You say live in the moment not in the future. But if I don’t plan and have goals why would I do anything? Don’t I need ambition to motivate me?
My heart broke a tiny bit when I read your question. I could immediately feel it —you’re thinking yourself too small. There are all these built-in assumptions in your question and they all point to the fact that you’ve been programmed to see yourself in weak and broken terms. Let’s change that, because change happens instantaneously in any collection of moments wherein we remember that each of us emerged into existence as a critical aspect of the universe.
All we each literally are is reconstituted stardust. And from a pure physics perspective, the universe would be dangerously incomplete if any of that stardust went missing. So before you achieve anything as the ego ‘you,’ you still have enormous value as you are. You are essentially necessary and inevitable, from the universe’s standpoint.
“…if I don’t plan and have goals why would I do anything?” There are many good reasons for you to wonder about that. But done right, that wondering is meditation. Consider this; did early man have a goal to become civilized? Do we believe that every day they would have just laid around having sex and eating grapes and that motivation isn’t a built-in aspect of being alive?
Do we think that they never would have thought to find easier ways to get food? That they wouldn’t notice things, or learn them from animals, or by trial and error, and then take action? And yet there is no goal, no ambition to be some thing. Since they did not have language, early humans could not talk to themselves. So they couldn’t even imagine that person they might become. They were permanently in the moment. Which is a fantastic place to operate from.
Most of the remarkable things we’ve achieved since becoming human were done before we even had language to allow us to be conscious of an ‘us.’ Ego is primarily made of language. Nature comes to us as feelings. It does things like motivate us to eat by making us hungry, or it motivates us to stay near people because it feels good to be around them. These are the fundamental motivations that activate children to learn to walk and talk in only two years and they weren’t even students and no one was even teaching them.
Humans are not naturally lazy with a lack of interested in learning. Quite the opposite. If we stop replaying those sorts of limiting ideas to ourselves in our heads we would naturally realize how amazing we truly are. No one told you you were a poet and a leader and a singer and a dancer when you were five. But you also had no reason to think that you couldn’t be any of those things.
That makes those things attainable. But today, with all of the thinking you do, now you think you have to earn things rather than relax into them. There’s still hard work either way, but in the one case it’s much more naturally and enthusiastically motivated and it feels much easier. Instead of being a clumsy person who wants to dance, we can become a beginner dancer without the self consciousness.
As an adult ego you’ve surrendered your freedom to create your own feelings and now you believe someone else anoints you with feelings of success. You’ve been taught that following your nature is now somehow lazy, or irresponsible, so your life is primarily dedicated to following other’s patterns as way of being acceptable and of getting others to think favourable thoughts about you. That is what egos do, but it is not responsible though.
Doing everything we’re told to is a form of irresponsibility. Where is our choice to be constructive in that? Where is our contribution? If everything we do is made of obligation and repetition then we cease to be a Human Being. Then you’ve become some kind of economic robot that’s following someone else’s lines on the floor. That is not a free life. Needing over 90% on an exam is not a route to freedom. Loving learning is.
Secondly, why do you need a future goal to motivate you? So you’re telling me that you can be motivated to save for the down-payment on a house, but you’re not interested in having day to day happiness? You mean you’re not ambitious about this moment? You mean you will surrender your joy in this moment, in the hopes that you will accumulate more of it at some future event which may or may not happen?
Your life happens in moments. This one was either happy or it wasn’t. When it’s over you shift to the next one. So you can’t save up moments. You can’t store happiness and then rain it down on yourself in buckets in the future. You either used a moment to create happiness or you used it to create something else. But once it’s gone you’ve used it. Once it’s gone it’s gone —that’s it.
So yes, be ambitious. About your own joy. You weren’t put on this planet to work 10 hours a day for some company. Hours and companies don’t even really exist. They are constructs of our minds. But your joy is an actual experience. When you’re waiting for an ambulance you can easily stretch minutes into hours, and yet when you’re experiencing a tearful goodbye, an hour can suddenly feel like minutes. But throughout, moment by moment, you feel your life happen as you traverse events.
Do not mistake concepts for experiences. 30 degrees Celsius is a concept. The feeling of heat is an in-the-moment sensation. Most of the things modern ambition chases are concepts like money, fame, status and the imagined security of power. Yet, to lead a healthy life we must be ambitious regarding the quality of our experiences. We must be motivated by our intrinsic compulsions. We must trust who we are.
Isaac Newton hated people, worked naked and never bathed. But that worked out okay in the end didn’t it? He did what felt right for him and genius emerged. So what’s important is your Experience of Life? I would encourage you to be very dedicated and enthusiastic and bold about steering each individual moment toward what feels right for the person you are in that moment.
Wherever that takes you will be just fine as long as you don’t mistake superficial pleasure for profound interaction with the universe. Getting high might temporarily feel pleasurable, but unless its active effects promote either stronger connections or the breaking down of barriers, then a high simply isn’t as gratifying to you as something like falling in love, or having a sense of personal achievement.
Don’t start off with the idea that you’re lazy or that you lack value until you ‘prove’ yourself. You want to enjoy your own life. And you should. Otherwise, why live it? So don’t live it in some maybe-future. Live it in your for-certain Now. It’s not that hard if you just pay a little attention. And stay ambitious about being joyful.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.