Stop Striving

Strive is considered a positive word, suggesting a rewarding outcome for extraordinary effort. Webster’s definition: “to devote serious effort or energy.” But the noun strife is a negative word that suggests conflict: “bitter sometimes violent conflict or dissension or and act of contention.” The two words share the same root, but the verb strive describes something internal while strife is external.

I believe striving has a downside. It can cause unnecessary internal conflict that inhibits creativity…a kind of strife within.

Did you ever notice being more productive when you cease striving? Have you ever gotten stuck striving to write a perfect opening sentence of an essay. When you do that, writing an entire essay seems daunting. But when you set out to write an imperfect draft, without concern about crafting sentences, the writing is easier. Knowing you can start editing and crafting your second draft is liberating. You can even postpone writing the opening sentence until the essay is otherwise complete. There is no reason to strive. In fact, striving, in this example, creates a conflict between creating and crafting.

I remember a hymn of peace we sang in church when I was a kid. I recently found a choral version of it on YouTube. The last verse touches an emotional chord that still invites ease of being into my soul: Drop thy still dews of quietness til all our strivings cease. Take from our souls the strain and stress and let our ordered lives confess the beauty of thy peace.

Trying to be requires effort; being doesn’t. Being who you are is more honorable than trying to be some ideal notion of who you should be. I have to practice interrupting thoughts that I should be someone who doesn’t make mistakes, never fails, always uses good judgment, has no regrets, is always confident and never questions himself. I do not get to be that person. Trying to be is more than a waste of time; it is self-centered preoccupation.

Rejecting the self is not a good way to start any endeavor. You can only start where you are. The beginning of writing my book was the only hard part. When I tried to write, I couldn’t. When I stopped trying to write, I just wrote.

Sometimes I can manage to stop striving and let it be. There is no good reason to think about the “I” that is being and doing. Paul McCartney said he once had a dream about his mother, a nurse who died at age 47 when Paul was 14. Near the end of his long run as a Beatle, he was going through hard times when his mother came to him in a dream and whispered to him, “let it be.”

Let it be…let it be.
What do you think? I welcome your comments.

6 Responses to Stop Striving

  • This reminds me of the many times I remembered the name I was searching for about a minute after I stopped striving to remember it.

    Also, some of my most productive ideas, major things that changed my career(s), were developed outside of my work environment, but also when I was in a very relaxed state of mind.

  • Great post Terry. I wonder if retirement has afforded you more time to “be” and is reflected in this post.

    • The truth is, I have more time to be restless. I don’t like the idea of retirement. My life’s work is just changing form, not stopping. I’ve never been comfortable with “down time.” But I remember what my guitar sounded like when it was out of the case, what my idle piano sounded like when I played it, and what my bicycle felt like when it was driving me into the wind. Believing that I have to earn pleasure has been a lifelong struggle for me. So, I’m meditating more and trusting that ease of being will return, as it usually does when I practice being still. Thanks for your comment.

  • Thankyou for this posting. It was just what I needed to hear and ingest into my head and heart today, especially my heart. That 18 inches between my head and heart seems like a marathon distance at times. and i need to remind myself often that it is not a sprint. I am often guilty of being a small child in the back seat on a long drive . “Arnt we there YET?.”


    • I get it. Like you, I need a reminder, or just a pause, to see where mental habits are driving me when I feel driven. Thanks for your comment.

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