to confront how you feel about it. Is the type of exercise wrong for you? Is the time of day not working? Is there a way you can work exercise into your day without using excuses to avoid it? Wonderful. You adjust your goal and keep with it. Or, in the final case, you may simply decide to admit to yourself that you aren’t ready to make that commitment yet. But you make this choice by facing it in daily reflection. You have learned something which you would NOT have learned if you simply let your exercise goal gradually fade away. And you will be able to revisit your decision in future goal-setting sessions during reflection.

I welcome any comments or suggestions on his basic framework – or other methods that suit you better.

Dec 312009

“The Purpose-Driven Life”, “The Power of Purpose”, “Life on Purpose”, “Find Your Purpose”, “In Pursuit of Purpose”, “Living on Purpose”. As I survey the pages of Amazon.com, it’s clear that many readers crave – and many authors wish to provide – a sense of purpose in life. Even Eckhart Tolle, one of my favorite authors, titled one of his books, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. One of my favorite bloggers, Steve Pavlina, has an exercise (which I would highly recommend) titled How to Discover Your Life Purpose in About 20 Minutes. Many personal development experts down through the ages would agree that having a clear purpose in life is the key to true success.

And yet other teachers, especially those more familiar with Eastern traditions, have much more cautious feelings about our drive to find “purpose”. In fact, in Taoism and Zen, nature is described as “purposeless”, and it is meant as a complement – a state we should imitate.  Alan Watts, one of the great teachers of a few decades ago, believed that life was like music. There is no finish-line type of goal in music. Musicians don’t get higher ratings for reaching the end of the piece faster. When you dance, your purpose isn’t to arrive at a specific location on the floor. When you play, you aren’t trying to “get something out” of it – and if you are, it isn’t really play.

In the midst of the present moment we find the pure beauty of being. Even a pebble or a blade of grass is a wonderful thing. The pleasure of filling our lungs with air – the simple feeling of our body being alive- simply to BE is purpose enough for anyone. But the ego is rarely content with that. We feel that we must have some heroic purpose. We want to change the world (and receive the credit for changing it).  And in desperately looking around for some divine purpose, we overlook all the beauty of the present moment, and the joy of simply BEING. We ignore the mysterious and wonderful gift of existence and look instead for something more gratifying to the ego.

Often, our quest for “purpose” may simply be a deep-seated fear and discontent with who we really are. Our search for “meaning” may represent a dissatisfaction with the reality of existence in the NOW, the only place where the essence of Being is to be found. Under these circumstances, to rest in the contentment of purposelessness is a wonderful thing. Neale Donald Walsch wrote a book titled “What God Wants”. After several chapters of building up to the question, we finally arrive at the title chapter… which is blank. Walsch’s point is that God doesn’t want or need anything from us. We are loved freely and unconditionally, and it is enough for God that we simply ARE.  To be consumed with fear that we are wasting our life and not fulfilling our divine mandate is to misunderstand God’s gift to us.

So much for the dangers of an ego-based “purpose”. But perhaps there is more to living life with purpose than simply being discontent with ourselves. We are each unique. No other being experiences life exactly as you do. If we fully and completely accept this gift of existence, then we DO discover a purpose and meaning in our life. God is found right in the middle of the here and now. That is where we meet divine grace and purpose. And if we put up no resistance and allow grace to flow through us, then purpose flows into our lives. Not a selfish need to be special, but a delicious joy in being ourselves.

The point of exercises like Steve Pavlina’s that help us discover our “purpose” is this – that we discover who we really ARE. Not what someone else wants us to be. Not as we wish we were instead. Not some fantasy that depreciates reality, but a whole-hearted acceptance of our unique being. Our purpose is to BE. To be ourselves as we were created. Not to be someone else. If we strip away all the layers of our expectations, we will be ready for our true divine purpose to flow through us.

We may find ourselves manifesting amazing creative projects. Or we may find ourselves sitting alone in a quiet room. Or we may do both. It’s interesting that the two major figures of the Bible – Moses in the Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament – spent decades in quiet obscurity before their periods of activity and “accomplishment”. But Jesus was fulfilling his purpose every bit as much living quietly in a small village as he later was preaching to multitudes. None of Moses’ years of the simple shepherd’s life in Midian were wasted ones.

And so my conclusion is that life SHOULD be filled with purpose. Your purpose is to really BE yourself, completely and totally, right here and right now. All the books, exercises and programs are simply to clear away the junk that hides you from yourself, and separates you from the divine purpose that is hiding in plain view, right in front of your eyes.

Or you can find a more ego-based idea of purpose articulated by Agent Smith in the clip below:

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