Whether you want to succeed in career, sport, or life in general, you would most likely start by setting up the goal. You hear and read “the goal-oriented” mantra at every stage of your life, concluding finally that “setting up the goal” must be one of the most important pillars of success.
On the other hand, Zen points out importance of “having no goal” and “not striving for success”. This seams to be a paradox to the guidance given in many career books, which creates some distrust considering Zen application to common life affairs. But in fact, there is no paradox at all; it is just a misinterpretation of the Zen language.
To make it easier to understand, let me use the single-trail analogy.
Anyone who rides single trails or appreciates the speed of the downhill biking, knows that, in order to reach the final destination safely and successfully, one has to keep focus and be fully present at any time during the ride. Translated into the “Zen language”, one dwells in the state of no-mind ( mushin ), a state of thinking without thinking.
Another biker rule can be also referred to the same no-mind state - seeing without looking. Although every stone on the single-trails is seen, the focus is not placed on it. As soon as one puts all focus on the stone, it turns into a red dot in the center of the target and bike becomes an arrow that flies directly into it.
Applying the same single-trail analogy, when setting up the goal, one can either hold to it with all strength – which can turn any trail into a stone - paved road; or one can let go of all thoughts considering the goal – leading to the union of the person, the bike and the trail.
If you keep clinging to the goal, driven by the desire to achieve it, no matter what, you can become blind and inflexible, creating a discrepancy between calculated and actual risks. The ride becomes a struggle dominated by the fear of falling. Overwhelmed, you run after the goal as if you were running up the mountain, without taking any notice of the surrounding. This will create unnecessary difficulties, consuming an excess of energy, driving you into the stress trap, leaving you feeling frustrated, or burning you out. Assumed quick and shortest paths turn to be roads full of obstacles, the desired success turns to be only short-lived and unsustainable and goals remain unequalled.
If you let go of running after the goal and embrace no-mind ( mushin ) strategy, the goal would not disappear. It will become an inner compass that you can trust and follow. This will allow you to focus on ride itself, aware of every obstacle, and ready to adjust the ride without loosing direction. You will not try to control the trail, but you will not be controlled by it neither. Running after, or resisting to it will cease to exist, and instead you will get in sync with the path and maintain the natural flow at every moment.
You will succeed without running after the success.