The Secret: Serenity AND Ambition

By Jim Selman | Bio

New Year’s is a time to reflect and remember. I was reviewing some old ‘resolutions’ and came upon one that has served me well over the years. It may be one of the most useful and relevant bits of wisdom I have to share with people.

“The important thing is to choose what we have and give up our attachment to what we don’t have—so we can have the space to create our dreams and manifest our intention.”

This says a lot and can boggle the mind a bit. Most of us think we are attached to the things we have, not the things we don’t have. This statement also challenges our commonsense notion of how we relate to what we do have—especially if you are thinking that what you have ‘is not enough’.  Finally, we can never be reminded enough that we’re always relating to a future of our own making, whether we’re focused on predicting what will happen or being open to what can happen.

A few years ago, the Internet-distributed film “The Secret” showcased a phenomenon they called the “Law of Attraction”. The idea is if you operate as if you already have what you want, then the “Universe” will deliver. The theme is basically correct in my experience; however, it doesn’t always turn out. Just as is the case with affirmations, prayer, and other rituals we employ to get what we want, there is enough evidence that they work to keep us practicing them: when they don’t work, we justify the exceptions by saying we didn’t have enough faith or we didn’t do it right, etc.

I believe the real secret is to accept life on life’s terms.

That is, we can never ever have more (or less) than what we have. Reality is always just what it is. Our only choice is to accept it (choose it to be the way it is) or resist it.

When we are unhappy because we don’t have enough of something or someone, then we are resisting life. In doing so, we are causing the persistence of what we don’t want. Likewise, when we try to ‘fix’ reality, control others or manipulate our circumstances, our actions are consistent with a negative (or incomplete) view of the current situation and end up reinforcing the current situation. The maxim “You get what you resist” is very true.

If we focus or become fixated on getting what we don’t have (or more of what we do have), then we are attached to what isn’t real and doesn’t exist. We develop a conceptual relationship with our circumstances and seek to become whole and complete by finding something or someone ‘new’ to fulfill us. This notion isn’t new: psychologists and counselors have been pointing out for years that we can never find happiness by changing or controlling our circumstances and we can never find love if we think it comes from outside ourselves.

In my experience, the secret of life is captured in the name of this blog: serene ambition. Serenity is about experiencing life in the present moment, living in the presence of ‘what is’. This universal Buddhist notion is generally accompanied by a profound sense of gratitude for life and for whatever we have (no matter how meager). This philosophy offers peace of mind through transcendence of the material world, including all manner of desire or other forms of attachment. For us in the West, this is a difficult idea. We mostly believe that progress is about not accepting things as they are: progress is about having the ambition to change the world to match our will or about doing something to alter our moods.

The ideas of serenity and ambition don’t normally go together. Our cultural mindset wants us to EITHER accept OR take action to change something. This incongruity leaves many in the East materially impoverished and many in the West spiritually bankrupt. Our challenge—both individually and as a culture—is to have both acceptance in the present moment AND a commitment (not an attachment) to a larger possibility.

For example, when I am coaching someone, I am living ‘serene ambition’, this combination of acceptance and commitment. For me, there are always two people, two human beings being coached: one is the person’s story, history or repertoire of abilities, and the other is the person as a possibility, capable of all sorts of things that are ‘outside the box’ of their experience and beliefs. I always acknowledge and include the former, but relate to the latter. By always relating to the person as a possibility, I am engaging in a dialogue to bring into existence a ‘new reality’ based on their ambition, while simultaneously relating to them as ‘perfect’ just the way they are. I am not trying to change them or resist whatever they think or whatever they are doing. Rather, I am showing them a larger possibility for themselves and giving them a choice. From my perspective, they’ve already had a breakthrough and it is only a matter of time until they manifest it or decide at some point to change their ambition.

When we can hold serenity and ambition equally and simultaneously, we change our relationship to the world. We can begin to relate differently to ourselves and other people, our circumstances and even to time. We see that the future has already happened in the context of our ambition. We see that our current situation is perfect and includes all the resources and information we need to act in a manner consistent with our ambition. Our choice is to accept, commit to a possibility and then trust the “Universe” to show us what is missing to navigate and coordinate
with others to manifest the future we’ve already created.

May you experience ‘serene ambition’ in 2010.


© 2010 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.