-in my meditation garden-
Yesterday the local NPR station featured a story about families who put too much pressure on their children to be "high achievers" in school. One young man was interviewed who explained why he recently dropped out of college, "All my life my parents were always telling me, 'keep your eyes on the prize,' and nothing I did ever seemed to be good enough. If I got a 99 my dad complained because it wasn't 100. I was always preparing to "get into" the best school that would guarantee me success in my future career."
He concluded the interview by saying, "The pressure got to be too much for me and I even contemplated suicide, so I decided I needed to drop out of the race."
I have heard many stories like the one told by that boy on the radio program. I think lots and lots of people today live their lives with their eyes always on the prize.
As a parish priest I would often shake my head in dismay as I observed so many ambitious parents who were already planning the next step their 1st and 2nd grade children would take up the ladder of success. The day these kids started grammar school, their parents started to "gear up" for that prestigious middle school, that would position their kids for a perfect high school, that would open the doors to get into just the right college, that would launch them into their future careers.
I would often think about those 1st and 2nd graders on their way to their promised futures. The thing is that not one of them will ever actually achieve that long-desired prize in life because the prize doesn't exist, it's imaginary.
Kids in grammar school have their eye on middle school but that's not the prize. No, now the prize is high school, but when they get there they haven't yet reached the destination; now they are preparing for college which will prepare them for their futures. Then, of course out in the everyday world of jobs and careers, the longed-for prize still seems to loom on the horizon - a better job, a more lucrative career, more money, a bigger house.
I have known so many people in my life (in some ways I have been one of them) who have worked all their lives at ambitiously pursuing some sort of desired future; and when they finally arrive at their supposed destination in life, they throw up their arms and cry, "Is that all there is?"
I am reminded of something Thomas Merton once said:
People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success
only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.
Of course I think it's fine to have hopes and dreams for the future, goals in life, a vision of where we might like to be. But far too often people only "live for" a future that will never happen- always running toward a prize that isn't there, craving more and bigger, higher and better. And in all the frantic running, they so often miss where the prize really is - here, now, in the present moment.
As I sit in my mediation garden today, I think about all the buried treasure in my life that I often overlooked and walked over because my eyes were always on that imaginary prize. Climbing up the ladder, pursuing educational goals, pursing career successes, plotting, planning and strategizing, I wonder how often I failed to recognize a tender touch of my spouse, the loving smile of my children, the fresh crisp smell of an Autumn day.
As I sit in my desert garden on this gorgeous morning in Autumn, I have my "eyes on the prize." The prize is here, the prize is now - so much buried treasure.