I learned a new skill last year.
In fact, to call it a skill does perhaps not do it full justice. For it is in actuality, a capacity for a fundamental orientation toward life. One that much to my shame, I had hitherto forsaken.
In common parlance this capacity would be called “goal setting”.
I had ridiculed this skill for many years. It was “a function of the old way”, I said. The deeper path is of spontaneous emergence. The one where you “surrender to what happens”.
I had tried many times to persuade myself, through the words of wise others, of the necessity and utility of “goals”. I read the right books. I bought the best software programs. I listened to the advocacy of the high performers. But none of it stuck.
It all seemed so shallow.
I didn’t want to capitulate my revolutionary liberty to the banalities of the mainstream world of achievement.
And so I didn’t. My intellectual antibodies kept the necessity of goal setting at bay, and I was free to frolic about my life with ignorant abandon.
The weight of expectation
I have never lacked ambition. In fact, I would say I have more often suffered from the opposite problem—my aspirations are so large that I stumble under their weight. They press down on me impelling me to bend or, at worst, collapse.
To combat this affliction, I had developed a functional alternative. I didn’t set goals. I set “intentions”.
“I have an intention of making €50k this year from my work.”
And then I would leave it alone, and “see what emerged”. I would abandon it as some implicit background notion—one that I hoped would magically attract the wealth that I so desired. This is where the “deep work” occurs, I told myself.
If come the end of the year, I have earned this figure. Wow! It happened. The universe really does provide for those who trust in it!
And if I don’t? No sweat. It wasn’t supposed to happen.
The convenience of passivity
My “intention” is not a goal. It is a passive hope. Which is not to say it is not valuable.
By framing the “intention”—verbalising it—it becomes (somewhat) more likely that the possibility will become actuality. I subconsciously refer to its achievement, and I perhaps behave differently.
The problem however, is one of responsibility.
Because whether the “intention” is reached or not, I am not really responsible. The outcome is “the will of the universe” or whatever other pretty dress I want to put over the convenience of my passivity.
For me, the truth lurking in the dark under this spiritual costume, is fear.
I’m afraid that I can’t arrive at the destination—the goal. The demoralising conclusions I know I must draw were I to fail in my quest seem too large a price for my fragile pride to bear.
So I don’t take the risk. I use “intentions” and outsource my responsibility to some mystical other.
What are you aiming at?
You’re pointed toward something. Your life, if it continues in this vein, will arrive at a natural conclusion, the consequence of your orientation.
We are spatial beings. We have a front and a back. It’s built into the very structure of our beings.
And so, you are pointed at something. Your posture orients you toward something.
It may or may not be something you have chosen.
It may or may not be something you actually want.
The conscious choosing of an aim, and the voluntary acceptance of responsibility for attaining it are cornerstones of the masculine orientation to the world.
They are not the prevue of men. They are the necessity of any human being who seeks to manifest the dreams they hold.
They are not optional.
They cannot be replaced with “intentions”—with “seeing what emerges”.
However, all of this says nothing of the actual result.
You cannot control the result
The larger the goal—the further it lies from the present moment, and your current capability—the more the mystery of life will bend and break your assumptions of what is possible, or indeed, whether the goal was correct in the first place.
The largest aims are for lands well beyond the horizon of what we can see.
They are far away across the territory of life, and can be gleaned only in imagination and the tricky articulation of the mysterious whispers that exist under the surface of the psyche.
Your mission, is to envision that goal—that future life—with as much authentic detail as you are able. And then accept responsibility for its achievement.
This is the great masculine secret—that the voluntary bearing of the cross, the acceptance of the burden of responsibility, creates the future.
Its secret is simple in concept, and infinitely challenging in practice.
It goes like this…
- Set your goal in life—a goal that moves your very core.
- Accept sacred responsibility for your journey toward it.
- Struggle toward it with as much courageous vulnerability as you can muster.
And then see what emerges.