If the number one dream killer is “doing what works,” then the number one life-killer is preparing to live.
Think about it. We spend endless amounts of time in preparation for some future event.
We’re constantly trying to improve to have a better life. But the better life never comes. Why? Because there’s always more improving to do.
We mask endless improvement-seeking as a venture of growth. But all it really is is fake growth in a shrewd disguise. It’s not real growth. Real growth is alive, not contrived.
There are examples in every area of life:
- Constantly seeking to improve your relationship (trying to seek the perfect relationship that will solve all your problems).
- Chasing more and more money that you believe will someday give you freedom (preparing for a day when you can finally relax at ease and know you’re taken care of).
- Searching for the right fitness program and training in a way that’s always preparing you for a new level (you’re training a lot, but rarely are you ever really just moving or doing the thing you trained for).
- Trying to gain knowledge and information through books and degrees without applying them (hoarding ideas without using them is a shame, and another trap of endless preparation).
Let me share an example with you from my own experience with gymnastics strength training.
For a long time I’ve been caught in a trap of spending a lot of time training my body, without every really just moving or using my training. It’s the equivalent of practicing martial arts, but never really sparring or fighting. Or like learning a new language, but never going to the country of origin and interacting with the people.
I spent a lot of time trying to prepare for certain skills, and about zero percent of the time doing the things I trained for.
What a waste!
Ido Portal (a movement legend in his own right) explains this common phenomenon beautifully in this interview:
And again, Thich Nhat Hanh sums up our problem in this quote from his book, Peace is Every Step:
We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We know how to sacrifice ten years for a diploma and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house, and so on. But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive. —Thich Nhat Hanh
So, why is it that we spend so much time in preparation for living, and such little time just being, flowing and getting ourselves caught up in adventures?
This question has riddled my brain for the last decade and until now the answer eluded me.
Here’s what I think the problem is:
We’re terrible at discerning our desires that come from our always-on-a-quest-to-survive-and-protect ego and those that come from our true, liberated self.
- The ego believes in a world of separation and limited resources. Therefore all actions and desires are to improve to become better than others, to get yourself ahead and leave others behind, and to compete for limited resources. Our ego tells us that the (seemingly) competing desires of acceptance and growth can’t coexist. Acceptance is dangerous. It equates to complacency.
- But our liberated self knows that we are all connected, and that we are the source of all that we desire. There is no need to compete because there is always enough to go around. Our deeper self sees acceptance as reveling in the beauty of what has unfolded, and the desire for more and more unfolding as an exciting adventure. There’s no need to choose one or the other.
The question, then, isn’t should you grow and fulfill desires, but where are those desires rooted in in the first place. (My friend Danielle shares a great example of avoiding the fear-based desire trap here.)
Are your impulses rooted in your small, separate self that is always trying to one-up everyone else?
Or are your desires founded in a deep knowing that you can create whatever you want and that you are that which you seek?
I’ve been asking myself this a lot lately. It’s a great way to filter whether you’re doing what you are really pulled to, or if you’re just following the template.
Please, tell me what you think and comment below:
Have you ever caught yourself in the trap of preparing to live?
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