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How Much Growth Is Enough?

[December 2022 – Dharma Center Mindfulness Tip] 

As we advance on the spiritual path, we discover it is about growth. Intellectually, we know there is no ultimate goal; Enlightenment is already here, now. So we focus on our growth. We focus on expanding our awareness.

We measure our growth through the only thing we can: external indicators. We grow our career. We increase the efficiency of our homes. We track how well we treat other people when no one is looking. As our awareness grows, these indicators naturally improve.

But the mind is a funny thing. It likes patterns. And it really loves habitual routines. Because when we are following a known program, it feels safe. So we quickly forget that the path is about growth, and before we know it, we’ve turned growth into a goal to achieve.

At this point, it’s helpful to stop for a moment and ask: How much growth is enough?

The first time we ask this question, we might attempt to quantify the areas in which we measure our growth. If we succeed, we’ll feel very accomplished when we create the arbitrary numbers and then proud if we reach them. At that point, we’ll have to stretch our metrics to make room for more growth, and keep running after more and more. Or if we don’t meet our quota, we’ll feel disappointed – which actually might be the best thing for us!

That disappointment will lead us to question our growth metrics, which opens the door to real growth. We’ll ask the question again: How much growth is enough?

The second or third time we might catch on: it’s a trick question. Enough of what?

Then we start digging

Then we start digging. What is it we are really trying to achieve? And wait a minute, didn’t we already learn the spiritual path isn’t about reaching a set goal?

Now we can go a bit deeper and discover this whole thought train about measuring our growth keeps us on a track that leads only to misery. It’s just goal chasing in a clever disguise.

So the spiritual path is not about growth? Of course the spiritual path IS about growth!

But it is not about measuring growth. We use goals as a tool to keep our mind focused. Used in this way, goals make us stronger. We discover how to access the power of our mind through goals. But the point is never the goal; it’s about the growth which occurs when we work towards a goal. The moment we reach for our yardstick, we’ve fallen off the path and stepped back on the endless wheel.

Instead of using milestones to keep us motivated, we can embrace the beauty of each new vista. We can direct the mind towards gratitude when we feel sloppy or slow in our practice. And we can appreciate all the tiny moments of perfection occurring every single day when we are aware.

If we need a stronger pick-me-up, we can browse our journal of former selves. Looking back at all the mindstates we once encountered reminds us of how much more is waiting to be explored.

We discover the question is not: how much growth is enough? The real question is: How much can I grow?

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Published inBuddha Lessons / Mindfulness