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Thread: Achievement

  1. #1

    Achievement

    Hi everyone,
    I turned 40 recently, so this post may be a bit of the mid-life thing.

    I have achieved/acquired so much: a great family, a great job, good health, professional accolades, tenure, degrees, worked with Grammy winning jazz artists (Jimmy Heath is the F^%@ing bomb!!!!), etc.

    BUT, I have achieved nothing. I still get impatient with the folks I love, I still worry about the future, I still fret over things I have done, and most of all, I am still stuck in the "achievement" mode that somehow became instilled in me in college (prior to that I was a proud slacker).

    I still find a great deal of my metal energy is devoted to figuring out what the next hurdle is to conquer. A new CD? A new guest artist? Enlightenment? All of this means I am not free. I am pulled around constantly by my thoughts. I do experience freedom on the zafu. I have learned to let go (on most days, anyway). But, off the zafu, I still get upset when I am not the BEST at something.

    In Buddhism Is Not What You Think Steve Hagen wrote: "Most of us are afraid of freedom. We say, in effect, 'I don't want this thing called freedom because I'm afraid people won't notice me. I'll be forgotten, marginalized, left behind. I'm afrain I'll fade into oblivion.' And so we drive sourselves mercilessly (and sometimes drive ourselves mad) in those areas where we're not afraidóenduring fatigue, suffering, and pain." THIS IS ME! This is me . . . :|

    Zazen is helping me greatly. I have noticed more transformation in the 9 months of Shikantaza practice, than in the decade or so of breath-oriented Buddhist meditation I did. A pleasant side-effect of trying to learn to accept the life I am living.

    I was the best piano student in college (my teacher often says so), I was the best theory student in grad school, I came to Zen with that attitude. To be the best Zen student. To be the guy who gets called for all the gigs. To be the one that made the teacher proud. To be the one that other students envied. ALL A BUNCH OF BULLSHIT!!!!! I am so ridiculous. I see this so clearly now that it makes me lean to far in the other direction. Now I worry about posting anything because I think "Am I trying to be the hot-shot? To get the teacher to say something positive? To get the sangha to see what a great zen student I am?" Stupidity. Especially for a householder. I really, really admire Harry's apparent ability to say whatever he thinks without worrying whether it will bring him ridicule. That's a freedom I don't have yet.

    Now, the above rant appears that I am really down on myself. The truth is that I am happier now than I have been in a long time (another bit of paradoxical Zen thinking). I think it is because I am beginning to understand who I am a better. I have always had little patience with posers (in music, in teaching, in anything) and I am now beginning to see my own poserdom. Oddly, this further strengthens my desire to sit.

    Forgive me. I know this is a forum, not a journal. I won't do this often, but it seemed like was something I should post. We are a sangha, and it seems like, since we can't learn the myriad things we learn by observing each other face-to-face, I needed to post something that let people know me better.

    Similar to Harry suggestion, a bit of confessing isn't a bad thing.

    Sorry for the wordinessówe are on summer break.
    Gassho,
    Bill

  2. #2

    Re: Achievement

    Well, I hope you got THAT out of your system. :lol:

    But, seriously, Bill, I bet you've made quite a bit of headway in your practice because it looks like you've realized that totally defining yourself by your accomplishments is bullshit. But I have to say the accomplishments themselves are definitely NOT bullshit. You've a talented dude. Maybe other folks here will have a different opinion but I don't see a conflict with being driven and practicing zen. I think it depends on why you're driven to accomplish and how you go about doing it (do no harm). So keep pushing forward and enjoy life.

    You were Catholic at one point, right Bill? That would explain all this wasteful guilt (takes one to know one :wink: ).

    BTW, I'm jealous because I don't think I was ever the best at anything (except being me, of course :mrgreen: ).

  3. #3

    Re: Achievement

    Thanks for the honest post Bill. I'm sure some of us can relate (my ego was so big it would have made you claustrophobic to be in the same room with it)

    Remember:
    YOU don't matter

    Gassho Will

  4. #4

    Re: Achievement

    Since we're going on confessions here, let's make a day of it.

    Let's see hmmm...well practice is practice, so really no need to confess, but I'll do it anyway.

