To have a goal or no goal

I was excited to read a book on Ikigai, the current super concept that is gripping everyone. It is a Japanese word, and all translations of it differ, according to the interpreter. So, while using an alien language to break down this concept we are all, in a way, wrong. And never fully right. But it translates roughly to mean the reason for which you live. It is not a goal, as such, though I was intrigued, even dismayed, to see some western writers overwhelm the word with the idea of a goal.

A child enters a garden, happily looking forward to its play. Later on, the idea of winning a game, performing well, competing, beating others in the game, crops up, as the child becomes an adult. My own interpretation of Ikigai is this joyful attitude with which a child looks forward to running in a garden. There is no great intention, there is no goal. It is just sheer fun, for the sake of it.

The idea of a goal is part of the evolutionary switch we had, as humans, to a largely agrarian lifestyle from being nomadic. We became farmers, tilling the field, and working (really hard) towards the goal of having a good crop after a certain time. Much of the world’s cultural transformations happened along this switch. But it also created the burden of sprawling families, of accumulation, land holdings, fighting to protect these lands and the crops that resulted from such extreme hard work. If you read the book Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari then this whole thing becomes rather clear, and why such civilisations also had to create large armies, have hierarchies, work up the hierarchy (more goals), have a king, and then of course, they had wars, violent ways to preserve the things they had sweated to create.

Lately I realise just how entrenched this idea of having a goal has become. In a way, we are enacting this in our daily lives, in our work, and unfortunately even in our hobbies and fun time. As a yoga teacher it is depressing to see people fiercely crave for poses as if not reaching a pose will greatly diminish their self-worth. The attitude of bringing an aggressive goal-setting in those areas of your life that you should not, that is the puzzle. Often, people who have this do-or-die attitude have forgotten the idea of having fun in the process of doing or learning something. Often, when people are playful while learning yoga poses, they are less fearful, learn the poses faster. The goal-setters take longer! Here one can also add that the other bonuses of yoga — healing, being happier, more focused, may also take longer to touch these goal-setters.

Imagine if you had a mean teacher breathing down your neck as you perform, telling you that you are a failure if you do not achieve a pose in a particular time. How tough would that be?  And the mean teacher, unfortunately is our own inner talk to which we are not aware, just because we are brought up to believe that having goals in every sphere of life is to be celebrated. This is clearly a joyless way to be, but who will bell the cat?

To say that you do not have a goal would be as bad as admitting you are a hippie. Saying you are having fun is seen as something loose. I recently learnt hula hooping, and found how exhilarating it was. But to have a goal — that would have definitely robbed the joy of the learning process for me. Hooping is helping me in other spheres of life as well: it is a powerful work-out, it burns more calories than other work-outs, has helped me pick up advanced asanas with more focus and has powered my balance on the mat. But these are not on my mind when I hoop. I do it for the sheer joy of it. Its impact on the rest of life is unquantifiable, but
definitely there.

Takeaway: “Avoid striving… Striving is the bedfellow of anxiety and a modern curse of the first order. Understanding and healing is best achieved by clearing a path in front of them, not by crashing into and through them. Peace is not found by continuous pushing. There is no use in trying to run as far as possible or as fast as possible while understanding as much as possible. As you progress you will find your pace and your footing — don’t try to rush to the end,” William Pullen, in his book Run for Your Life, on mindful running for a happy life.