My lack of ambition

IMG_0325Ambition

noun

a strong desire to do or to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work : her ambition was to become a model | he achieved his ambition of making a fortune.

• desire and determination to achieve success : life offered few opportunities for young people with ambition.

ORIGIN Middle English : via Old French from Latin ambitio(n-), from ambire ‘go around (canvassing for votes).’ 

What is ambition?  Last week, my friend said she was struck that my partner and I accept each other’s seeming lack of ambition.  What does she mean?  Should I be offended?  My friend comes from a very accomplished family and has siblings and friends who have high status jobs and high salaries, its true, but I assumed she was commenting more on our acceptance of each other and our humble material status (I’ll have to clarify with her for sure).

Her comment elicited some interesting thought on my part.  Ambition . . . I think my partner and I have different organizing structures than much of society.  In a way we are dedicated to a lifestyle and to values of simplicity.  To gentle vocation . . . He is a carpenter who likes to build things, fish, mountain bike, and hike.  He is devotedd to me, to his children, and to his parents.  I am committed to a mission, in a sense, to help individuals and communities be healthier in mind and body.   Money therefore, is not the main motivator for either member of this couple.

So no, we do not have big, high-paying jobs.  We aspire to earn more money, but we’d like to do so by doing what we do better.   In the meantime we are happy.  We enjoy our relationship and lifestyle immensely, and we love living near the Rocky Mountains.  We have good family relations, good friends, good food, and time for books and building fly rods and writing.  We spend as much time as we can outdoors, and we consider ourselves richly blessed.

If ambition in our society connotes success, than I want to ask what success entails.  I identify with passion, with the development of excellence, with innovation, and with developing work, art, or vocation with enthusiasm and integrity.  Ambition can easily become merged with destructive ends, or it can be clouded by insecurity or the undue influence of others.  Consider the instance of the woman who becomes a doctor because her parents want her to while she wants to be an English professor.

So I don’t really identify with the concept of ambition.  Do I have drive?  Yes, I feel an enduring and deep motivation to investigate what it means to be healthy in mind and body, to live from spirit and humble inquiry into what spirit means.  Do I work hard and persist?  I think I do:  I work hard to integrate yoga into healthcare, and I challenge myself to work with others, learn from others, about what they need to be healthy, what helps and hinders.  I explore models of health and mental healthcare.  I keep writing and stirring up conversation on the issue.

I do relate to ambition more in the original roots of the concept, “to go around [canvassing for votes].”  I travel about, looking for like minded people, listening to people struggling with illness and pain, investigating organizations that were set up to help but may or may not be.  I read history and Eastern philosophy and explore various healing arts to learn more about where we came from, about our imbalanced institutions and professions and what might be missing.  I work in different institutions to learn when I am too idealistic and to compare notes with others.

What a different meaning the word ambition had originally.  The current meaning is one I relate to in this sense that I have of drive, but I am wary of how distorted, or corrupt it can become.  My driving question is, How do I live this one life that I have?  What do my head and heart say?  How does my body want to engage?  What makes me a better person, more present?

I want to be present, internally motivated, a healing presence.  I love this life.  I want children to grow up being honored and feeling free to follow their passions and to align those passions with their ambition rather than living a distorted or destructive sense of the term.  I want to enjoy my connection to the earth and to my loved ones.  I want to create and share.

You see, my friend’s comment made me think of lifestyle and motivation, but it also lead me to the idea of archetypes.  My partner is an artisan, and I also see him as a “husband” in the old sense of the word:  a master of the home who can construct the hearth, build the fire, feed his family, cultivate a garden, fish the streams and care for the earth.  What does a man like him do with ambition and pressure to succeed in the material world defined by the current version of Western civilization?  From my perspective, he is a companion, in the archetypal and practical sense.   Me?  Perhaps I am a rebel, visionary, or storyteller:  I am a person seeking to bring deeper wisdom to our society and our healthcare system.

