Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Award and the Journey

by John Boodhansingh of Zero Mindfulness



“It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
--Jiddu Krishnamurti

“It is not titles that honor men, but men that honor titles.”
--Niccolo Machiavelli

Does it really mean anything?

Competition

We’ve been living in a world that seems a bit confused. It is a world where the majority of people are blind to seeing others for who they truly are. They see others instead, and judge them, for their ability or inability to attain arbitrary, man-devised, social and academic credentials and fulfill expectations based upon them.

Quite automatically this creates competition. “It's dog eat dog,” some might say. But why not cut to the chase and be realistic about it? Why don’t we quit avoiding the truth with cute sayings and tell it like it is?
  • It's brother eat brother.
  • It's daughter eat mother.
  • It's wife eat husband.
  • It's friend eat friend.
  • It's man eat woman.
  • It's rich eat poor.
  • It's white eat black.
  • Its West eat East.
  • It's me eat you.

Is it any wonder why we're always fighting each other?

He succeeded in getting that schnazzy piece of paper with a pretty, faux-gold emblem on it, but you didn't. He also got the job, but you didn't. He's got the brains, but clearly you don't. Now you feel like crap because you’re degreeless, jobless, and stupid. Now bitterness dwells in your heart. Resentment. Self-loathing. Low self-worth. Disempowerment.
  • I’m not good enough.
  • I’ll never earn enough money to “make it,” to get respect.
  • I’m too stupid.
  • I always lose.
  • You need money to make money.
  • If you're not born into riches, you go nowhere in life.
  • Nobody wants to hire me.
  • I don’t have the credentials.

The list goes on, folks. It’s your gift for becoming rapt in the siren song of competition. It’s so captivating that it sucks you right in. You aren’t even aware that it’s happened. You wake up every day believing that competition is the name of the game. (I know. It's not a game. It's real life.)
  • I need to get a degree.
  • I need that promotion.
  • I need to join this club.
  • I need that award.
  • I need to set these records.
  • I need those commendations.
  • I need I need I need I need I need I need I need.

Sound the Alarm

And then maybe one day—just maybe—the big WTF hits. You feel like you’ve had your mind reconfigured by an astral jackhammer.

What the hell happened? Where did the first 20? 40? 60? 80? years of my life go? What have any of these fancy pieces of paper and swaths of multi-colored fabric done for me? What has all my effort to make it to the big leagues, to appear better than the next guy, to fit into the square hole, actually done for me? I’m as unsatisfied now as I’ve ever been.

And that’s when the second part of the realization arrives: Awards, rankings, certificates, trophies—they’re ego feeders; if not necessarily for those who’ve received them, then for the greater population who judges people by them. They have no real value. We are who we are with or without them.

A Blind and Wasted Eagle

When I was in Boy Scouts, I handed in the paperwork for the rank of Eagle Scout two hours before the 18th birthday deadline. Although I ended up getting the award, I majorly procrastinated up to that point. I majorly procrastinated after that point, as well. Having the actual award made no difference.

I also used foul language a lot before and after. I didn’t treat my fellow man or the Earth any different before or after. I was equally miserable before and after. Within a year or so of receiving the award, I was spending my weekends getting drunk until passing out, puking, or both. I remained an angry driver. I continued my habit of eating to the point of “having a food baby”…and then “twins.”

Although a highly transformative experience, similar might be said for my time in karate. At varying intervals, I tested and ranked up to a new belt level. But did these belt changes mean anything? Not so much. While the materialist part of the world may view me as better than the person without this adornment, personally it means nothing.

My examples, here, are not meant to downplay either program. Each situation and activity has its pros and cons which will vary for everyone depending upon a variety of factors. Each person’s experiences and respective gains will vary greatly.

With all this variation and possibility it would seem that the award itself becomes subjective, very possibly to the point of insignificance.

In karate, different belt levels may aid in teaching students in the same dojo, but what do any of those rankings say outside of that dojo? I’d once heard of a martial arts school where ranking up could practically be purchased. Far cry from the arts’ Eastern origins. Far cry from the school I had attended. But a belt is a belt no less. So what, then, if anything, might we judge by?

