It took me some time in the beginning to have the courage to ask Ajan a question about meditation. When I finally did, instead of giving me answers, he asked me this. “Do you have an aim in life? What is your aim?”
I found this to be quite an extraordinary question, and I wasn’t expecting it. I was so far from knowing what my aim in life was, that I didn’t even know where to begin to ask myself.
“Do you know what your aim in life is?” I asked in surprise.
“Yes,” said Ajan, as though it was obvious. He spoke with a sense of absolute certainty that I had never come across in anyone else before.
I had thought that everyone was as confused as I was, as doubtful about everything as I was. It was therefore something amazing to me, to meet somebody who had no doubt at all about their aim in life.
Why do we need an aim? Most of us don’t seem to have one. Or, we spend our whole lives working towards something, and yet we’re not aware, not conscious that this is our aim, and if somebody were to ask us we’d deny it.
Some people might say that they don’t want an aim, either. They don’t need nor do they want a purpose in life, they prefer following their nose and just “living for the moment.”
I never had a clear, fixed aim in my life, and for me, at least, this was not a desirable state to be in.
For one thing, this made me very indecisive. I could never take a decision easily without agonising over every possible option, siding with one, then the other, then shifting back again, then regretting the decision I’d made afterwards. Even about very little, unimportant things I was unable to make a strong, determined choice. I wanted someone else to decide everything for me.
Part of this was caused by other problems I had, such as deep insecurity and general anxiety, but a part of it was also caused by the fact of having no aim in life.
If you’re setting out to walk somewhere but you have no destination in mind, and you’re constantly being faced with choices of different paths and divisions in the road, how do you decide which one to choose? This way looks prettier, but the next one looks safer – a third path has a lot of people walking on it, and the next one along none at all. You know there will be obstacles, problems, difficulties along many of these roads, but there’s no way of seeing them in advance.
It’s so easy if you know your destination and have your compass set to that – you just choose whatever path leads you in the direction you want to go. Even if you get sidetracked and lost, you can find your way back to the right place.
Being aim-less, I could only choose what to do based on what I liked – I chose to study English and Mathematics in University because I liked reading books and doing Maths; I chose to do certain other activities because I liked them too, and when I didn’t like something I didn’t do it.
This is a life completely built on a kind of mild, relatively harmless selfishness. Some people might be content with that, but it left me feeling dissatisfied and empty.
When I started looking at this question more carefully, I started to see how aimless, were almost all parts of my life and the lives of everyone I knew; how meaningless really they were.
In the city in which I lived to work and study, everybody worked at jobs which were all about creating entertainment for the other people working at other jobs. Everyone went on holidays or went travelling, and they went to look at things. They wanted to See this, See that. People went travelling for the sake of travelling the world, but without a point, a purpose for travelling. They went and saw many, many things, their eyes were saturated with seeing, but their minds were never fulfilled.
(It’s kind of funny to me, by the by, to read all the reasons that are given these days for people to practice Mindfulness and Meditation. They say things like “better health”; “less stress”; “better results in school”; “more efficient in the workplace.” All nice effects, no doubt, of having a mind that is concentrated. But is that really the aim of the meditation?)
Ajan must have seen that I had no idea how to go about answering the question my aim in life, because he added, “If you want to make it clearer, you can ask, ‘Is it material, or immaterial?”
Strangely enough, this did make it immediately clearer to me. “Oh,” I said. “I begin to understand.”
I knew my aim in life was not to have some material object – to get a job, or have a house, or live in a particular place, or to be famous or anything else of that nature. Suppose I had some aim such as “Own a house” or “Build a farm.” That house and farm, and anything else I could materially gain would all disappear, burn or crumble one day, and I will die the same death, regardless of what things, what stuff I have or do not have.
I still was not able to say what my aim in life was, but at least I began to have more of an idea of what it wasn’t. I’ve worked a lot on this subject since then, and now I know that I have an aim, and I know what it is. It changes a lot of things, finding this out and being sure about it. In my experience, just doing the work to look inside and ask yourself about it is worthwhile in itself.
And you? What is your aim in life?