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Meditation & The Achievement Problem

written by: CLARKE SCOTT 

When I was a kid, I went through a phase of loving everything Bruce Springsteen.

I’d seen him on TV and thought he was cool. So I asked my parents if I could have a guitar for my birthday.

I got the guitar, the same one as Bruce, and began to take lessons.

Every Tuesday with my guitar strapped to my back, I would ride my bike to the local music store where I would sit in a small dark soundproofed booth for my weekly lesson.

Week after week I was being taught, what I thought to be, very simple lessons that somehow were slowing me down from the progress I could make on my own. I soon became impatient with my guitar lessons and quit.

Suffice it to say, my plans of being the next Bruce did not live long.

Looking back now, I recall being impatient with my progress, because I was too focused on achieving an imagined result.

But no one stopped me to explain I was expecting too much, too soon.

And as a result, I missed the chance to learn a valuable lesson on the power of deliberate and sustained practice.

Indeed, no one would point this out until a decade later when my Tibetan lama taught me this lesson in a manner I would never forget. I wrote about this Karate Kid moment in the article, How to Bend Like a Piece of Wood.

Now, beneath this problem of misaligned expectations, is the real cause, and, I believe, the actual reason for my failure as a Springsteen wannabe.

And that is what I call, The Achievement Problem.

The Achievement Problem

Plans and goals are important. Nothing can be achieved without them. Yet what does it actually take to “achieve” a result?

The problem is that we have an emotional relationship to the word “achievement,” and, if you are anything like me, words such as effort, consistency, and hard work have an uncanny ability to push me into striving for that result. But in doing so the focus is often shifted to the result instead of the process to the result.

“Nothing worth doing is easy.”

And…

“If you want to achieve anything in life, you must work hard.”

We’ve all heard these statements before. And they are not entirely wrong.

But when, what it actually takes to achieve a goal is not fully appreciated, these ideas of simply working hard, can and will reinforce, the notion that a result can be achieved through sheer determination. Again, not entirely wrong.

However, the problem with this is that it can leave the door open for the egoic mind to take ownership of this process.

Indeed, this emotional connection to the result and the ego is what drives the impulse to strive.

A result of any kind of practice, however, is the accumulative effect of deliberate practice over time, not the result of hard work or any kind of striving, or the ego.

The achievement problem, therefore, is the conflation of the result with the effort of achievement. That is to say, by mixing the end result with the present, we fail to understand the result has come into being from a process, not effort.

And because of this miscalculation, we strive to achieve the result, rather than the process. Or should I say, the ego strives to achieve the result and ignores the process.

The process is boring to the ego. It is for the simple-minded, according to the ego.

So it strives for the result instead. But this striving does little more than block or at least delay it’s achievement.

This often happens because the ego thinks it knows best. Or that it is somehow special and the normal rules of process do not apply to it.

If you wish to take advantage of the many benefits meditation affords, understanding this point is critical.

Strive to implement the process, not the result. 

The Means of Achievement

We meditate to improve our lives. To be better people. To be calmer, wiser, and more compassionate.

And we do so because we all want our lives to go well.

The more you can remove the energy of effort focused on achieving a result the better your life will be.

Paradoxically, not only will you be happier but the result will come more quickly, and with less trouble.

The way to do this is to think of achievement as nothing more than the effect of deliberate practice rather than the result of effort.

Sure, you can imagine the result as means of inspiration. Or to set a direction—goals and plans, as I mentioned earlier, are important—but rather than being overly focused on the end result, focus instead on the means of accomplishing the result. That is the process of the day-to-day steps to get to the result.

Now, someone that knows a little about Tibetan Buddhism may ask at this point, but what about Vajrayana? Isn’t that called the “resultant vehicle?”

Doesn’t Vajrayana talk about bringing the result into the present?

Yes and no. 

In the Tibetan tradition of Vajrayana Buddhism, there are liturgies recited daily as part of the practice. And these practices do speak of bringing the result into the present moment of consciousness as the means of attaining the result.

However, if you look more closely you will notice they are, in fact, following a process to do so. Indeed, the translation of liturgies is, “the means of attainment.”

Even in the so-called “result vehicle,” a process of attainment is one in which focus a step-by-step process leads you to a result. And the reason for this is simple: meditation is the accumulative effect of deliberate practice over time.

These are called sadhanas. The direct translation of which is, the means of accomplishment. It is

A process if followed in order to achieve the result, even there.

And the reason for this is simple: meditation is the accumulative effect of deliberate practice over time.

This will require effort. It will require consistency. And it will require both over a sustained period of time.

But, the effort we must employ, is the effort to safeguard our mind from the grasping of the ego at the striving towards the goal.

The ego will want to find short-cuts that will rob you of the result and the beauty of the process.

Don’t let that happen.

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