The Journey

The journey is what it’s really supposed to be about, isn’t it? That the person looking to achieve “something higher” use the opportunities available solely for improving the self, rather than using a hoped-for end-/checkpoint to become “better” than those without.

Awards are mere labels, after all. Tenderfoot, Star, Eagle Scout. White belt, green belt, black belt. None of them are accurate depictions of who or what the wearer really is. Excluding further competitive subdivisions like the “Dean’s List,” a solid “C” student receives the same degree as a solid “A” student. Some Eagle Scouts become true leaders and some wash their lives down the drain. Some martial artists recognize the spiritual aspect of training immediately, while some may train for years, never evolving from a state of worldliness and ego.

Sure, it helps to know that a woman applying for a nuclear engineering job has adequate knowledge in nuclear engineering. But beyond practicality (and even this can be a flimsy area) such credentials say jack squat about the quality of a person.

The more appropriate indicator, I feel, is the degree of inner-evolvement acquired through our life’s passage, whether we’ve sought 50 achievements—or none.

Soul Value

Life has something to teach each of us regardless of what our circumstances are at any given time. Learning these lessons is the meaning of life. It is the task of each one of us to ask ourselves:

What soul value am I gaining from this life experience?

Because, personally, I’d rather others see me as I try to see them…
  • …for the degree of authenticity I put into my words and actions; my ability to walk my talk.
  • …for the wisdom I’ve gained from my mistakes and my willingness to look inward.
  • …for my character and the quality of work I do, and the love I put into it.
  • …for the effort I put into becoming educated in areas of personal passion (rather than familial and societal expectation) and my striving to make them work in my life against all odds, nay-saying, and belittling.

The authenticity, the wisdom, the character and quality, the love…

These things cannot be competed for. They cannot be bought. They cannot be bestowed upon the reception of any award. They cannot be expressed through some ornate plaque on a wall, nor a trophy in a display case or a diploma in a frame.

For they all come back to "me"; to the very nature of who we are as human beings.

They come only through the experience of active knowledge and a willingness to be real—through the blood, sweat, tears, introspection, honesty, suffering, surrender, and grace of the journey.

No other way.

That is soul value.

For there is no greater honor than that which we realize within the self.

[Update 10/2/2015:] Understanding an Inconsistency

Speaking of “that which we realize within the self”…

Long have I wondered: How is this possible? Every goal I’ve set out to achieve in my life that I’ve truly cared about, I’ve either failed at it or self-sabotaged my ability to continue. Yet I still managed to receive the Eagle Scout award. How is it possible? It’s so inconsistent with the outcome of every meaningful thing I’ve ever tried to accomplish.

It just never made sense to me. Until now.

Mainly, my push to earn the Eagle Scout award was for approval, or, rather, fear of disapproval.

Yes, I acknowledge that I enjoy camping and being outdoors and such. I acknowledge that I'd learned some great skill that will remain with me and aid me throughout my life. Scouting certainly offered redeeming qualities for me, and I'm grateful for the experience.

But I also acknowledge this: I felt profound embarrassment when being dressed in a scout uniform in public. I smugly made sure to get a few more merit badges than the other kids my age as a means of proving, “I am better. I’m not worthless. I deserve attention, love.” I only did an Eagle project because I thought that the place where my brother had done his would be somewhat familiar and an “easy in”—which proved to be right.

How about that? So while the blind go on honoring me for being an Eagle Scout, the fact is that I’m as flawed as anyone else.

Once again, what’s the judgment others make about me really worth?

Will I be judged as lesser now because my Eagle Award is more or less false?

Or will I be judged as greater because I’ve dared to understand myself and then made the courageous move of making myself vulnerable to express the truth of my life in hopes that others may learn from it?

Will I be judged for the award (or, sort of, the lack thereof) or the journey?

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Note: This text is a modified version of a post originally published on 1/13/13 to former personal blog “Without a Story.”

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