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Since I am a driven, Type A, hyper person, the melody that best brings me to reality and inner peace is: Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream. As I age, I realize as so many have before me that it’s more about non-striving than striving.
Non-striving is like going down the rapids as my wife and I did years ago on the Colorado River. You don’t fight against the current, but neither do you just sit there and let it toss you about. You also don’t fix your gaze on the rock wall you’re trying to avoid. Rather, you paddle with deep concentration to stay on course, and you keep your eyes on the river ahead. When you let go of your fears (smashing into the rock wall) and your expectations (staying on course), you allow the experience to naturally unfold.
I have learned over the years that striving has its costs. It’s ineffective and inefficient. I believe that my striving is motivated by the fact that I am a highly conscientious person and possess excessive personal standards for success. It’s just so easy to overcommit, rush to meet deadlines, put out persistent effort to not let yourself and others down, and then burn out. Even when you do fulfill your goals, you may feel disappointed and depleted because your energy has been directed away from yourself and toward external measures of success.
Striving sets up a vicious cycle. Although your desires may be positive (for example, you may desire to feel good about yourself) the mere thought that you should feel a certain way causes you to strive for it. Ironically, this creates increased striving and decreased happiness.
Non-striving doesn’t mean being lazy or uncaring, or not having desires or interests. In fact, it means the opposite. Non-striving means having clear intentions, staying focused, being a keen observer and allowing life to unfold as it will.
Recently I read about second-century Jewish scholar Simon ben Zoma, who said that there are four elements that make a person truly wise. As I work to row, row, row my boat gently down the stream, they speak volumes to me:
- People who are wise are not those who know more but those who learn from everyone.
- People who are mighty are not those who appear strong but those who conquer their reactive impulses.
- People who are rich are not those who have the most money but those who are content with what they have.
- People who are honored are not those who are bestowed with titles, recognized with awards, or credited with accomplishments but those who honor others.
There’s really nothing to chase after. There are no external measures of true success and no need to be separate and distinct to prove your true worth. You can come off the never-ending spiral of wanting more and more and finding less and less. Only when you stop striving, as I keep learning, can you truly be the wise, mighty, rich, and honored person you already are.
Bob Mueller is the mission and stewardship officer at Hosparus Health.
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