    This brain that I've so well trained is like a Dolly Parton Song (Working 9-5). If my practice is somewhat off balance, I end up just with too many ideas. As in (too many cool things). For example: I'll be sitting on the can and some awesome Zen thing to write on the forum comes up. So I start piecing it together, going over it. While the whole time, no openess or anything. Kind of like an analytical type thing.

    For example: I'm going to say this and this and this. Done. Flush the toilet. quickly wash hands. Wipe them (not even fully) Bounce out the door. Plop down on the Bed or chair (whatever I happen to have the computer on) and type away. After typing. who shows up? Pride or ego man. Yeah. Alright. That was the best post in the history of Zen literature and I am a master. Yeah. But I can't let anyone know that I'm a master or else that won't be Zen enough for my big head.

    Anyway, I have to go give my students an exam now.

    Later

    Gassho (shithead)

  5. #5

    Re: Achievement

    btw Bill. I think my confession was better than yours :/

    G,W

  6. #6

    Re: Achievement

    Hi,

    As a card carrying member of "Type A Personalities Anonymous" (I just got my 15 year chip), I will say this about "achievement". The Buddha, Dogen, all the teachers were people who accomplished things ... be it building a monastery or teaching thousands of students or writing some great book, or all of the above! They had goals and plans. They were not folks to sit on their lotus leaf and contemplate their navel (at least, not all during the day).

    So, Zen is not opposed to accomplishment.

    However, we might offer a few neat perspectives on the subject:

    First, it is possible to have "goals" on one channel, while simultaneously dropping all "goals" on another channel, not two. This is "thinking not thinking", or more precisely, "goaling not goaling". Work your project, create your plans, make your choices ... but know that there is nothing in need of improving, nothing to choose, not a thing to plan.

    Second, there really is no "place to get to". Life is lived for its own sake. So, whether you build a skyscraper, or write the next great novel, or compose the greatest piece of music of all time ... or whether you just sit on your butt staring at a butterfly, or at a sunset, or at the tv ... it makes no difference. It is all just your life, as you choose to live it. So, write that novel or just read one ... there is "no place to get to". "Be one" with whatever path you choose, what you are doing -- or not doing -- in your life at a particular moment.

    Third, do as you can to live by "Right Livelihood", the 5th link of the Eightfold Noble Path. Live so as not to harm others, not to harm yourself, and in a manner helpful and healthful to both (they are not two). Provide for yourself and your family, keep them fed and educated and clothed and housed, but do not be seeking material success or be be attached to material things. Money, fame and power are not the point of life. (We will discuss this in much greater detail when we prepare for the Jukai and study the Precepts). If they, however, come to you ... fine. But then, do not be entrapped by them, and use them skillfully and for good.

    Gassho, Jundo

  7. #7
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Re: Achievement

    Like Bill, I was pretty good at what I did. I've changed careers a half-dozen times in my life (I'm 48), and each time, mostly by learning on my own, I got to be quite good at what I did. Then I got bored, and tried something else.

    But now, I think I've gotten over that. You know what did it? Health problems. Not that there's any big revelation ("Oh, I could die any minute...") but rather that I now know that a) I can't keep going on as I did before, and b) it doesn't matter that much.

    So now, I do what I do (pretty well, in fact) but I'm not striving for much more than what I do. Of course, zen might help a bit there - I think it does, but you can't prove it. But it's more an acceptance of the way things are and the fact that life can't always be full of novelty.

    Kirk

  8. #8

    Re: Achievement

    Yes, why can't we be content with just doing whatever we do wholeheartedly, to the best of our ability, without using our accomplishments to make us feel 'famous' 'special' 'important' 'a cut above the rest of the herd' etc.? If we can't be the best at anything, we'll label ourselves as the worst, because that also is a way to make us feel 'important'. This ego manifestation just serves as a mechanism that separates us from others and then we suffer for it in various forms of isolation and loneliness. 'Pride comes before a fall' as the old saying goes. We also suffer from the jealousy and criticism of others, as many new 'celebrities' find out too late,

    Gassho,
    John

  9. #9

    Re: Achievement

    Thanks for the considerate responses. You all are cool to put up with a diatribe like the above.

    ops:



    You all have been very kind and it is appreciated.

