Now What? Emphasizing Becoming In A World Of Goals

“You never suffer from a life problem, you always suffer from an idea problem” - Unknown

At points in my life, I have found that the most useful solution to a problem is laughter. There are different types of laughter to suit different situations: laughter for irony, awkwardness, relief, anger, confusion, joy and sadness. The laughter that I’m speaking of is nonsense laughter, or laughter of the absurd. It is the immediate relief upon realizing that the problem at hand dissolves and reveals to not have been a problem at all.

Since establishing Living Lite*, I have been exploring the benefits of goal setting as a means of incorporating structure into my life, which at the time felt like a torrent. Maintaining long term habits is difficult for me since my interests cycle at such a fast pace. I often define and redefine myself weekly, each time believing this time I had found IT. The IT being a foundational conception of life and self which, ironically, changes dependent on each definition (i.e. I am a musician, structure is essential, I am a therapist, pragmatism is key, less is more, more is more, life is chaos, life is order etc.).

A Grammatical Error

If my life were a sentence, each attempt at defining a self is like a set of parenthesis, barring a subset of itself in order to make sense of the larger statement. These parenthesis offer an explanation or afterthought that seem to complete a larger meaning. However, each attempt at explanation is simply an interval, often befuddling my understanding rather than deepening it.

As each parenthetical Kris reaches its end I become frustrated, I bemoan, I thought I has IT this time! Usually, I will hum and haw about this failure until I realize the absurdity of the process itself. I'll have a good laugh and fall right back into the cycle again. It is like reincarnation, with each self dying only to be reborn into another form based on the experiences of the former. The laughter, in a sense, is a form of enlightenment, liberating me from the bonds of this cycle, if only temporarily.

I see no way to be an expert on this process, as it is ongoing and this post may very well be another parenthetical statement. However, out of my awareness of the process come a few insights that help breed laughter from the frustration.

1). There are times for control and times to let go. The irony of this is that within each phase we ignore the benefits of its opposite. We cycle through realizations such as  I really need to get my life together! and I really need to relax and just be for once! We scoff at our behavior, whether it be too focused or unfocused, and believe that life is better lived _____.  

In the same sense that day is defined by night, up by down, life by death and in by out, control and letting go are dependent on one another. There is nothing to let go of if we don’t at some point have control. Each serves a particular purpose, dependent on the needs of our life in that moment. Yet, we cling to one or the other without realizing their reciprocal nature.

2). We are not our goals. Goals are a form of parenthesis. We add them into the sentence of life hoping to add meaning to the the bigger picture. They provide smaller contexts in which to understand life. Though, sticking with our analogy of grammar, too many parenthesis in a sentence can make the whole statement seem nonsensical and neglects its primary function. Likewise, too many goals can keep us from embracing the spontaneity of life.

The purpose of simplifying my life is to whittle it to its essentials. After minimizing physical clutter, I realized mental clutter had taken its place. Goals, axioms and ideals became possessions to cling to.This realization was, again, met with a laugh. When does the clutter end?

3). Accomplishment is an ever fading horizon. If Affluenza is an infectious need to accumulate wealth and material possessions, Goalnorrhea is the affliction of accomplishment. As with affluence, goals can become a form of escapism, a distraction from life, rather than a way to enrich it.

After each goal is achieved, a void is left. We find ourselves asking now what? Each time the goals become loftier and more difficult. Once we accomplish each goal, we feel a high, simpler to making a new purchase. However, this high soon fades and we require a new set of standards to breach, all the while dangling the carrot in front of our own face.

4). We are not being, but rather becoming. An emphasis of arrival is built into the way we understand ourselves and determine our values. Growing up we are asked “who do you want to be when you grow up?” We come up with an answer, maybe, and work towards our goal like climbing the crest of a mountain. Once reaching the top, we look around and bask in the glory of our accomplishment until spotting a higher mountain in the distance.

The problem lies in the emphasis of endpoints. We view our lives on a linear scale, like a tightrope drawn between birth and death. Many of us just want to make it to the other side unscathed; avoiding looking down to see the depth below. We focus so much on each step, placing one foot in front of the other, that we reach the end without understanding the point, which was to dance lightly across.

The Menu Is Not The Meal

The point is to focus on the act of becoming without trying grasp some meaning out of it. The world is in a state of constant flux, and we with it. Attempting to define ourselves is like trying to nail a stake into a river. With all our accomplishments, possessions and expectations we overlook the richness of change. By doing so, we end up thinking about living more than actually being engaged in it. However, as Alan Watts puts it, the menu is not the meal.

There appears to be no final resting place to hang my hat. Rather, enjoying the process as if it were a game, appreciating both the strikes and gutters, eases the anxiety that comes with life’s constant change. In the end, the words here may only be smoke, hopefully we can enjoy watching them burn.

Photo by Alan