“To clarify your aspiration means knowing exactly what it is that your spiritual life aspires to, not as a future goal but in each moment. In other words, what do you value most in your life—not in the sense of moral values, but in the sense of what is most important to you.” – Adyashanti
Most people do not know what they really want from life in general or contemplative practice specifically. In terms of life, people will tell you that they want a successful career, a new home, to find someone to love and be loved by, etc. but their actions suggest that they really want something else, power, a status symbol, a sex partner. In terms of contemplative practice, they will tell you that they want to be closer to god, understand themselves, become enlightened etc., but again their actions suggest that they really want to appear to others as a spiritual person, create a desirable self-image, add a major item to their spiritual resume.
Discovering what you really want requires contemplation and ruthless honesty with yourself. The best way to begin to investigate your true desires is very simple; just see where you invest your time and energy. Don’t think about your ideas about what are your aspirations. Rather simply look at what you do to truly reveal them. What you truly value is what you invest in your precious time in. So, look at that, but above all be honest with yourself.
If you spend a large amount of time simply watching TV shows or movies, or listening to music that’s perfectly fine. But ask yourself exactly why are you doing this? Is this for relaxation and entertainment or are you escaping from confronting or dealing with deeper and more important issues. What is it you’re trying to accomplish or not accomplish? Look at this deeply. If you spend a lot of time with friends, that’s perfectly fine. But ask yourself exactly why are you doing this? Do you do this out of love for them or do you do this to obtain their approval and love? Look deeply and honestly.
When there is a mismatch between what you say you want and what you do, it is a formula for unhappiness. In psychology it is called cognitive dissonance and it produces an uncomfortable state with a diffuse anxiety. This is why it is so important to clarify what you really want. There is no need to judge one aspiration as good and another as bad. That is counterproductive. What you want, is simply what you want, and it’s neither right nor wrong. But knowing it is the route to aligning your actions with your desires. This allows you to pursue your goals with direction and clarity. But more importantly, this signals that you’re seeing yourself as you really are and acting with coherence and integrity.
This seems to be such an easy question to answer, but it’s not. The ego is devious and clever in inventing seemingly reasonable and innocuous reasons and excuses to explain what you’re doing. So, spend some time with this issue. Don’t believe your minds first responses. Investigate them. See if they match up to what you’re actually doing. Then contemplate it further. It’s much harder than you think and may actually upset you as answers start to emerge that may not be exactly aligned with your beliefs about yourself. But, this is actually a good thing signaling an opportunity to grow and develop. The one prerequisite though is that you must be completely honest with yourself.
It is very important to understand that there are not right or wrong answers. Whatever you discover are just what they are and perfectly OK. But, identifying them is the start to actually satisfying these needs and desires. You may be surprised. If you are, that’s great. It means that you’ve spent some very productive time that can lead to a much happier life.
So, for life and general and for your contemplative practice invest in identifying what it is that you really want.
“When we take our attention off the chatter of our mind and put our intention onto developing our intuition, we learn to play with much subtler dimensions. Listening and moving from the heart instead of the intellect, we make wiser choices rather than smarter ones, which can serve us better in the end.” Lynn Newman
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies