I’m very new to Taoist and Buddhist philosophies. Growing up in the West (and particularly the Wild West of Eastern Oregon small towns) I was under the impression that Eastern Philosophies were all about the woo-woo spiritualism. Ironically, I’m finding the principles contained in Eastern “religions” to be far more philosophically practical than most Americanized “philosophy”. Especially when we turn our attention to daily living.
American culture promotes the hustle as a virtue. If you’re not busy, exhausted, and striving to get ahead, you’re a loser. No wonder you’re broke. Let’s just ignore the huge percentage of wealth that is stolen from you every minute through taxation, inflation, licensure, regulations, etc…
I digress. I really do think despite the obstacles presented to us, we are better off taking responsibility for our own lives. Our health, our wealth, our happiness, are largely in our own control. But how we achieve the life we want has some strange moral pressure attached to it. It would seem in this culture people think more highly of a hardworking thief than they do an easy-going entrepreneur. People seem to have a sort of soft spot for the risk, the drug-addled sleepless nights, and the relentless work ethic of the melodramatic Wolf Of Wallstreet. An honest, quiet, family-oriented, business person gets no press or Oscar-worthy film.
So we have Gary Vaynerchuck telling us to “fucking hustle!” and we get all giddy inside. YA! Let’s do this! We’ll tear it up. We’ll destroy this goal!
Even our language has become destructive, I think, for good reason.
We seem to be destroying ourselves. We break ourselves trying to get fit. We’re stressed out in our pursuit of happiness. We justify our lack of sleep because we’re working so hard.
The tightly wound rope is becoming frayed.
It will break.
I wish I could take credit for finding the following ideas, but I feel like I stumbled upon them. If you’ve read any of my more recent writing, you’ll know that I’ve been experimenting with the way I’m approaching progress in my life.
- I’ve stopped setting goals completely.
- I have no unnecessary objective deadlines.
- I’m practicing letting go of my attachment to specific outcomes by cultivating curiosity for the future, instead of the delusion of complete control.
- My daily focus is on certain practices in the areas I want to improve, instead of tasks to complete.
- Instead of seeking happiness through achievement, I’m developing myself into the person who can lead the life I want to live.
I’ve been gradually developing these ideas for the past five years. It’s been transformational, to say the least. And then I’ve come to find out they’re nothing new. In fact, they’re very old ideas.
“If you try to change it, you will ruin it. Try to hold it, and you will lose it.” -Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching (4th Century BC)
“It is better to travel well than to arrive.” -Buddha (Sometime in the 4th-6th BC)
“No work or love will flourish out of guilt, fear, or hollowness of heart, just as no valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.” -Alan Watts (6 January 1915 – 16 November 1973)
Even other contemporary thinkers are on the same page…
”Goals are for losers…By being systems-oriented, I felt myself growing more capable every day, no matter the fate of the project I happened to be working on.” -Scott Adams (A few years ago)
I used to look at people who didn’t have goals the same as people who had given up. I thought they were poor depressed souls who just couldn’t do what it took to keep growing and working toward any future vision. Ironically, I was the one who was often depressed, stressed out, and wanting to give up.
I’ve written about my daily practices in other recent posts, as well as my newest book. So I won’t go into the details here. But the mysterious concept I’m thoughtfully attempting to integrate is the idea of letting go of results, in order to get better results.
“To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead, you relax, and float.” – Alan Watts
Floating through life has such a negative connotation in our society. I’m not about to release myself from any responsibility. In fact, in the art of the daily practices, I’m taking ownership. My improved future and my joy in the present are completely up to me. It’s the way I’m going about it that resembles floating down a lazy river. In a way, it’s like I’ve surveyed the land, taken account of where this river is going, analyzed the currents, and decided where and when I put myself in. But after that, all I have to do is enjoy the scenery as I pass by, all the while knowing I’ll reach my destination whenever the river gets me there.
I’d be lying if I said it was effortless. But it’s no longer a fight. It’s no longer a hustle. There’s not as much room for disappointment, resentment, or regrets. There’s plenty of space for joy, love, and gratitude. And somehow, still beyond my understanding, there is more progress than ever.
As it turns out, achieving specific goals was not the most important thing to me. Progress is all I ever really wanted.
Goals are only a victory when achieved, but progress can be enjoyed throughout one’s life.
I originally wrote this on Aug 13th, 2019. I’m still learning, but I’m more confident about the above concepts than ever. Progress doesn’t always have to look like a struggle.