Strive for Nothing; Achieve Everything

In the past I woke up with a strong urge to improve my life. It felt like I was leaning forward expecting the next moment to contain something that this moment was lacking. Sometimes the leaning forward was subtle, other times it was stronger. This leaning forward was uncomfortable and only stopped when I realized that I could spend my entire life chasing carrots in front of me. In a moment of silence I asked, "What if nothing needs to change in order for me to be happy?" What an epiphany! I can choose to be happy right now...regardless of what is going on in the external world. I decided to be kinder to myself. I decided to simply notice when old patterns of striving occurred and never force action. Here are 4 ways I learned to strive less and live more in the moment:

1) Don’t delay your happiness

You may believe that you need to achieve a goal before you can be happy. The goal can take many forms: I need a partner before I can be happy; I need a better job before I can be happy; I need to move somewhere else before I can be happy; I need to lose weight before I can be happy; I need to finish school before I can be happy; I need to improve my health before I can be happy; I need someone else to change before I can be happy; I need the government to change before I can be get the picture. This means we are always delaying our happiness. This chronic delaying of happiness can happen throughout an entire lifespan, unless you wake up. I did not want to look back upon my life and realize I had missed living it. Lets stop delaying our happiness and appreciate things now in our lives. 

2) Suffering reduces when you stay

Try staying with suffering rather than running away from it. Each moment is precious and even painful moments hold the keys to a deeper understanding of life. If we skip them, we skip the opportunity for deeper knowledge. Learning to stay during the difficult times without striving to get out is freeing. In staying you can experience it differently.

I never liked using the word "pain" as it sounded harsh. So I changed it to "sensation" and immediately there was less resistance and more curiosity. I used to experience excruciating menstrual cramps. If I took the pain-killers too late, I was crippled and unable to do anything for a few days. I ended up crumpled on the floor in absolute agony. Hysterical, one day I asked my father who is a doctor to kill me! I could not take the pain anymore! Looking back at this I now laugh and think how ridiculous it was.  One day I decided to breathe, meditate and hold space for the sensation. I moved towards rather than away from the sensation. That was 15 years ago and I haven’t taken a "pain-killer" since. An interesting thing happened; my menstrual cramps disappeared. Occasionally the sensations were uncomfortable but I was contented and could manage them.

3) Make peace with unhappiness

The very act of striving to be happy creates unhappiness. Nature has provided us with an inner GPS. When we feel unhappy we are either experiencing a natural grieving process or believing something that is not true. When unhappy we can choose to search for more uplifting ways of seeing the world. Unhappiness warns us when we have strayed off route. If unhappiness could speak it would say, "ALERT - believing something that is not true, do a u-turn". Negative emotions therefore guide us and provide valuable lessons. Thank you nature for giving us this amazing tool, an inner GPS, so we know which direction leads to less suffering.

By Aruna Shields (CHP, MBCT)