    Gassho,
    Bill

  10. #10
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Achievement

    This was a great post--thanks. And gassho.

    The struggle to achieve entails suffering, the question is simply whether or not the suffering is worth it. The really stupid stuff is when we expend a lot of energy trying to achieve an impossible end, compounding our suffering needlessly in hopes we will be able to accomplish something that will cause us to never suffer in a certain way again. And well, that's the case for so much of what we do, isn't it? Not all of it, but a lot of it.

  11. #11

    Re: Achievement

    This is a great thread, everyone.
    Bill, I can really relate:
    Quote Originally Posted by DontKnow
    I was the best piano student in college (my teacher often says so), I was the best theory student in grad school, I came to Zen with that attitude. To be the best Zen student. To be the guy who gets called for all the gigs. To be the one that made the teacher proud. To be the one that other students envied. ALL A BUNCH OF BULLSHIT!!!!! I am so ridiculous. I see this so clearly now that it makes me lean to far in the other direction. Now I worry about posting anything because I think "Am I trying to be the hot-shot? To get the teacher to say something positive? To get the sangha to see what a great zen student I am?" Stupidity. Especially for a householder. I really, really admire Harry's apparent ability to say whatever he thinks without worrying whether it will bring him ridicule. That's a freedom I don't have yet.
    I struggle with some of the same issues and now my thinking is that there is a difference between "wanting to be the best" and as John says "doing something wholeheartedly". Buddhism has great capacity for encouraging wholehearted activity in art and music, housework or even conducting business. My problem emerges when I am pursuing an activity to validate my ego (my small self). At least I am at the point in my practice where I think I can distinguish when I am acting for praise and when I am acting out of love. It sounds like you are able to see that, too. It is a very uncomfortable feeling but I think (hope) it is a sign of peeling back another layer of the onion of delusion ( ops: , what a metaphor--anyway you know what I mean).

    Good luck and gassho,

    Linda

  12. #12

    Re: Achievement

    Linda wrote:
    It is a very uncomfortable feeling but I think (hope) it is a sign of peeling back another layer of the onion of delusion ( , what a metaphor--anyway you know what I mean).
    The onion metaphor is apt. Every layer we peel back stinks and little and makes us cry.

    Thanks,
    Bill

  13. #13

    Re: Achievement

    Bill,

    I've been thinking about this since you posted it. I just want to say, I think that what you've accomplished (just being able to see things like this about ourselves can be so hard!) is awesome, and I also think it's awesome that you shared it with us.

    Quote Originally Posted by DontKnow
    Thanks for the considerate responses. You all are cool to put up with a diatribe like the above.
    Several people have been posting very personal things in this forum recently, and apologizing for it. I don't think there's any reason to apologize. I think that we all have a lot to gain by hearing about where others have been and how they think and what practice means to them. Every new view enriches the way we see the world, it doesn't detract. You don't owe us apologies for posting this; we owe you thanks.

    --Charles

  14. #14

    Re: Achievement

    Bill,

    Yes, thank you for sharing your thoughts. No need to apologize or anything like that. It is so refreshing to relate to each other in such an open, honest way. We don't always get to do that in the "real world". Like others here I can relate to what you're expressing. I have always had this inclination to accomplish more than I ever have before (e.g., it wasn't enough for me to be "just" a school teacher, I had to get my Ph.D., teach college, publish, etc., etc.).

    Quote Originally Posted by TracyF
    You were Catholic at one point, right Bill? That would explain all this wasteful guilt (takes one to know one :wink: ).
    As a recovering Catholic, I had to smile at this. For me, this relates to Kevin's self-loathing thread. Even though I was and never would be "good enough", I was gonna try like hell to earn the love. It can certainly be exhuasting.

    Best,
    Keith

  15. #15

    Re: Achievement

    Rocks and stones rubbing against each other, polishing each other by the mutual friction.
    G,W

  16. #16

    Re: Achievement

    Happy birthday Bill!

    I wish I could come to listen to you play live 8)

    Gassho,

    Irina

  17. #17

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