It seems to me that once you touch into these archetypal energies, once you think of a life unfolding, ambition can show itself to be misguided energy.  For me the intrinsic motivation is the gem of a life, something more like the idea of the “daemon,” or forces of nature, or the gods themselves guiding us strongly and surely and shaping our outer life.  A deep and driving force inside us, something ambition, fear, and conformity can stifle.

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What are your core beliefs?

IMG_0042A decade ago I moved from northern Virginia to a small town in Colorado with just a carful of belongings.   I left behind a marriage and a job and joined some good friends who were living what I saw as a conscious and sane life.  A part of me was looking for time in the mountains to deprogram and start afresh.  With more space and quiet, in a gentler town, perhaps I could get down to some wiser ways.

Did that happen?  In many ways it did.  The East is so dense with people, buildings, and culture that a girl sometimes can’t separate her own values out from those of the society.  In the cacophony, the quick pace, the getting and spending, one doesn’t even have time to think.  The attitudes of society soak in through her pores and affect her thoughts and behavior.

When I settled in Colorado, I found a job with odd hours, and I hiked up many a mountain.  I sought out yoga classes, then a yoga teacher training.  Slowly I began to unwind my physical patterns, my muscular tension and my defenses against the world.  In a hakomi, or body-centered psychotherapy, training I sat with peers in mindfulness and observed my core beliefs emerge.  I found an outstanding yoga teacher whose classes took me on an ecstatic journey, and after all this, I could feel my feet on the ground, my animal body engaged in the world, my heart open so that I engaged more easily with others.  I hoped work and love would flow more easily.  And they did, especially love.  Work?  I’m still progressing on that front.

Presently I find myself wondering how we in this country developed the mindset we have and the belief that we must work excessively and purchase new gadgets regularly.  I wonder how our environment, healthcare system, and political system all became so toxic or dysfunctional.  There is an armoring and network of habits at the national level just as there is at the individual level, of course.  We buffer ourselves against remembering another set of values by escaping into entertainment and the pursuit of status, or things.  I see a clinging to old beliefs and habits.  I see a belief in the dominance of a market economy above all.

I turned to history to understand more, and I read about the founding fathers and their ideas, about Christian fundamentalism, about the decline of intellectualism, about our perspectives on the body and about the evolution of psychology.  How, I wondered, did we become so materialistic?  How did a business mentality so thoroughly permeate medicine and education?  How did we get to this place where we must work such long hours and commute such long distances to have enough money for expenses?

At the same time I wonder what might help us to loosen hold of those beliefs and reconsider.  Let some new ideas in.  Would it be a change in education?  More yoga and less time on treadmills?  More time in nature?  That’s my prescription!  But each of us thinks we know what would be best, and none of us knows the whole truth about our troubles and what to do about them.

The good news is that younger people are coming up with new ways of doing things.  Whether it is because they are facing less abundance than their parents or just seeing what the world is now, they are already trying something different.  Generation Y, for example, is said to want a shorter work day and more time for family, more flexibility in their jobs, and meaningful work or lifestyle that includes work.  They want to support their communities.

I see this trend evolving in this small town I landed in.   Many young people are starting small businesses, collaborating to build a counter economy.  There are people making a living as web designers, social media managers, artists, and healers.  They find ways to network, or share office space, to promote one another’s businesses.  When our society can sustain these folks well, or if they can sustain themselves, we will all be healthier.

There is so much that is rich in life that becomes buried in business and striving.  I am a baby boomer with the values of Generation Y.  A yoga teacher in need of a job, a job in which I work with others for something I believe in and yet also have time for family and creative work.  Time to be outside.  Time for prayer and mediation and the study of history.  We need to really think about what we believe, what we feel in response to the world around us, and where we need to go.  Because if we don’t change course, we will pay a big price.

Can we not examine the bundles of assumptions and beliefs wrapped around us so tightly that we can’t notice?  It is time, right now, to slow down, to look both inside and out and consciously choose the values we will live.

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