Monday, November 16, 2009

Emptiness and effort - the ambition thing...

On the subject of ambition, I prefer to take a bit of a sideways view of things.  That is to approach via two seemingly incompatible but related ideas.

The first is emptiness -- desireless, nonjudgmental equilibrium, the one point which is the same as  expansive diffusion, nothingness. The simple contentment of sweeping or weeding or sitting or breathing, walking. Attentive, mindful awareness without judgement. This is not a religious statement or a new age statement. Just a way of thinking about being.

The other idea is effort that is expressing a deep unrelenting need to tweak and refine, which requires judgment and differentiation, to improve something, a painting, a bit of writing, a line of music, to bring it into alignment with an ideal, either internal or external.

What made me think about this is, the other day, I was sitting in a coffee shop and happened to be talking with the daughter of friend, a quiet girl in her late twenties. She was knitting, and seemed very content to be doing so.

"Everyone tells me how I really need to focus right now, to figure out how to earn a living, to make progress now on something, that I am at the age where that is what I should be doing," she said adding that she just wanted to be, and to be knitting.

Tell them you are a Buddhist and are into nothingness, I said without thinking at all.

Now, I have to backtrack because contentment is good for contentment, but perhaps it's not that good for achievement. This is a concept that is not in favor right now in the age of instant soup.

You can meditate everyday on being a musician or a writer,, and you might be feeling very contented about your affirmation. But if you don't actually sing, or write or whatever it is you hope to do - then you are not that thing at all, no matter how content you feel about it. A quote I like is "Affirmation without discipline is the beginning of delusion." (from Jim Rohn as quoted by Tony Robbins on Twitter). To be really good at something does not involve a magic incantation. There is in fact, no such thing as magic.  To be really good at something requires effort and intelligent self-evaluation over a fairly long period of time. Another word for that is discipline.

Yet contentment in the moment is a valuable thing. I think there is a place for both emptiness and effort  in a balanced life.  There is a quote I like, that I think speaks to the relation of these two things, and thought I am not a Christian, and am not a theist, that quote is from a bible verse. (Ancient literature and mythology generally contain some truth, but is is human truth...) The quote is "Having done all, stand."   So here is where contentment and effort meet.  Do the work, prepare - while being in the moment, standing still.
-- Mar Walker

.Read a poem on the same topic: