Let me start by acknowledging that there’s lots of nuance and subtlety when it comes to the subject of striving and the spiritual path. How is that?
The traditional sense of striving conjures a go-getter on Wall Street who works his buns off to make the big bucks. Or maybe we strive to lose fifteen pounds.
It’s often about achieving goals in pursuits that are measurable. A million-dollar salary, losing fifteen pounds or running a mile in under five minutes.
Striving conjures notions of hard work, ambition, perseverance and a focus on results.
Two categories of spiritual work
So what about striving and the spiritual path? Here, we need to break things down into two categories.
First would be our practices. Let’s take meditation. If we strive hard in our meditation, that will usually backfire.
That Wall Streeter who works eighty hours a week and is constantly going, going, going, will find it difficult, if not impossible, to replicate that kind of work intensity with their meditations.
Same for the golfer who hits ten buckets of balls on the driving range, then chips and putts for two hours. Then hits the gym for weight-training for another hour.
Most of our spiritual practices are about calming down, not pumping up. So classical striving not only won’t work, it will hinder our advancement.
Strive to work on the overall thrust
But there’s a second category under the spiritual banner where striving does work and is profoundly helpful. That would be our overall path.
To explain what I mean by that, I’ll use my own example. Here’s how I strive in my spiritual pursuits. I can reduce it to one sentence:
“I strive to be free of me.”
Who is this me I strive to be free of? My ego me. My personal self. It’s the sensitive, temperamental, judgmental, egotistical, impatient me.
My spiritual work, at its core, is about chipping away at that “me” every day. How? Through a combination of meditation, mindfulness and letting go of David Gerken whenever possible.
But again, success in achieving this chipping away requires a non-striving approach. It’s not about grabbing “it” by the throat and slaying the ego dragon. That only strengthens the ego.
It’s about practicing relaxing in the face of egoic disturbance. And relaxing in the face of mind disturbance while meditating.
Using my striving energy
But at the top of the pyramid is the me who wants very much, and strives mightily, to free that conscious, real me from the clutches of my formidable ego. And it’s the energy from that striving force that fuels the hard work of calming down and relaxing in the face of inner upheaval.
The bottom line is that I don’t want my ego running my life. Allowing bad moods, angry outbursts, pouting sessions when I don’t get what I want and all the rest.
No. Enough is enough.
So I’m striving as best I can to strengthen the conscious me and whittle down egoic me. The more I do it, the calmer and better I get. At everything.
The upshot of all this? Don’t be reluctant to strive hard on the path. It is well and good to do so.