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Goals, Touchdowns, & Being "Off-Target"

Goals, Touchdowns, and Being “Off-Target”

by Stephanie Nash

Every offensive play in football is designed for a touchdown. When I first learned this, I gasped. How is that possible?! (I was from Ohio, and had experienced intense jubilation over a game with only 2 touchdowns!) I thought we were just trying to get a 1st down. Wow, that’s a lot of plays that didn’t go “all the way.”

Later in life, I learned that missiles – reliable missiles that hit their targets – are off-target most of the time. They are constantly correcting, or changing to adjust to the present circumstances. They’re off-target most of the time but arrive where they need to be with accuracy. Ah, I see, so the journey is one of continually correcting – assessing, shifting, adjusting to accommodate whatever circumstances arise but keeping in the mind the destination, the goal.

Now I’m coming to the spiritual path, and no, I’m not about to talk about “Enlightenment” as a “Touchdown” (although I could….) My interest is in better quality of life. I often say that I don’t want people to become better meditators, I want their lives to be better.

A new client asked me today before we meditated, something along the lines of “What is the goal for all this anyway?” or “What is the end point here?” – i.e. “Why are we doing this?”

I think this is an important question that every student should ask of their teacher. Make sure they’re heading where you want to go.

I will often encounter resistance from someone new to meditation when they aren’t used to doing something and it may make them feel momentarily uncomfortable, but if I can tie what we are doing to what they want, they can relax and accept the situation enough to start to feel the benefits.

And, in this case, I did not know if he was expecting me to say something about enlightenment, or claim some mental or physical cure, but I looked at him and thought of what my goal was, and I said that I’d like to help him have more ease in his life, more options of how to move through life’s experiences, to be able to enjoy his life more and suffer less.

He looked at me, seemed satisfied, and readied himself for meditation (as I made a note to myself of how important that interchange actually was.)

It’s those moments that can change the course of someone’s life.

I remember 3-4 key teachers in my high school and college years, each of whom said one thing at one critical moment (after I had asked a question of the bigger goal) that made me decide whether or not to continue that work. I held onto the comments they made in that moment for the rest of my life and made decisions based on their words as truth.

I shake my head now with a kind of amazement – and even recognizing it and speaking of it as I am now – it doesn’t stop it from having a kind of gripping power. Those words spoken into that “soft clay” made a permanent impression.

So now that I am in the position of the teacher, the person who can give an idea of what “the play” is designed to do. I find the metaphor of the missiles more to my liking – i.e. you have an idea where you are going, but expect there to be hills, valleys, winds that blow you “off-course” and trust the missile (or the practice) to keep bringing you back. (And maybe we are redefining “off-course.”)

So you’re sitting in meditation with your awareness focused on some aspect of sensory experience, and maybe it’s one of those days where you can’t stay concentrated or nothing interesting is happening and you start to wonder WHY you’re doing this anyway.

I mean really, what difference does it make? Why not just get up and watch TV or [insert your favorite distraction here.]

Here’s where reminding yourself of why you are doing this can be helpful. That may be what helps you let go of your resistance enough to drop into the present moment as you let go of the need for the path to always be straight and true and produce a recognizable “touchdown.”

It’s the “bringing back” of awareness that helps us develop concentration, and it’s the “bringing back” of commitment to purpose that helps us develop a willingness to sit there to get the concentration. And this “bringing back” is the stuff of touchdowns.

I used to call it “cheerleading”, but now I think of it as a reminder of why we’re here, and a way to help us have acceptance and compassion for all the bumps & branches that don’t feel at all like a touchdown but are certainly moving the ball down the field in a good way.

"A good meditation is one you did." My meditation teacher, Shinzen Young, used to say that alot. I found that helpful.

And when that’s hard to buy, see if you can remind yourself of why you’re doing this – knowing that “off-target” is part of the process.

We may not be able to see a recognizable touchdown on each play, but every moment that we can tune into our experience mindfully is contributing to a habit of mindful awareness that will give you more than touchdowns – it is a rewiring of the fabric of your sensory experience, the fabric of your perception, the fabric of your life.


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