Humans have the tendency to drift. Perhaps it is the animal instinct inherited in us all from gatherer-hunter days. Time becomes a large hazy concept where morning and evening exchange places. Days become meaningless. And if we allow ourselves to drift further we loose all markers of reference in our lives. Suddenly everything loses its value. Perhaps this is why we spent so much time over the centuries trying to avoid this be introducing value into our daily activities and events either by pleasure, e.g. festivals, or fears, e.g. superstition, or divinity, e.g. gods.
Some of these attempts enable us to break the monotony of our lives and introduce markers for reference such is the case with festivals. No wonder that most cultures and religions would have two major festivals, one that often marks the winter whilst the second marks the spring. Birth and Death, the two most significant events in humans life.
Our other efforts are made to explain events and markers in our lives. Whether through superstition or gods, whether there is one god or many gods, we use the divine to comfort ourselves in face of great events. We may be able to explain why a volcano or an earthquake happened scientifically but we still like to think of a divine power ignited the event for a higher purpose. A reminder, maybe. A punishment, maybe. A test, maybe.
In our efforts to stop drifting, we seek a meaning and a goal in every event and action. Even in a secular society, we re-invent some of the tools previous societies incorporated as part of religion to help us to remain focus. Such is the case with mindfulness and Western yoga (1). In reality, these tools is not about living in the moment or now, but is about concentration and focus. In other words, it forces us in indirect way to break the monotonous analogue drifting behaviour into discrete moments that we can hold, re-shape and direct for our own purposes. But to have a purpose we need to have a goal.
Goals seem always to help us in directing our energies and give us the perception of achieving a worthwhile objective. In societies with no divine deities (2), goals become an essential part of the psychological fabric of each person. In pursing these goals the society exhibits highly disciplined attitudes, plasticity in dealing with consequences, and a fascinating mix of personal competitiveness and resignation that is almost a fatalistic in nature.
When it comes to pursuing goals in these societies (3), the choice may be whether you pursue these goals honourably or by ‘ends justify the means’, as long as you are not caught legally then this choice is purely personal. And with the fatalistic resigning attitude, it does not matter, which makes it all the more surprising that these societies do not collapse into total chaos. Perhaps a common goal shared by everyone is to continue progressing and pursuing their goals without being caught and eliminated by the earthly god-figures what makes these societies continue like a fast train on its tracks. Well at least until the track runs out.
So what are our goals? Can we have a single goal or should we have many? Where do they come from and who give them their value?
I do not believe there is a simple straightforward answer to these questions. However, the subject is worth the study.
Understanding the concepts of purpose and goal may help us in understanding many aspects of human behaviour. It may also help us in understanding, explaining and containing this increase of fundamentalist and extreme thinking that is spreading around the world and its attraction to young persons (4).
Goals drive us forward and that what makes c’est la vie!
1 Yoga as it is practised in Western societies incorporates only the physical aspect of yoga. In some cases, it extends to the meditation aspect as well. But yoga in Western societies and yoga in its Eastern origins, e.g. in Buddhism and Hinduism, are fundamentally different.
2 Not having a divine deity does not mean ‘not having a god-figure or a religion’. The traditional god-figure and religion terminology are often replaced by non-divine earthly figures of the same powers with immediate physical effects, i.e. dictatorships. The only thing that would be lost is the spirit space and explanations of after life.
3 One may wish to refer to this type of societies as the materialistic society.
4 It is not just Muslim fundamentalism that we should be wary of but also others from militant Buddhist monks in Asia to extremist parties in Europe from both the left and the right political spectrums.