Goal-setting: understanding the inner and the outer
When I ask players why they play tennis, they always talk about achieving a certain ranking or level of play; in other words, the goals are invariably concerned with the outer. No one ever makes an inner goal. The assumption is that achieving outer goals automatically lead to inner goals being realized; is that true? Is the outer irrelevant? Is the inner irrelevant? What is the relationship between the two? What is the value of both?
First let us define, as simply as possible, the difference between the two. The outer is defined as the focus being on becoming someone or achieving something. The focus of the inner is being at peace with oneself; a peace and contentment not dependent on getting what I want, but a joy without reason that is not dependent on any particular external situation.
As I said before, most people are obsessed with the outer. The desire for success, recognition, power, money, knowledge, respect, etc. can all be had by fulfilling outer goals. There are few people who see anything beyond this; but the reality is that there is something beyond these things. Unfortunately, most people will never realize that, unless they themselves achieve success at a high level. Then it will, of course, be clear that the inner void cannot be filled by outer trimmings.
Closer inspection will reveal that these outer goals while gratifying on some level, are not the end of the journey. This realization cannot happen to us without closer inspection and very few people are inclined to dig much beyond the surface. And on the surface the material rewards of success are extremely enticing. It will take a great deal of awareness to go beyond the ‘superficial’ layer of the outer and discover the transcendental quality of the inner.
My experience is that of a journey and at the beginning of the journey (stage one), the outer is everything; However, as soon as one becomes aware of the inner, a transformation occurs. At this second stage, the inner becomes everything and the outer is reduced to total irrelevance. At the third stage, the realization dawns that the inner and the outer are intimately connected and that the outer, although having little value in and of itself, becomes a reflection and therefore an intricate part of the inner. This final stage of wholeness becomes tremendously beautiful and is intrinsically satisfying.
In the tennis arena, at stage one players see the obvious and the obvious is the rewards that winning and success bring and for many players this becomes the sole motivation for playing. Most players, because few achieve the success they dream of, continue pursuing their dreams their entire career in the mistaken belief that their unhappiness is due to the fact that they have not achieved the success they desire. They never experience the second stage because they never get a glimpse of the transcendental.
A chosen few, some of whom achieve some level of material success and others who have the insight to see without experiencing, see the futility of all achievement. They realize that all worldly rewards cannot bring the ultimate prize because the ultimate prize is not something that can be given by others. It is not about an outer phenomenon, it is an inner transformation. For these individuals, the tendency is to step away from all worldly pursuits and focus purely on the inner. There arises a reaction that the problem lies in the world and somehow all worldly pursuits are to be avoided. These people will probably give up competitive tennis.
At the third stage, a realization dawns that first of all, action cannot be avoided and secondly that the problem is not some where out there. The outer is not the hero that can make everything right, but neither is it the villain that is the source of all the problems. Once this happens, the individual who has moved away from tennis or life can now return. What happens is not that the outer corrupts the inner as those at the second stage seem to feel, but on the contrary, that the part of the outer which is so ugly can be transformed and purified through a deeper inner awareness. Once the inner transformation has taken place within the individual, the outer automatically becomes transformed. The outer follows the inner like a shadow; the outer reflects the beauty and love of the inner.
This is the ultimate stage for the tennis player. The ability to become totally absorbed in the playing and thereby play to one’s full potential can happen most easily when one is at peace within. Inner joy is a tremendously powerful energetic force and incredible things can happen on the outer when one’s inner being is aligned. Ironically, this inner joy and contentment can only happen when one is able to place the outer world into its proper perspective. Not to deny it, but also to realize that it is not, by itself, the most important thing in Life.
When one stops seeing an inflated value in the outer, the outer becomes more available. However, without inner transformation this availability is of no consequence!