Van Gogh once said, “I am seeking, I am striving, I am in it with all my heart.” I love this; I love our human capacity to reach, grow, improve, try, change. I love our desire to do better, be better. To help, to make a difference, and to be of use. Being human is all about this good stuff: our inspiring, seeking, spiritual nature. The things that make us cry when we see them played out in a movie.
I want to achieve what my role models have achieved. I want to make my parents proud, I want to make something of myself and of my life. These are unique human desires that I tend to be proud of – especially when I feel I’m succeeding at them.
And then there is non-striving. A pillar of Buddhism and one of the key principles in a mindfulness practice, it’s kind of – well, exactly – the opposite of seeking. Though I know that reaching and seeking can bring disappointment and pain, why would I want to give it up when it feels so deeply important, and part of having a rich and meaningful life? Why deny these urges? Why “do” by “not doing”?
These are the questions that I have grappled with in my mindfulness practice. And I find it impossible to even write about the issue – ‘grappled’ is a striving word! I get caught up in the absolutes and the anecdotal understanding that my goals have helped me. The non-striving sweet spot for me is to know the grey areas and to choose ‘nothing’ as a response to certain events or circumstances.
“Silence, deep listening, and non-doing are often very appropriate responses in particularly trying moments — not a turning away at all, but an opening toward things with clarity and good will, even toward ourselves.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
My practice of non-striving takes the form of not trying to fill every second with a task. Of examining the thought, “Oh, I’ve got an hour before I need to be there, what should I do?” Of identifying the stress or decision that’s got to be made and then putting it away for a time. Non-striving also takes the form of pushing my chair away from my desk and relaxing into a conversation with a co-worker who has stopped by.
I get easily hung up on how I’m supposed to ‘do’ non-striving. In our action-orientated culture, it’s hard just to get our minds around the concept, let alone integrate it into our lives. I choose to start small, to try a little less, to stop a little sooner, or to sit a little longer. When perfectionist mind or judgmental mind start talking, I know I’m far from non-striving. My goal in those moments is not to push back against perfection or judgment, but to accept that is where I am at and then look around for another option, another choice.
by Nadia Alamo