Say No to Striving?

by Christopher Lovejoy on January 13, 2013

In a moment of insanity, I once thought that striving was the only way to go. Letting the world come to me, as and when it does, seemed foreign to my way of thinking, even unacceptable.

At some point in my life, however, striving felt more and more like compensating.

These days, I favor striving that is naturally expressed, serving to invite, welcome, receive, cultivate, and manifest desired outcomes, over striving that is artificially induced, seeking to forever compensate for this, that, or the other thing.

Do you ever feel as if you’re striving to compensate for what you do not or can not have? If so, why?

Skeptical and cynical reservations aside, wouldn’t you rather arrive, feeling rested and refreshed, in each and every moment, with pure expressions of love, reflecting pure, positive focus and appreciation for who you are and what you love to do?

Who do you love to be? Who would you love to be? What do you love to do? What would you love to do?

With whom do you love to spend most of your time? With whom would you love to spend most of your time? Are the people in your life giving you a hard time or do you keep letting them give you a hard time?

What comes easily to you? Or have you forgotten? Could you set aside stress, struggle, and strain, and just say ‘yes’ to effortless ease? Just could you? Would you? If so, when would that be?

Do you feel deserving of your more wholesome desires? Do you feel equipped to dispatch less than wholesome ones?

Do you feel worthy of meeting or exceeding your desired outcomes? And do you feel willing and able to manifest them?

More to the point, would you rather fulfill desires that cultivate or fan the flames that compensate?

Tao Te Ching, Verse 20

In verse 20, Lao-Tzu does something unusual: he counsels us to give up learning.

But does he really? Perhaps what he counsels us to do is to give up striving to learn what we think we must learn in order to compensate for what we do not or cannot have …

Give up learning
and you will be free from all your cares.
What is the difference between yes and no?
What is the difference between good and bad?
What is the difference between beautiful and ugly?

Must I fear what others fear?
Should I fear desolation when there is abundance?
Should I fear darkness when light shines everywhere?

In spring, some go to the park and climb the terrace,
but I alone am drifting, not knowing where I am.
Like a newborn babe before it learns to smile,
I am alone, without a place to go.

Most people have too much;
I alone seem to be missing something.
Mine is indeed the mind of an ignoramus
in its unadulterated simplicity.

I am but a guest in this world.
While others rush about to get things done,
I accept what is offered.
I alone seem foolish, earning little, spending less.

Other people strive for fame;
I avoid the limelight, preferring to be left alone.
Indeed, I seem like an idiot: no mind, no worries.

I drift like a wave on the ocean.
I blow as aimless as the wind.

All seem to settle into their grooves;
I alone am stubborn and remain outside.
But where I am most different from others
is in knowing to receive sustenance
from the great Mother and Father.

Edited slightly to enhance flow and to reflect more inclusive language

Ref: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao

As I read this verse, my imagination is stoked …

Alone and without a care in the world, the ever watchful, peaceful, blissful, playful sage known as Lao Tzu goes about his way, sensitive to signals from the Source, receptive and responsive to the rise of experience.

My Impressions of the Verse

This verse is the longest I’ve seen so far in the Tao Te Ching.

It’s as if Lao Tzu had a burst of inspiration and could hardly wait to share his perspective on what it means to be all one (alone) – really, truly, and simply.

Give up learning
and you will be free from all your cares.
What is the difference between yes and no?
What is the difference between good and bad?
What is the difference between beautiful and ugly?

Artificially striving to learn implies imposing your will – on yourself, others, and the world at large.

Conversely, remaining open to your experience implies seeing and learning what is presented; where looking implies striving, seeing implies arriving.

Says Lao Tzu: what difference does it make whether I label this, that, or the other thing as yes or no, good or bad, beautiful or ugly?

It is what it is: acknowledge the experience; be receptive to it, be responsive to it, be part and parcel of the pattern for it. In other words, find the lesson in the darkness and be a party to the learning; extract the gift from the dung and be a grateful recipient.

A morally divisive consciousness, while instructive, eventually gives way to a spiritually unitive consciousness.

Must I fear what others fear?
Should I fear desolation when there is abundance?
Should I fear darkness when light shines everywhere?

These questions suggest many lessons:

Embrace your own sovereignty as a person.

Both sides of duality serve to provide contrast.

Observe and receive and respond to what is there.

