Embracing Aimlessness

Photo by Rachel Phillips-Anderson

Embracing Aimlessness

Discussion date: Thu, Feb 02, 2023 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Thursday Evening Online Program
February 2, 2023  7:00 to 8:45 pm Eastern time

Recently, I had a rare weekday morning with no meetings or appointments. As I lingered extra-long in bed, I reflected on aimlessness. In the Buddhist tradition, aimlessness is considered the Third Door of Liberation, or gateway to awakening. Thich Nhất Hanh (Thay) describes it in his book The Art of Living:

Aimlessness does not mean doing nothing. It means not putting something in front of you to chase after. When we remove the objects of our craving and desires, we discover that happiness and freedom are available right here in the present moment.

As I lay in bed this particular morning, I wondered, “Am I being aimless at the moment?” While from the outside, it may have appeared that I was being aimless, I realized that I was clinging to the warmth and comfort of my bed and also struggling with the conflicting desire to be productive. This was hardly aimlessness. So, as I arose and went through my day, I periodically asked myself, “How can I bring the qualities of aimlessness to this moment?”

As I understand it, aimlessness is about getting freedom from the ceaseless striving that can bring us stress and disappointment. Instead, in “The Doors of Liberation,” an article in Lion’s Roar, Thay encourages us to consider how rigid attachment to goals can make it difficult to fully enjoy the present moment:

You may be running all your life instead of living it. You may be running after happiness, love, romance, success, or enlightenment. Concentrating on aimlessness consists of removing the object of your pursuit, your goal. If you are running after nirvana, you should know that nirvana is already there in yourself and in everything. If you are running after the Buddha, be aware that the Buddha is already in you. If you are seeking happiness, be aware that happiness is available in the here and now.

Even as I write these words, I am engaging in a goal-directed activity while also trying to cultivate aimlessness. Can I loosen my attachment to the idea that my writing has to be “clear” and “good”? As I get a little mental space from my goal, I start to notice the pleasant sensation of the keys beneath my fingertips. I feel freer and less tense.

When I am able to embody an attitude of aimlessness, it is rewarding, but it does not come to me easily. Instead, I notice the competing habit energies of chasing either pleasure or productivity. For me, it takes a lot of mindfulness–and faith–to drop the striving and controlling and instead enjoy the unfolding of things.

This Thursday evening, after our meditation, our Dharma sharing will explore these questions:

  • When do you find it possible to stop pursuing goals and be aimless?
  • What difficulties arise for you when trying to cultivate aimlessness in yourself?
  • How do you deal with these difficulties?

Below is an excerpt about aimlessness from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Warm wishes,

Rachel Phillips-Anderson


Here is the link to Mitchell’s blog where he describes his experiences in Vietnam this month:  https://smileofthedandelion.wordpress.com. You can follow his blog and get emails whenever there are new posts.


An excerpt from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh

The Third Door of Liberation is aimlessness, apranihita. There is nothing to do, nothing to realize, no program, no agenda. This is the Buddhist teaching about eschatology. Does the rose have to do something? No, the purpose of a rose is to be a rose. Your purpose is to be yourself. You don’t have to run anywhere to become someone else. You are wonderful just as you are. This teaching of the Buddha allows us to enjoy ourselves, the blue sky, and everything that is refreshing and healing in the present moment.

There is no need to put anything in front of us and run after it. We already have everything we are looking for, everything we want to become. We are already a Buddha so why not just take the hand of another Buddha and practice walking meditation? This is the teaching of the Avatamsaka Sutra. Be yourself. Life is precious as it is. All the elements for your happiness are already here. There is no need to run, strive, search, or struggle. Just be. Just being in the moment in this place is the deepest practice of meditation. Most people cannot believe that just walking as though you have nowhere to go is enough. They think that striving and competing are normal and necessary. Try practicing aimlessness for just five minutes, and you will see how happy you are during those minutes.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Feb 02, 2023


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