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Our contemporary culture places a strong emphasis on achieving goals. There are numerous books and workshops on goal-setting and "going for your dreams." They teach you tools that can help you to more effectively achieve the outcomes you desire, including techniques of visualization and affirmation, influencing others to do what you want, managing action steps and daily planners, dressing for success, etc. in short, how to become the empowered, unstoppable you, who can "make" your dreams happen. But despite the passion and excitement of these workshops, they often fail to address the very critical question of the true nature and meaning of goals in our lives.
Most goal-setting books and workshops start from the assumption that in order for you to be able to experience happiness, success, and satisfaction in your life, something has to change in your world — something has to change in your external situation and circumstances. They claim that the answer to your unhappy and unfulfilled life is to clarify your dreams, make an action plan, do daily visualizations and affirmations, and act with power and focus and self-confidence, so that you finally achieve the outcome you desire and then you can feel happy, fulfilled and complete.
These workshops promote their techniques of goal-setting and goal-achievement as the way to "attain" happiness. But any approach that makes peace and happiness dependent on a particular outcome or particular circumstances is implicitly saying that you are not enough just as you are — that to experience a truly happy and successful life, you must "achieve" and "earn" and "attain" and "acquire" (fame, power, wealth, accomplishments, etc.). This not-enoughness is the foundation of a fear-based life, since every attempt to change your life will be essentially motivated by the threat of failure if you don't succeed in attaining your outcome, you will continue to feel not-enough.
A Fear-Based Approach to Life or a Love-Based Vision?
A pathology orientation is always a fear-based approach to life, because it is explicitly focused on battling or running away from what you do not want. A vision orientation, however, may be either fear-based or love-based, depending on how you define your vision or dream for yourself. If you believe that you will be truly happy only if and when you attain your goal, then you are implicitly affirming for yourself both that you are not truly happy now, and that if you fail to attain your goal you will continue to be unhappy. (In fact, you would be even unhappier, since then you would feel that you had tried and "failed." Not only would your life in general be not-enough, but you would have shown yourself to be incapable and/or unworthy of having it any better — thus piling even more not-enough-ness onto your self-concept.)
Thus, even though you are living in the lighted clearing of a vision orientation, and are seeing everything in the light of moving-toward-a-goal, you are still living an essentially fear-based life. In a sense, this kind of vision orientation can be seen as merely a pathology orientation in disguise although you may seem to be moving toward a goal, what you are really doing is desperately trying to move away from your supposed not-enough-ness.
Any time you see your happiness as dependent on circumstances, you are living an essentially fear-based life. On the one hand, the journey toward your goal will tend to be desperate, since you believe that your happiness is riding on the outcome. For some people, this underlying fear may be covered over with an ambitious, driven, go-go-go attitude. The real issue, here, however, is not the energy level or ambition of one's personality and lifestyle, but whether it is fueled by love or fear. On the other hand, since circumstances are always changing, any circumstance-dependent happiness will be temporary and tentative at best. That means that even if you succeed at achieving your fear-based goal, you will still live under the threat that things could change.
Suffering = Believing Things Have To Be a Certain Way In Order To Be Happy
In the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, the first Truth is, "Life is suffering," and the second is, "The cause of suffering is attachment to desire." "Attachment to desire" implies a fear-based desire — the belief that things have to be a certain way in order for you to be happy. When that is your starting point -- when that belief fundamentally defines the lighted clearing of your life -- then your life will be suffering.
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You suffer because you don't have what you want; because you have it and lose it; because you had it and lost it; because you have it and fear losing it; because you have what you don't want; because you had what you didn't want (regret, guilt, wounds); or because you fear getting what you don't want. According to Buddhism, your unhappiness is never really caused by circumstances — the real cause of unhappiness is your belief that your happiness is caused by circumstances.
