Let’s face it. We’re humans and we’re flawed. We can set goals, ideas, and values for ourselves, but if you’re anything like me you regularly fall short of those things you would like to accomplish, do, and be. And when you do fall short, your first instinct is probably to beat yourself up, to wonder why you fell short of your ideals. As far as I know, we are the only animals that do this. I don’t think the lions on the savannah beat themselves up when they fail to take down the antelope. They just try as hard as they can, and if they don’t get the antelope, they try again next time. The beauty in the lion’s mentality is that it lives in the moment. It tries as hard as it can today to be the best lion it can be, and then it goes home and takes a nap. Either way getting the antelope or not getting, the lion unbeknownst to itself is becoming a better lion everyday.
Take meditation. When I started meditating for the first time, I thought it was all about clearing my mind of thoughts. Yet the more I sat with my body and my mind, I was able to slowly, slowly come to an understanding that the mind was a thought generating machine. I really had no choice in whether there were thoughts in my head or what the content of those thoughts might be, but the ability I did have was to recognize those thoughts and then choose how much attention I wanted to pay to them. Yet oftentimes, even when you know this basic fact, you find yourself deep down a rabbit hole of thoughts without realizing how you got there. Here in lies the opportunity to ask yourself is this the direction I want to go or would I prefer to watch my breath in the belly or the nose or pay attention to my left foot.
Often times, we are lured into thinking that life is about getting the antelope or having a calm mind. And unlike the lion, at the end of the day, we come home and beat ourselves up for not having gotten the antelope today of for getting lost in our thoughts too many times. However, I wonder if it wouldn’t be better if we had a little less focus on outcomes coupled with a little more compassion. Rather than thinking, I’ll be happy when (insert outcome here) occurs, and I’ll be upset until it does we can rejoice daily in the fact that we chased the antelope or we watched our thoughts.
Perhaps then life is not so much about getting the antelope, but the practice of trying to catch the antelope. Getting the antelope is merely an occasional happy by-product of putting in the effort to chase the antelope.