What is the ONE THING in Your Life? - Goodlife Zen

What is the ONE THING in Your Life?


By Mary Jaksch

What is the one most important thing in your life? Can you answer without hesitation?

I recently asked Cassandra, a friend of mine, and she immediately shot back the answer: “Horses!” (She is twelve years old and already an experienced rider with amazing talent). Maybe you also have something in your life that is obviously the one most important thing. Or maybe it’s difficult for you to pinpoint that one thing. That’s how it is for me.

A while ago I read an article about focusing on One Thing in life. The post was based on a  film clip. It’s a scene where Curly – a tough cowboy played by Jack Palance – offers his dim sidekick Mitch some advice on life:

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?
Curly: This. [holds up one finger] Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean shit.
Mitch: But what is the “one thing?”
Curly: [smiles] That’s what you have to find out.

Since seeing the clip, I couldn’t get the question out of my mind: “What is the One Thing in my life?”

The difficulty is that I have more than one passion. I love Zen teaching, I love writing, I love the company of family and friends, I love being in the outdoors.

What about your life? What are your passions?

I’ve always had a spread of passions in my life.

I don’t know if you have ever taken part in a goal setting seminar. I have, and it was a puzzling experience. The facilitator asked us to list everything that is important in our life and then to highlight the ONE THING that is most important to us. And he stated that if you don’t have just one thing in life, you won’t get anywhere. I could find three things – but I couldn’t pinpoint the One Thing.

After seeing the movie clip with Curly’s injunction, I kept on thinking, “There must be ONE THING in my life that’s the fundamental driver. What is it?”

In the end I found it. Tucked away. Deep underneath everything. I had been looking in the wrong places. I had been looking for it amongst my passions. I’ll tell you what I found in a moment, but first I want to describe how I got there. The question I asked in order to find the One Thing was, “What were my moments of greatest joy?”

What I got in response was a series of memory clips:  Camping out under the desert moon with my son, a tender embrace with my partner, falling about on the beach with my young friends, a moment of hilarity in the midst of a silent Zen retreat,  sharing with close friends, deep encounters with my students, and moments of creative excitement while writing.

What memories do you get in response?

Now search for a theme that connects those memories. What is the central theme?

When I looked for a central theme of these memories, what I found was: intimacy. In my life intimacy is the One Thing that matters most! I’m not talking of sexual intimacy. What I mean by ‘intimacy’ are the moments of deep connection.

What about your life? What is the central theme  in your life?

The One Thing is not a goal in life, it’s our central aspiration. Let me unpack that a little: goals are the concrete expression of our ambition. An ambition is a wish to be different from how we are now. Whereas an aspiration is the wish to be the fullest expression of who we really are. For example, one of my aspirations is to connect deeply with everyone I meet. It’s an impossible aspiration! Impossible to fulfill. That’s the nature of aspirations. We can never reach them. They are the stars by which we navigate through life

Once you find that  One Thing, your central aspiration, there is a further important question:

What does the One Thing demand of your life?

The One Thing is like a yardstick. We can hold it up to any area in our life and see whether our life measures up. Because if our life is to be in harmony, we need to be in line with the One Thing.

When I held up intimacy against my activities in life, I got some unexpected results. For example, I enjoy working in tandem with others. I enjoy creating joint projects. However, to be in line with my central aspiration,  intimacy, I need to focus on the relationship with my partners, and not on the outcome of a particular joint venture. Quite simply, if I tried to make my luck on the back of others, I would be unhappy. My aspiration of intimacy demands that I focus on the well-being of others, just as much as on my own.

Maybe your One Thing also demands something of your life. What is that demand?

Once you have found what your One Thing is, you can use it to look for direction. For example, if you have a new opportunity in life, you can hold it up against your One Thing and ask, “Is this in line with the One Thing in my life, or not?” Straightaway, you can get a sense whether the new venture will bring you joy or distress.

Well then, what is your ONE THING?


You can read more about virtual Zen retreats here.

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Photo by benefit of hindsight

About the author

Mary Jaksch

Mary is passionate about helping people create a happy, purposeful, and fulfilling life. She is the founder of GoodlifeZEN and also the brains behind WritetoDone.com, one of the biggest blogs for writers on the Net. Mary is also a Zen Master, a mother, and a 5th Degree Black Belt.

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