Whatever the desired outcome may be, some of us feel the need to push for it, to get there as quickly as possible. But that drive for future accomplishment just builds up the habit of always striving for something other than what we have right here and now. The result is that even when we reach our goal, we’re still being driven by those habits to look for the next thing. I’m afraid even Unsurpassed Complete Perfect Enlightenment will never be sufficient if you’ve built up strong enough habits of always seeking something else.
Last week the midterm elections took place. I live in Wisconsin and, as those who followed the election results know, the incumbent governor won. On Wednesday I saw a kind of collective depression on Facebook from those with whom I share political beliefs. Many of us wanted change. As a mental health care provider who sees many unmet needs in the community and as someone who is deeply concerned about our environment, I certainly did. I still do. But as Warner points out, we miss what is happening right here and now if we attend only to a desired outcome. New elected officials are not going to resolve the myriad local and more global problems we are facing. So if our intention is to work for more peace and justice, winning elections are but a small piece of the labor. As Grace Lee Boggs wrote,
Our challenge, as we enter the new millennium, is to deepen the commonalities and the bonds between these tens of millions, while at the same time continuing to address the issues within our local communities by two-sided struggles that not only say 'No' to the existing power structure but also empower our constituencies to embrace the power within each of us to crease the world anew.
I do not mean to suggest that we deny feelings of disappointment, anger, and sadness. We strengthen these emotions when we attempt to suppress them. But if we latch onto them like super glue rather than process and let go of them, they will undoubtedly diminish the possibility of engaging fully with the present moment. The more we attach to negative thoughts and feelings about undesired outcomes, the more self-centered and disempowered we become.
But Warner is pointing to an additional phenomenon so common in U.S. society--the use of aggression to reach our goals. Time and again, I find myself and others using any number of strategies to force things to be the way we want them to be. This behavior not only reinforces the "if only" mind that Warner describes but also frequently generates harm. To build up our business or get more accomplished at work, for example, we may push ourselves to the point of physical exhaustion or illness. To get in shape or lose weight, we may push our bodies beyond what they can safely accomplish and so injure ourselves. In terms of psychological healing, we may force ourselves to feel the depths of long suppressed emotions and end up feeling so overwhelmed that we shut down completely. Letting go of our attachment to particular outcomes is hard. But fighting reality is harder, even if it's what we know how to do best. To borrow from Byron Katie, “When you argue with reality, you lose, but only 100% of the time.”
Accepting reality means neither that we become passive nor that we give up altogether. I think of it as removing the logs that are jamming the river. We slow down enough to be able to see clearly what is real--including the structural violence and environmental degradation that are causing so much harm to ourselves and the Earth--and chart a path with a light touch, understanding that a matrix of conditions shapes the way our path unfolds regardless of what our ego wants to believe about the extent to which we can control an outcome.
I believe in the wisdom and power of pausing, especially when we come up against a stimulus we do not like. So in the wake of last week's elections I grow still and say aloud Jack Kornfield's words when I need to remember the value in doing so: "From moments of stillness, the most skillful way to love and serve becomes clear. By stopping to listen we connect with one another, and true community is born."