There is a notion of “success” as an arrival point, somewhere we are headed and planning to get to. The trouble is, success (or happiness or satisfaction) is not a static point, and in my effort to “get there,” I am missing what is actually present, where I am in this moment and the experience of the journey.
I have had this conversation with myself and others before, so it is not a new idea, and yet in my experience of articulating this in the context of a coaching conversation, it became an “A-HA.” I noticed it resonating through my body, as if my cells were able to make sense of a new awareness. We finished our call and hung up. And I picked up my pen to write. What follows is some of what came out of that A-HA moment for me:
I remember standing at the window with a kaleidoscope toy as a kid. Letting the sunshine light up the colored fragments in the toy, I turned the end to make different patterns. I can remember working carefully and intently on achieving a particular configuration – one that I thought was prettiest. And it was hard to create just the right configuration. It might land there for a second, and then gravity would have its way and shift the pieces again to a new design. I would try again. Over and over again. I was so determined to create what I had decided was the goal, that I missed the beauty of what I was creating in the moment.
Many of us routinely set our gazes out into the future. Working toward something, we “keep our eyes on the prize.” Setting a goal and working toward it is not a bad thing. The trap we might fall into, however, is in creating expectations for when we reach that future moment. Often enough, that future moment arrives, and it’s not what we thought it would be. The airbrushed version of our imagination does not exist in reality and we are potentially disappointed or perhaps indignant and angry. We are trapped by a thinking that goes something like this, “I did this, so that should follow.”
In Zen Buddhism, this type of internal suffering is called dukkha. It’s an unsatisfactory-ness or sense of things not being quite as we imagine they should be. It’s common, then, to continue to strive, to perhaps reset our sights on some new future mark that looks more promising, bound to bring the happiness, success, satisfaction that we are seeking.
But what if that happiness, success and satisfaction are not here in this moment simply because we are not open to receiving them?
I’m reminded of an experience I had several years back. A friend was visiting me at Canyonlands National Park where I was working at the time. I wanted to take her to see some amazing Anasazi pictographs in a remote area that most tourists never had a chance to see. We set out, following one of the trails for a while. Then, we needed to veer off trail and hop over a few canyons to get to the site. Somehow, I couldn’t quite find my way to the exact place even though I had been several times before. There was no trail; we were mostly walking on slickrock, and I just needed to recognize a particular rock formation to know where to turn off. We hunted around for the better part of the morning, and I was beside myself that I wasn’t able to find my way and show her this really cool rock art.
What if I had been able to shift my perspective from “this isn’t how this was supposed to go,” to “what’s here? what am I noticing?” If I had been open and embraced the moment, I could have laughed at my predicament. I could have heard my friend’s assurance that she was having an amazing time experiencing a place she’d never been before. I could have appreciated her gratitude and companionship. I could have found satisfaction in sharing the beautiful, wild canyons I loved with someone who loved me whether we reached our destination or not.
I suspect this will continue to be an on-going lesson for me: to be present with what is here now and to be intentional about noticing what this moment is offering me. I can acknowledge that this moment may not be the one that I envisioned. But it is the one that is here. I can choose to turn my back, hide my eyes or distract myself by looking further ahead. Or I can choose to be open and notice what happens.
What is present for you right now, that you can choose to be open to?
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