How Zen and the Tao can guide us through the frenzy of modern expectations.
By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here
In the pursuit of achievement, we are bogged down by the weight of expectations. Modern culture tells us we are aimless, and this is bad. We must have goals, we must keep score, and we must achieve.
An archer could shoot for the pleasure of shooting, yet when given the task of hitting a bullseye, she changes. She must measure herself. She must win. To be content is to be surpassed. Everyone is an enemy; even her friends are her adversaries. Her life is one of contention.
Modern culture says an archer must have a target, or else, how would she satisfy her ego? She will believe of herself: without a target, and without successfully besting her target, she is useless. She is told, without aim, an archer does not exist. Yet the archer exists regardless — no matter what she is told.
The target changes everything. The archer will believe she is inherently unworthy, and a target will validate her worth.
If goals are the light, we must assume we are in darkness. If achievement makes us winners, what were we before achievement? To be told you need more is to be told you are lacking.
Like a drunkard who drinks to forget he is a drunkard; the solution begets the problem. Expectations convince us we are not good enough, then they constantly remind us we are not good enough. They are solutions looking for problems.
Without goals and aims, keeping track, and winning, are we to believe we will never grow? Is this the only path for growth?
In Zen and the Art of Archery, Eugen Herrigel quotes his master Awa Kenzô:
The archer aims at herself. To hit a target only changes the target. What must grow is the individual, and this can only happen by letting go. Just as a child does not aim to be an adult, it naturally occurs if we give in to the process. Mindfully.
In Zen and the Art of Archery, Eugen Herrigel writes:
Our vision is not clear. Here, Zen teaches us that it is the archer herself that hinders her own ability to grow and live a life of contentment. Her goals are not solutions to obstacles; they are the obstacles. Aiming to eliminate her target is a metaphor for aiming to eliminate her ego. One cannot be skillful while maintaining the ego.
One can aim to achieve goals, while developing nothing of themselves — and be utterly useless.
In The Way of Chuang Tzu, Thomas Merton writes: