Going For It — Really

Many people think, feel, or act as if “going for it” means putting lots of attention, time and energy into getting what they want. In this way of looking at things there are two options: getting what you want or putting up with what you get. Folks are encouraged to go for it, applauded when they do, and whole schools of coaching are based upon making that happen. It seems to me that there are some major flaws in this way of living.

Let’s start with who is wanting something. The foundational unexamined assumptions of going for what we want are:

  • that the person wanting it is steady, nearly permanent. It doesn’t take much living to notice that we keep changing; that what we wanted yesterday is different than what we want today and that even the basis upon which we want changes. The person who ends up getting it is not the person who set out to acquire it.
  • that we know what we want. What we want is often/usually (always?) what we have seen, what we have been told is worthwhile, what we have observed others being pleased with, what has been sold to us by someone seeking her own gain, what is a symbolic compensation for some lack we feel or deprivation we’ve endured. In sum, the want somehow appears in our experience through outside influences. Although it feels quite personal it is in fact not something that comes from a deep understanding of ourselves.

Besides the obfuscations surrounding who is wanting, here are some other difficulties with dedicating our life to filling what we want:

  • At bottom and for the most part, going for what we want is centrally about avoiding pain and increasing pleasure. In my view, this operating principle reduces us to the lowest possible level of development and has us understand ourselves as purely stimulus/response mechanisms—a huge reduction of our possibilities and a stepping away from any non-self-serving relationship with others.
  • It doesn’t fulfill us/make us happy/satisfy our heart’s desire (however you want to say it). Even though we’ve learned this countless times, that doesn’t stop us from continuing our efforts and even increasing them (really going for it). We are deep and complex beings and cannot be distracted, bought off or sold short—not for long, when we are paying attention.
  • Life brings us many things that we don’t want, which means that if our happiness/fulfillment is based upon getting what we want then we will unavoidably be unhappy/unsatisfied much of the time.
    I could go on and on with this list—so could you. I have an alternative in mind, though. I invite you to study it and to take it on as your own. No one else could do this for you and our mainstream culture doesn’t support it very much.

The alternative is one that has been pointed out by philosophers and spiritual teachers for a long time. Recently I discovered that it’s also proposed by a prominent psychologist, W.R. Bion of Tavistock fame. Let me use his formulation to say this in a way that might be fresh for us.

Bion posits that there exists ultimate reality (alternately called absolute truth, the Godhead, the infinite, the thing in itself), which he designates with the letter “O.” He has many interesting things to say about O:

“It may be wondered what state of mind is welcome if desires and memories are not. A term that would express approximately what I need to express is “faith”—faith that there is an ultimate reality and truth—the unknown, unknowable, “formless infinite.” This must be believed of every object of which the personality can be aware: the evolution of ultimate reality (signified by O) has issued in objects of which the individual can be aware. The objects of awareness are aspects of the “evolved” O and are such that the sensuously derived mental functions are adequate to apprehend them. For them faith is not required; for O it is.”

And this one –

“It [O] stands for the absolute truth in and of any object; it is assumed that this cannot be known by any human being, it can be known about, its presence can be recognized and felt, but it cannot be known. It is possible to be at one with it. That it exists is an essential postulate of science but it cannot be scientifically discovered.”

Bion claims that O shows up in our life as our felt sense. Most importantly, he says that a life based upon an orientation to truth will have an evolutionary direction qualitatively and quantitatively different from an orientation around increasing pleasure and decreasing pain. Have you noticed this yourself? In yourself? And in others you admire and learn from?

So I’m saying that really going for it means orienting our life around what’s true. Staying open, being relentless in our dedication to uncovering the truth, brings about a life that is well beyond what we could imagine or want. And that brings us into close warm contact with ourselves and everyone else.

Want to go for it this year – really go for it?

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