I listened to my little sister read out loud from her book Just One Thing. “To live is to pursue goals”. Truth. “Do you go after goals with attachment or with aspiration? Attachment is stress and drivenness, while aspiration is without outer effort and inner peacefulness, rewarded by the journey itself no matter the destination”. Bells began to go off inside my brain, it felt like there was music. Her voice reading the words played on my heart strings. “At the heart of attachment is craving. Aspiration is working hard without getting hung up on the results. It helps you stretch and grow without worrying about looking bad”.
This is not ground breaking news, as many of us have learned about attachment and aspiration before. However, in that moment, I wanted to raise my hand above my lowered head, squeeze my eyes shut tight, snap my fingers and say “Church!” Hearing this message in a short and succinct manner never gets old. It feels like a gentle reminder to look at your intentions. It’s like a nudge, not even in a particular direction, but one that bumps you back into the present moment.
There are many examples I can think of where I truly enjoy the process and am not overly concerned with the outcomes. For me this includes: surfing, CrossFit, cycling, cooking, reading, writing, and a variety of other activities. When I pursue these things, they often help bring me into the present and hold me there. I enjoy the particular steps and all the elements that create the experience. I am satisfied and fulfilled with the results, regardless of the outcome. For example, when I go surfing, I love getting into the water, paddling into the waves, getting my hair wet, sitting on the board, talking shit, catching a wave, getting pummeled, exhausting my shoulders paddling and emerging from the ocean hungry and invigorated. This is not to say that I am not disappointment when I don’t catch a wave or that I don’t have ridiculous fantasies of being a professional surfer babe. That’s not why I keep coming back though. I want to continue surfing because the journey is a package deal that brings me inner peacefulness.
I think the true challenge lies in letting go of the idea of your future self. We care about where we end up. We worry. We work hard. We hope to do well in a review or on a project and when we don’t get the recognition we were hoping for, we feel disappointed. Dr. Rick Hanson from Just One Thing says that aspiration is about liking, while attachment is about craving. It’s hard not to desire that raise or bonus. We all seek acknowledgment, don’t we? Even in the activities that I mentioned above, where I believe that I am acting through aspiration (not attachment), I fantasize about being a pro and getting famous based on that activity (with the exception of cooking). I stick with these activities because I enjoy the process: I like the whole experience. I do not crave the end goal of fame or recognition so much that I am taken out of the present moment.
So how do we move away from attachment and towards aspiration? Awareness. Awareness is always the first step. You can’t be aware or know about the things you don’t know you don’t know. You got that? The bells went off hearing this passage about aspiration because it reminded me that when you practice awareness on a daily basis, you begin to see when and where you are attached to the results.
Listen, I don’t currently meditate, I’m no Buddhist, but I know that as humans, we tend to gravitate to the path of least suffering. We don’t want to endure pain. So when you do feel pain, pay attention. It’s trying to tell you something. I recently listened to an interview with Meg Wordenon BlogcastFM. She was arrested shortly after giving birth to her son. She spent multiple years in federal prison. A major take away for me has been that you always have a choice. You can fight tooth and nail for your fantasy, no matter how disconnected from reality it is, or you practice loving the path you are on. That’s not to say that you have to love every moment. Meg talks about choosing to learn the lessons that life was handing her. Aspiration seems to be something like this, a dedication to learning through your experiences regardless of the outcome.
Do you have an experience that illustrates the different between liking and wanting? How do you practice awareness? Lara@LaraBuelow.com