To be healthy, wealthy, and wise we need to learn what we want, how to get it, and when to play our hand. But we also need to learn who we are and what we’re about. Being anchored more in identity than accomplishment is the key to success and fulfillment. By letting the future go, we can enjoy and even do better in the here and now.
I have just returned from a full three days, assisting my daughter to move to Atlanta, Georgia where she will soon begin her course of studies at the Emory University Medical School. In addition to the move itself, there was the inevitable setting up of technology and support services in her new apartment. When school starts on Wednesday (yes, they really do start medical school in July), our daughter should be settled in and ready to get started on the next chapter of what has been a lifelong dream.
Since the time our daughter was four years old, fearlessly and curiously engaged with the white-coated woman who was drawing her blood, she has talked about becoming a doctor. Although there have been several iterations as to exactly what kind of doctor she wants to become, the core dream has never wavered. She has known herself to be a doctor, and life has organized itself around her accordingly.
That, it seems to me, is a much better way to describe what’s been happening here than to suggest that she has been pressing to achieve a goal for the past 20 years. There has been no press, although there has been plenty of work. Rather, there has been the joy of self-discovery, self-realization, and self-expression. Bryn is just being herself. And as with the past three days, it’s always a pleasure to be in the presence of someone like that, watching life unfold along the way.
Do you remember a time like that in your life? A time when you felt young enough, hopeful enough, and ambitious enough to pursue a dream or make a statement in the world? It’s certainly contagious to be around. The energy associated with authentic self-expression is palpable. And it isn’t restricted to adolescence and young adulthood. When we allow ourselves to stop pressing and to be ourselves, at any age, we become epicenters of fulfillment and success.
This too is something we can learn. It’s not the exclusive purview of a select few. It is, instead, the way the world works. By applying our hopes and dreams to the dust of life, we function like radio stations, broadcasting our purpose into the world, and like magnets, organizing the dust into dynamic patterns.
When people know who they are and what they’re about, they become healthy, wealthy, and wise. Why do we bother to get out bed in the morning? What gifts do we have to share with the world? How does our heartfelt desire express itself in everyday life? The answers to these and other such questions of ultimate meaning reflect our worldview and influence the course of life.
Right now I am reading Jakusho Kwong’s new book, “No Beginning, No End: The Intimate Heart of Zen.” It is a delightful collection of teachings from the founder and abbot of the Sonoma Mountain Zen Center outside of Santa Rosa, California. Chapter 12, “Confidence In Your Original Nature,” speaks eloquently to the mystery of authentic self-expression.
“A monk once said, ‘No creature ever falls short of its own completion. Wherever it stands, it does not fail to cover the ground.’ This means that just as you are, with your original nature, you are complete • fully equipped. You are a fully realized person. The only thing that this is required is to realize it. The depth and wisdom, your own compassion and purity, are already there within you. But you must know it’s there by direct experience.”
“This notion • that each of us is fully equipped, that no creature ever falls short of its own completion, that wherever it stands it does not fail to cover the ground • expresses the Dharma principle that we are already full of life and endowed with this life that fills us. Included in this life is everything we need, right here and right now. We are already rooted in the great peace or repose that is our original nature, beyond any circumstances or conditions that may arise.”
“Having confidence in our original nature is at the heart of the traditional Zen spirit. In traditional Zen spirit we don’t emphasize the stages in meditation practice or anything we think we’ve gained. We emphasize having strong confidence in our original nature. That’s the spirit of Zen, and this confidence unfolds through the cultivation of practice.”
“Most people think that if they practice for a certain number of years, they will gain enlightenment. This is not the traditional spirit of Zen. We shouldn’t say, ‘If I do this or that I will get this,’ because after five, six, or seven years of practicing with this gaining idea in the back of your mind, you will be completely discouraged. My teacher always used to say, ‘Be careful of your gaining idea.'”
“Of course, if you have a gaining idea to benefit all sentient beings, that’s a pretty good one, but the traditional Zen spirit is not to gain, not to practice for a long time, with the idea that then you will attain enlightenment. This is a big mistake. It’s better to look at practice like night and day.”
“Right now it’s daytime, but actually the stars are out. Already nighttime is here, but we can’t see the stars. And day doesn’t just • ta da! • become light. But this is how we think. We miss the wholeness of each moment and think, ‘This is black, this is white, and if I practice this long, then •ta da! • enlightenment!’ But right now if you just watch nature, you’ll see that in the middle of the day there’s some dark. Night is already here. I hope you see this well and understand.”
The Christian theologian, Robert Farrar Capon, expressed many of the same thoughts in his 1990 book, “Health, Money, and Love & Why We Don’t Enjoy Them.” The problem, Capon argues, is that we turn health, money, and love into religions. We expect them to do, produce, or gain something for us such as happiness, control, or eternal life. We turn them into attempts “to establish a right relationship between ourselves and something outside ourselves • something we think to be of life-shaping importance.”
