Striving Versus Being

Being Happiness

“What’s the goal of meditation?” I asked a zen teacher a few years ago.

“There is no goal!” he replied, which at the time sounded totally weird!

Why would anyone do anything without any measurable results? How would you know just how much you’d achieved?

Not having goals and non-doing is NOT something they drummed into us at my insanely competitive British private schools.

From the age of 9 I was positioned into a hierarchy of one of four classes per age group, the cleverest in class one, the ‘thickoids’ in class four, and within every class, and for every subject, we were positioned in a rank according to how well we did in endless tests, exams and homeworks.

Oh the greatness of being top of Class One! Oh the horrors of being bottom of Class Four!

By the time I left school at 18, I was a fully certified Striver, programmed to go further, do more, get richer and never stop. No wonder this ‘non-doing’, non-striving, mindfulness stuff was going to take so much practice!

While the ‘practice’ of mindfulness is still clearly the crux of the matter, one idea (from Thich Nhat Hanh) has really helped to keep the striving under control: “You are already what you want to be”.

“There is no need to put anything in front of us and run after it. We already have everything we are looking for, everything we want to become. All the elements for your happiness are already here. There is no need to run, strive, search, or struggle. Just be…” Thich Nhat Hanh

What? You mean I really am good enough already? I don’t have to strive and strive to change, to prove and improve myself all the time? Oh thank goodness!

“You are already what you want to be…” Really hearing this for the first time made me, the ex-British-schoolboy, the fully certified Striver, want to break down in tears from such a profound sense of relief and release.

4 thoughts on “Striving Versus Being

  1. Eddie Burch

    This reminds me of the Taoist-Zen concept of Wu-Wei, I’ve seen translated as “Doing without trying”. I’ve experienced something like what I take it to mean when I write a song. Never have I picked up my guitar and said”today I’m going to write a song”. It just doesn’t happen for me if I “try” to do it. Any song I’ve ever written has “come to me” while I was fiddling around on the guitar, or out walking the dog or jogging. I work on it after the initial inspiration, but any song that I like very much has felt more like “finding” what’s already there rather than me making it.

  2. Ben

    Thanks for your comment Eddie and apologies for the delay in reply. I have also had rare moments when things just flow effortlessly like this – sometimes with writing, and recently while doing some simultaneous translation from English to Spanish at a talk in a meditation retreat: when I was distracted it was really hard, but then there were periods where it just happened without any seeming effort on my part, almost like I wasn’t involved – which was much easier!

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