The Separative-Technological view tends to be intrinsically fear-based, since it believes that nothing has any intrinsic value besides what you give it. This means that you have to "make" the quality of your life — it is up to you and your on-going "doing." This puts a continual pressure on you, because without your on-going effort, your life is simply nothing, has no quality, is merely empty. And in the dog-eat-dog world of this view, you will end up being used by someone else.
Love-Based Approach: Stop Making Yourself Unhappy
The alternative to a fear-based approach is a love-based approach. The Spiritual view provides a good theoretical foundation for understanding and experiencing a love-based life. According to the Spiritual view, you are an expression or manifestation of Spirit. Spirit is the very being of Peace, Love, and Joy. Spirit is the very peace-ing of Peace, the loving of Love, and the joy-ing of Joy. Thus you are, in your very being, an expression of peace, love, and joy. You do not have to accomplish or acquire or earn anything to experience peace, love, and joy now. You do not have to "make" your own happiness all you have to do is to stop making yourself unhappy and to remember your own deepest truth as a being of Spirit.
You can believe at a conscious level that you are choosing and living a love-based approach to life, when in truth you are subconsciously motivated by fear. Again, the key to recognizing that you are living a fear-based approach to life is its negative emotional tone. For the Spiritual-Holistic view, negative emotions are always a reflection of fear and ignorance, and serve as a reminder to shift your focus back to your Spiritual truth. From the perspective of your awareness of your Spiritual truth, there is nothing to fear, and nothing you "need" to strive for — there is only the truth and wholeness of Spirit in all of its many forms and manifestations. Whereas the Separative-Technological view often tends to be expressed as a fear-based approach to life, the Spiritual-Holistic view is intrinsically and necessarily a love-based approach to life, which is emotionally reflected as the experience of perfect peace, love, and joy.
Reaching for Your Goal with Passion & Joy Without Emotional Attachment to the Outcome
Does this mean that we simply give up all of our desires and dreams? No, because it's not the goals and dreams that are the problem, but rather how we understand and live toward them. Going for your dreams can be an intrinsic part of the joy and passion of your life and can be how you concretely express the love and joy that are your truth. But as soon as you (choose to) believe that your happiness is dependent on a certain outcome, or that "things" have to change for you to be happy, then you are living in fear. You are no longer expressing your joy, but are desperately trying to achieve or earn it.
The Bhagavad Gita defines the path of "karma yoga" (the way we can live Spiritually in our day-to-day world) in terms of "doing what you will, without attachment to the fruits of your labor." In other words, you live toward your dreams with passion and joy, but without any emotional attachment to the outcome of your efforts.
It's fun and exciting to have a dream to live toward whether your dream is skydiving, building a new house, or establishing a soup kitchen for the homeless. What is important is whether your dream grows out of and expresses your deepest truth, and whether you live toward it in love or in fear. But from within the Spiritual-Holistic perspective, the actual outcome of your efforts is ultimately irrelevant to the quality and worth of your life. The quality of your life is simply "given" as your truth -- this is one meaning of the term, "grace." And everything that you "do" in your life is simply your joyful expression of that truth.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Alight Publications. ©2004.
Lighted Clearings for the Soul: Reclaiming the Joy of Living
by William R. Yoder.
A powerful new paradigm of understanding, which transforms spiritual ideas into the direct living experience of the wholeness and holiness of life. Combining theoretical discussion, practical exercises, and personal anecdotes, the book enables readers to free themselves from the thoughts and beliefs that limit their happiness and their ability to experience and express unconditional love.
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About the Author
William Yoder has doctorates in both philosophy and chiropractic. He has taught Eastern and Western philosophy and religion at major universities. His studies personal study with the Option Institute, and with such teachers as Ram Dass, Michael Hatncr, Gail Straub and David Gershon, Wallace Black Elk, David Spangler, Brant Secunda, and Thich Nhat Hanh. He and his wife have taught workshops in both the private and the corporate sectors on the topics of health and healing, human potential, self-actualization, and spirituality.