But this gaining idea is precisely what spoils them. There’s nothing wrong with health, money, or love in and of themselves; but when we turn them into meal tickets for something else • something that we want to happen in the future • we miss the beauty of the present moment and press too hard to achieve our goals.
This reminds me of the standing joke about avid long-distance runners such as myself. “The good news is that running can make you live longer; the bad is that you spend all that extra time running.” Unfortunately, there are even runners who laugh ruefully at this joke. They train to set a personal best at their next race, or to be healthy, or to live longer. Then they wonder why they no longer enjoy running and why they end up suffering injury or even death for all their efforts.
But it doesn’t have to be that way! We don’t have to turn running, or anything else, into a religion. We don’t have to live with that gaining idea. Instead, we can simply be ourselves and marvel at the mystery of how life unfolds • regardless of any condition or circumstance.
I have seen this truth playing itself out in my own life, in my daughter’s life, and in the life of many others. We know what we want, how to get there, and when to play our hand • the subjects of the last three Provisions • but we also know who we are and what we’re about. Being more rooted in identity than accomplishment is the secret to being in the world but not of the world. We are less focused on tomorrow and more focused on today. We are getting things done without investing them with undo importance.
Coaching Inquiries: Are you more focused on what you can accomplish or on who you are?
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.
I really enjoy your Provisions. They have come to me at a time when I need to make some changes in my life. I am finding that your insight is helping me to be come a reflective practitioner of life.
Some of the remarks you made in this week’s Provision I’ve found in what I feel is absolutely the best Tape/CD set available. “Infinite Possibilities” is the name of the tape set by a guy named Mike Dooley. I’ve listened to them 3 times over and will never tire listening to them again and again (and there are 12 hours of tapes in his set!!!) You’ll pay about $130 for the set, but if you want to hear the most profound, yet fun and down to earth synthesis of philosophies, meaningful religious insights, scientific yet metaphysical applications, etc. it is WELL WORTH the cost!!! I just love these tapes.
While not rising to the level of national disaster or Provision, I am once again “paying tuition” at the School for Hard Knocks. Reader’s and you will no doubt recognize that institution as the only one that fools will learn at. I use the expression “paying tuition” to describe the agony of having key data locked away on a non-functioning machine. And all the fun that goes along with it. All I can say is it is not my fault. But who else can take the blame? As an IT professional in the financial industry, I have head the canard “Backups don’t!” more times than I care to remember. Professionally, I have seen careers ruined by people who forgot the maxim. Personally, I have been burned several times by it. Having just been burned again, I am writing this on my PDA, which is still working, to remind others to learn from my mistakes. Try the backup before you need it; you may be surprised at what is there.
Don’t forget “rainy day funds.” For example, refinance your mortgage and hold out a minimum of one year’s “run rate” to ensure that losing your job doesn’t equate to losing your house. Debt and savings are not mortal enemies, just part of the ebb and flow of life. When you are on the “swell” (or crest) of the wave, don’t forget there is ALWAYS the inevitable “valley” (or trough). The bible says something about putting away in the fat years for the lean ones. In today’s world, we seem to forget about everything • including the lessons of history. “Rainy day” funds are in my humble opinion the most overlooked topic.
Picking up the pace can also apply to everything in our everyday lives • those many chores that fill our time but must be done. This tip reminded me of a time when my daughter was still wearing diapers. She needed a change and it was time to leave my in-law’s house. My Mother-in-law (MIL) was excruciatingly slow at diaper changes and I wanted to leave right away so I volunteered to change my daughter’s diaper. My MIL volunteered to help which ended up being nothing but holding the dirty
diaper. I had my daughter’s diaper changed so fast that my MIL couldn’t believe it. I had been practicing at changing diapers (a very necessary but not so pleasant task) as fast as possible • to speed up I sped up.
I love your article and your writing! You are sure hitting the mark with me this week regarding jumping from knowing what to knowing how. I’m flying out to Portland, OR (from Santa Cruz/San Jose) tomorrow for 3 days to work with one of my business partners. We’re working on/writing about ‘stuff’ we both know about Leadership (from many different levels based on our own experiences with working with our top-drawer ‘leader’ clients).
Writing about what one knows is such a critical step in moving the pieces of the puzzle from the mind on to a different medium so that one can see self objectively. At least this is my perspective. Once the internal knowing has been shared out loud and written about, the puzzle seems to click in to place and the picture becomes much more clear. I think an authentic ‘core-self’ knowing is so powerful and impactful when it’s lived out loud … radical aliveness.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
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