Be a pattern for the world; be a pattern for your world.

Remember: this too shall pass … as will this, and this, and …

In spring, some go to the park and climb the terrace,
but I alone am drifting, not knowing where I am.
Like a newborn babe before it learns to smile,
I am alone, without a place to go.

Sounds like a riddle, but it’s actually a potent metaphor of what is happening when you’re really and truly in the flow, outside the realm of routine, not striving to predict what comes next, but trusting the next event, the next occurrence in your reality.

Most people have too much;
I alone seem to be missing something.
Mine is indeed the mind of an ignoramus
in its unadulterated simplicity.

Most people have too much, and even as they fall short of sharing the fruits of their consumptive greed, they still think they’re missing out.

Curiously, and by comparison, those who have given up on artificially striving for more and more and more are willing to assume the risk of giving off the appearance of being simple-minded, of being too simple and ignorant for their own good.

I am but a guest in this world.
While others rush about to get things done,
I accept what is offered.
I alone seem foolish, earning little, spending less.

In a world of busy, frantic spirits serving as hosts and hostesses in the press for more, rushing hither and thither to “get things done”, Lao Tzu assumes the role of guest and graciously accepts what is offered, seeming foolish and out of place.

Other people strive for fame;
I avoid the limelight, preferring to be left alone.
Indeed, I seem like an idiot: no mind, no worries.

With no mind or care for striving to make a name for himself, Lao Tzu is content to be left alone – outside the limelight.

Those who crave fame and fortune know little of those famous ones who crave anonymity (and privacy).

I drift like a wave on the ocean.
I blow as aimless as the wind.

This is Lao Tzu’s way of paying homage to nature as the consummate expression of the Tao, of saying “I trust the comings and goings of my experience”.

All seem to settle into their grooves;
I alone am stubborn and remain outside.
But where I am most different from others
is in knowing to receive sustenance
from the great Mother and Father.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Source consciousness (the Tao) is sometimes perceived by those who have ventured to The Other Side as both Mother and Father to its creations. To wit: it is neither this nor that, but this and that.

Alive, awake, aware, and alert, Lao Tzu cannot settle, trusting and following the Way as and when he feels called to trust and follow.

Implications for Personal Fulfillment

If I do not strive naturally to realize the outcomes of my desire, wherein lies my fulfillment as a person?

Verse 20 makes us wonder whether artificial striving is even worth the time and the trouble. Certainly, some sense of personal fulfillment is possible with successful, artificially induced striving, or else no one would bother to do it, but is there an easier, more fulfilling alternative?

Even in the morning of life, as and when artificial striving serves up many lessons, I’m willing to believe that most of us have had glimpses of effortless ease arising out of contentment, out of being receptive and responsive to our respective worlds without resistance.

In the afternoon of life especially, people are generally more interested in turning these glimpses into panoramic views. How might I approach living without striving (artificially) and transform these panoramic views into perpetual arrivals?

How might I replace the pain of artificial striving with the pleasure of natural striving?

From my experience, here are some vital clues to consider …

  1. the more relaxed I am, the more receptive and creative I can be
  2. when I turn striving into arriving, I can allow the world to come to me
  3. with awareness and sensitivity, I can explore the edges of my own limits
  4. with a vital sense of separation, I need not plug into other nervous systems
  5. as I stay tuned to the present moment, I can be aware of how I feel at all times
  6. saying “no” to push, push, push, I can step back and make good on clues 1 to 5

I let go and let be; I respect my limits; I keep my sovereignty as a person; I receive, respond, and express, as desired or necessary; and I remain at choice about when to stop, when to go, and when to go with the flow.

I respond to life with the awareness of presence, with a mindful, heartfelt “yes, yes, and yes”; I allow and accept the way it is, whatever it is; and I understand and appreciate “here and now” as good and good enough.

My thought process goes from “something, anything, other than this” to “oh, I see … this.” Any compensating efforts to control the outcome give way to pure reception and relaxation.

Ceaseless doing and constant reacting yield to contented being and gracious responding. Melodramatic thoughts and stories arise and dissolve into effortless being and becoming.

I am, I know, I love, I trust, I heed the Way as and when I feel called to heed, trust, love, know, and be the Way.

Next up: The Supreme Virtue (and the Elusive Paradox)

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This post is one of many in an ongoing series that began here.

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