If meditation is the practice of training the mind to rest in the present moment, how do you set goals and make life plans? I thought we were trying to stay present?
For the record: goals are not bad. You have to act in the world, and so learning how to align your actions with your intention is the best way to manifest the fruits of meditation practice. Impermanence reigns, so may as well use it to your advantage. If you set good intentions and act accordingly, you can learn to flow with change, rather than struggle against it.
Setting An Intention
I make a distinction between intention and goals. For me, intention is a larger view to work towards something. Once you have a clearly identified intention, for example, the intention to be kind to people, or at least not to harm them, then you can break it down into smaller steps or goals. I think of them as the daily practices.
A daily practice might be to say something kind to people when you first see them, or to offer a word of encouragement, rather than to immediately share your own experience. See what is up with them first. If you don’t already do this, you’ll be amazed by the shift this small detail can make in your life.
Intention is more wide angle vision, like when you turn the wheel slightly to steer in the right direction. It’s more like an approach. If I intend to write a book, then it’s a possibility in the future even though I many have no idea how to to do that.
With goals, you identify a plan of action. Goals are like concrete steps to get from point A to point B. 400 pages by next Tuesday; a rough draft by October. Goals are hugely beneficial and important to create structure for larger projects. Once you get to point B, then you reevaluate the goals and determine what assets you have accumulated, and what you still need then steer toward goal C, all the while keeping your intention –the larger view—in the field of vision.
But goals are measurable, so if we fail to accomplish the goal, then we suffer. This is what takes us out of the present, and why goals can so easily become ego’s weapons–because we compare our vision to the reality. This is why I no longer make plans for my life. Sure, I set goals for myself, but you know, the quickest way to make God laugh is to make plans. For me, setting intention is a more grounded way to approach the future.
The key mechanism in this process is to continuously tune in to source, call it awareness, pure consciousness, Dharmakaya, whatever you refer to when you look for a deeper wisdom. First you set your intention, then take action by setting goals and working toward them, and then reconnect to your source–that still, silent, spacious wisdom inside– in order to send the message out to the universe. Once you are able to listen to that inner wisdom, translate its message into your embodied experience and then send out clear messages, then it’s simply a matter of waiting–in the present moment– for a reply.
Here is the step-by-step process to authentic goals:
- Connect with source through practice of some type, like sitting meditation
- Set your intention–listen to the body to feel what is true
- Take action by setting goals and working toward them, revising as necessary
- Reconnect to your source–that still, silent, spacious wisdom inside– in order to send the message out to the universe.
- Let go and continue to live in the present
Once you are able to listen to that inner wisdom, translate its message into your embodied experience and then send out clear messages, then it’s simply a matter of waiting–in the present moment– for a reply.