“People rarely see reality,” said the master. “What they often see as reality is only the reality in their minds. Even though they claim to be objective, they are in fact very subjective.”
“Explain further,” said the disciples, who had formed a small circle around the master.
The master gathered 4 twigs and formed a letter “M” on the ground. “Tell me what you see,” said the master.
One said, “I see an ‘M’.”
Another said, “I see 2 mountains.”
A disciple positioned sideways said, “I see ‘3’.”
Another in front of the master said, “I see a ‘W’.”
And still another said, “I see the letter ‘E’.”
The master raised his hand and said, “See? You all saw reality according to how your mind perceived it. You interpreted it according to the symbols and preconceptions you have. In reality, there are only 4 twigs on the ground, nothing more.”
“I’m confused with your teaching,” said the achiever to the master. “You teach us that life is already complete and that we have to be satisfied with who we are.”
“True,” said the master.
“But if that is so, what do I do with all my goals and dreams? Do I just give them up and throw them away? Why even bother getting out of the bed in the morning if I have nothing to strive for?” said the achiever.
“Ah, that is where you are mistaken,” said the master. “You have it in your head that your goals and dreams are a means to an end — that they will somehow make you happier or more satisfied. But no matter how much you achieve, you still feel something missing inside, right?”
“Yes,” said the achiever.
“That’s because you are searching for something that isn’t there. You are grasping for something that is already in you. You are like the fish in the ocean looking for water. The moment you realize that, there will be peace, contentment, satisfaction, enlightenment,” said the master.
“So back to my question, once I’m content and happy, of what use are goals?” said the achiever.
“Do not pursue goals to in order to be happy or complete. Realize that you already are happy and complete. Rather, pursue goals as a celebration of your happiness and completeness,” said the master.
Henri Nouwen was well-respected priest, professor, lecturer and author. He wrote over 40 books and taught at Notre Dame, Yale and Harvard. At the seeming peak of his life and popularity, Nouwen suddenly turned his back on these and joined the L’Arche Daybreak community in Canada whose mission it was to care for disabled people.
From being a busy academic whose life was spent studying, teaching, and meeting people, he now had the daily and solitary task of caring for Adam, a young man who could not walk nor talk. Day in and day out, Nouwen would give Adam his bath, feed him, change him, and take care of his every need.
One day a reporter came to him and interviewed him regarding his change of lifestyle. The reporter asked why he chose to make this person the beneficiary of his actions and intellect, instead of the rest of the world.
Nouwen appeared surprised at the question, then said, “You are mistaken. Adam is not the beneficiary of this relationship. If anything, I am the one who is gaining more from this relationship than he is. Not him. Me.”