“Happiness is the absence of striving for happiness.” ~Chuang Tzu
Do you feel, on some level, that your life is hard work? That you need to struggle in order to improve things in your world? Do you feel that you even need to struggle to reach a desired goal, to overcome adversity before achieving something worthy?
Our addiction to struggle is an impediment to us feeling the joy of quiet and the now, the place from which subtle and natural development can occur.
This addiction to struggling—the addiction to striving, always trying to achieve—used to hold me back from experiencing the whole of life.
My awareness dawned slowly. Once an over-achieving lawyer working sixty-hour weeks (and then ducking off to volunteer my time for another cause), I am now much more relaxed, and able to give from a place of increased abundance and energy. But hey, it’s taken time, and it’s still a work in progress.
I’ve dabbled in meditation for years and had a daily practice for three years. But it’s not just all about the cushion—getting out and having fun, dancing, enjoying life is what helped me see that I was actually trapped in a pattern of thinking that I had to work hard and reach (and overcome) a crisis point to be successful.
The more I meditate, the more present I am, even off the cushion. I can even catch the moment at which I start being run by my own subconscious beliefs that life involves struggle.
Some mornings, in the liminal state between sleeping and waking, I can catch an almost imperceptible shift, where my mind switches from the ease of a sweet dream to a battle with consciousness and being awake.
Oh really, do I have to get up now?
(And the deeper revelation: how subtly and consistently I struggle with reality itself.)
The point at which I am able to accept my current reality is the point at which I surrender to that experience.
Funnily enough, this is usually the point at which life becomes easier. Not because I have won a battle against my mind, but because I have allowed myself to stop resisting what just is.
I get up. I go about my day. No big deal; in fact, I enjoy it.
So, how is this addiction to struggle holding us back? After all, I’ll be the first to put my hand up to say how much I’ve learned from those with the strength of character, creativity, and resilience to overcome the most trying of times. Survivors inspire us and bring us hope when we can only see darkness.
Yet, it seems that overcoming adversity has become the primary narrative arc in some corners of the spirituality and personal development online worlds.
Our relationship with mind and ego are often phrased in ‘battle’ terms, and having a gruelling experience has become the necessary precondition to success.
This is so subtle. But this preoccupation with overcoming struggle holds us back in many ways. It conceals other paths to growth. It even may cause us to devalue presence and surrender.
Overcoming struggle is only one way to grow and to learn.
Some of my most significant advancements in my thinking and changes in my life have been the result of product of gentle, consistent effort. In this way, old holding patterns have dissolved quite naturally.
My decision not to drink alcohol is one example. Upon finding out that I’m a teetotaller, people often assume that my self-destruction precipitated a crisis with booze, followed by hard-won sobriety.
Of course, I celebrate those who have overcome alcoholism, but I don’t have a victory-over-struggle story with alcohol. Once upon a time, I enjoyed a drink. Years of enjoyable meditation changed my brain, and I now happily don’t drink alcohol because I don’t feel a desire to drink. (And as it turns out, the benefits are innumerable!)
Accepting that it’s possible to be ripe when you are ripe, that you may not be following a familiar path of overcoming adversity, doesn’t make a riveting story in the manner to which we’ve become accustomed.
Perhaps we can track the predominance of the struggle trope back to the popularity of the hero’s journey: the tale of the swashbuckling hero confronting and triumphing over symbolic dragons and ogres on the transformational journey.
To be clear: the hero’s journey is, of course, inspirational. We all have periods of darkness. We all love to win our battles. We all love to be inspired by others who can lead the way.
My point is that only some journeys are punctuated by ordeals. On other paths, there is no dragon. There may just be a path to walk—even a playground in which to frolic!
Moreover, we definitely do not need to manufacture a challenging transformation if there was no such ordeal. Our experience is not less worthy or true as a result.
Noticing my own addiction to struggle has been humbling and revealing. Releasing my own tendency to slip into struggle means that I am more present. (And I have more fun!)
Our addiction to struggle can lead us to devalue the gentle and humble evolution that can accompany development without drama. It can lead us to miss the happiness that can be found in the here and now, regardless of the circumstances.
My question for you is: where in your life are you struggling? How are you playing out this subconscious script yourself?
And what would your life be like if you were able to notice and celebrate your consistent and gentle evolution?
Would this, in fact, be a quiet liberation?
Photo by Daniel Lee