When is it OK to be Aimless?

When I hear the word aimless, my mind jumps straight to a negative connotation. And to hear it as a descriptor for myself? My instinct is to argue ‘but look how much I’ve done, look where I’m headed’. I want to defend myself against such an awful criticism, because how dare someone assume there is no purpose in what I’m doing!

But that’s my misconception. 

Being aimless isn’t the same as not having purpose. It’s important to have goals, to have a focused direction, but those aims for the future shouldn’t be given priority over the moment you’re in. If you don’t learn to appreciate the moment you’re in now, you won’t be able to appreciate the moment in which you achieve the goal you’ve passed your life up for.  

“There is a word in Buddhism that means “wishlessness” or “aimlessness”. The idea is that you do not put something in front of you and run after it, because everything is already here, in yourself.” — Thich Nhat Hanh  

During the summers my family goes and spends about a week up in Estes Park, CO. Since I started cycling, its become a tradition for me to take one morning to ride my bike up Trail Ridge Road to the summit, a 13-mile road running through Rocky Mountain National Park that climbs over 4,000 ft in elevation. 

Here’s the thing though, I’ve never actually successfully made it to the top. Either my lungs or my legs gave out or I got too late a start and the traffic got too heavy to be safe with the narrow shoulders and blind turns. One thing or another has always prevented me from making it all the way to the visitors center that marks the summit. 

I wouldn’t consider any of my attempts a failure, though. I wouldn’t actually refer to them as “attempts” either. Attempt implies an intention of completion, and while there was an end point to my activity, that end point wasn’t really the point.

 

Every year I notice the same thing: cars rushing up the mountain, ignoring the speed limit (and my safety). Cars, going going going, trying to get to the top. 

What they don’t see is the valley, slowly growing smaller and smaller to the side of us. They don’t see the four turkeys hiding in the brush or the herd of elk on the top of the cliff. They don’t get to experience how the view Long’s Peak, the resident fourteener for that part of Colorado, changes with each turn of the road, each foot gain in elevation, and each movement of the sun as it rises higher and higher in the sky. 

Because here’s the thing, the top isn’t that great. It’s breathtaking for a moment (in a fairly literal sense because the oxygen is so low at that altitude) but it’s also mostly mountain tundra. The scenic views are more or less out of sight, and the visitors center is the exact same as the one at the start of the road.

So What Is My Purpose Then?

I ride my bike up Trail Ridge Road because to me that’s the best way to experience it. The point isn’t to get to the top or to ride as fast as possible. It’s a moment of aimlessness, where I get to sit back, pedal steadily and enjoy the moment: enjoy the changing views, the motion of my body, the experience of what I’m doing. 

This is why I set goals based off of feelings, not off of benchmarks. If we chase feelings we are more in tune with how we feel in the present and we give ourselves permission to be aimless. Being aimless can allow us the opportunity to enjoy everything the world has to offer for us in this moment right now. 

When we set benchmarks, being aimless feels like a failure, giving into aimlessness seems equal to giving up. If we are constantly chasing after concrete goals, placing all of our worth in whether or not we achieve them, we become like the cars rushing up the mountain to get to the top.

Sometimes we need to let ourselves just enjoy the moment we are in for everything it is on its own, and not be so concerned about the end result. Your life is happening right now! Enjoy it. 

What do you think of when you hear the word aimless? How do you get up ‘your mountain’?