“Life is a Journey. Not a Destination.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Any of us who grew up with report cards, vied for sporting trophies or hitched our financial star to a supervisor’s review of our work know goal-setting very well. It’s meant to keep our eyes on the prize. To take us where we want to be. To give us a taste of sweet success. To improve us.
Sometimes, it works. Honor roll. Gold medal. Pay hike and a bonus. Sometimes, not. We cannot control all the variables along the way, no matter how hard we work and focus. Lose 10 pounds before the wedding! Failing to do so just feels like, well, failing. Eight pounds can’t be good enough because eight pounds was not the goal! It’s as if nothing we did or experienced along the way actually counted because we did not get there. Cue heaviness in pit of stomach, maybe tears, maybe anger. Blame game may ensue. Should have done this or that or the other. Maybe blame shift. Somebody else or a situation got in the way. The finish line moved! No fair!
Wait, back to the first scenario. Winning. Achieving the goal. Sweet success! And then what? Next! Another goal. Another destination. Often without even savoring the win. Maintaining can be seen as complacency, even laziness. Re-directing can be seen as flaky. Back-tracking or reviewing? Loserville.
There is another way. American poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson made an iconic statement: “Life is a journey. Not a destination.” In yogic terms, which have 5000-year-old roots, mindfulness of life’s journey yields awareness, presence and meaning. Mindfulness invests every moment of the journey, the mundane and the sublime, with learning opportunities. Evolution of the self to its fullness. Its inherent divinity, in spiritual terms.
“Yeah, right!” you might say. “Tell that to my sales manager when I don’t make my goals for the quarter. I was fulfilling my inherent divinity! Pink slip.”
Mindfulness does not preclude goals. It enhances the path. It allows you to learn every step of the way. In corporate terms, if we are always learning, we will not become obsolete. Which would really feel better in the long run? Celebrating the rare moments we cross the finish line? Or investing our focus, our work, our desire, our satisfaction in the almost endless stream of daily moments? Within those moments are the real keys to our evolution, our growth in competency.
I have some goals I am exploring now in my yoga practice. Most of my yoga hours are spent in teaching, usually in a gym environment, which means the flow of poses must be accessible to anyone who walks in, from newbie to regular practitioners. Dear Readers, I have grown complacent in this situation and while I have evolved in my competency as a teacher, I recognize a lack of growth in my own practice.
I have set a goal. For full-on yogi speak, I might say, “I have set my intention.” The nuance is that I intend to move toward something and to do the work but I am open to whatever happens along the way and whatever learning it might lead to for me.
My intention is to explore the arm-balance poses. The strength required of the shoulders and of the serratus anterior muscles that wrap the ribs have been a challenge for me, given my frame. As a person with very open or free-moving joints and loose ligaments. I can explore the postures that exhibit flexibility quite naturally and freely. The deeper learning for me lies in recruiting the muscles to work harder. Many other people come to yoga for the opposite intention — releasing tightness in their muscles and exploring joint range.
Learning to do Scorpion Pose or perhaps Inverted Splits with Arm Balance will require an evolution in my physical competency. Maybe because I’ve been an avid reader and a writer most of my life, I also see the glimmer of a simile in this new intention. Balancing flexibility with strength is like balancing soft with hard. Yin with yang.
Above is a photo of me beginning to explore arm balance. Yes, I did some of this in my teacher training but it was appetizer-sized learning. I am ready, I believe, to make a meal of it. Who knows exactly what will happen along the way? I will try to be patient and kind with myself, while surrendering to the sheer amount of work that must be done. It is fair to say I have always been competitive. Through following this arm-balance intention, perhaps I will be able to release that sheer goal-oriented focus. And, maybe that will be the point! We shall see.