Driven or Present? (Published in Parvati Magazine)
Achievement is a glorified term, as it is identified with strength, perseverance, intelligence, and success. We think of the triathlete who crosses the finish line, the successful entrepreneur, the advanced yogi who can handstand, the accomplished scholar. We imagine the finish line, the closing curtains during a standing ovation, the goal attained.
In this light, Achievement is beautiful.
However, the notion of achievement, rooted in the belief that we can measure success by how much we accomplish, contradicts many fundamental principles of mindfulness and yoga philosophy: Acceptance, Non-judgement, Presence, and Non-harm. It is a socially accepted means by which to measure our worth, often living in the past by shaming ourselves for wasted time, and propelling ourselves into the future through goal setting. In the process, we often lose sight of this moment.
The need for achievement too often stems from a fear of failure. We – the triathlete, the entrepreneur, the yogi, the scholar – are too often driven to achieve out of a fear of what will happen if we are just as we are right now. In our need to seek validation from others, and to justify offering validation to ourselves, we learn to “do”. We set the bar high, and if we manage to reach that bar, we set it even higher.
In this light, Achievement is loaded.
When I think of the word “achievement”, I see a society that ingrains within us that we are what we do, that glorifies struggle as a means to success, that dictates, “don’t rest, you’re not there yet.” I envision an arm reaching away from me, pulling me forward with a sense of force, silently reminding me that where I am right now is not satisfactory. It gestures intensely, “This is not enough”.
When I think of the word “achievement”, I hear the internal voice that reasons, “If this is not enough, then I am not enough”. I sense the shame and guilt emanating from my psychotherapy clients as they express their lack of accomplishments, their dissatisfaction with their lives, their beliefs that they are lesser than. I visualize the slight- and sometimes not so slight- frustration on my yoga students’ faces when they judge themselves to have erred in their yoga practice, followed by their short Savasana that invites them to say, “Tomorrow, I’ll do better”.
When I think of the word “achievement”, I imagine myself letting go of the hand pulling me forward, reminding myself that I am here. I hear the voices of my teachers telling me that everything in life is an unpredictable and immeasurable process. I see that only through an acceptance of ourselves and of others without judgment, and through consistent work toward being present in this moment, can we find true meaning in who we are, and what we do. I envision the triathlete hearing his/her shoes hitting the concrete, the entrepreneur feeling the passion for the work, the yogi sensing the grounding in handstand, the scholar feeling intrigue in learning something new.
In a world that teaches us to do better, to be better, I am reminded that “achievement” is a beautiful ideal, but one that takes us away from this moment, that encourages us to do, to judge, to shame, to measure. I look to yoga to find myself here, and that’s the greatest achievement I could ask for.