Stillness in Action

Having a desire to succeed in life is great. It drives us to work harder and to make the most of our abilities. At the same time, attachment to success habituates us to equate happiness with career achievements.  When we strive for something, we should remind ourselves that what we really want is contentment. 

We may think of contentment in terms of earning an advanced degree, making a lot of money, driving an expensive car, and winning approval from family and friends.  But these are just motivations for striving, not contentment itself.  When we reach a new milestone in our career, we may be happy for a while, but our feelings of contentment are quickly replaced by a more powerful desire to reach the next target.  Life then becomes a state of constant craving, always grasping for something we can never reach.

Sometimes, children blame their parents for putting work before family.  They resent their parents for not being a part of their lives as they grow up.  The truth is, the parents are never present in their own lives, either.  Obviously, parents work very hard to provide for their families.  But material support should not be used as an excuse to pursue narrow self-interests. While the parents’ hard work may benefit their children materially, the parents still act out of selfishness when they put their career before the needs of their children.  Fortunately, career and family need not be mutually exclusive.  It is possible to maintain presence in our own lives and the lives of our loved ones as we strive for success.

When we strive mindfully, we strive with the mind already content in itself.  That’s it.  Contentment does not depend on the fruits of our labor. It depends only on the mind being at peace with itself- with or without the fruits. If the mind is already content in itself, then no additional conditions, such as wealth, status, and promotion, are necessary for its well being. 

The question then arises, why should we strive at all? If true happiness and contentment have nothing to do with accomplishing anything, why should we even bother? 

We strive to coexist with the conditions and circumstances to which we are bound.  Most of us choose to live in a world of attachments and material comfort, so we must be able to meet the challenges of secular life. If we are to function effectively in society, we must accept the roles and responsibilities that are expected of us.  If there is a certain need or lacking in our lives, material or otherwise, we must address it right away, so that it does not become a source of frustration and unhappiness for us.  Economic prosperity is not the enemy of spiritual development- certainly not in a society that values excess of all kinds. 

When we pursue our goals mindfully, we don’t necessarily lower our standards or become less motivated.   While mindful striving may not guarantee success, it does bring meaning and purpose to our pursuits. Our happiness no longer hinges on the outcome of our efforts.  Attachment to the outcome denies us the opportunity to live in the present and fosters uncertainty, anxiety, stress, and self-doubt. 

Mindfulness enables us to shift our focus away from preoccupation with the outcome toward the process of our work. We then realize that success can be savored only in the present moment, while we’re working, not in the distant future.  Success is found in the act of striving, not in the results of our work.

With mindfulness, our endeavor takes on a spiritual dimension as we awaken to the clear meaning and clear purpose of our work.  Work is no longer a means to an end, but the very expression of our True