What Is "Non-Striving"?

One of my favorite parts of writing letters every week is the responses I sometimes get from readers. A while ago, a reader of these letters and a previous student of mine sent me the following question:

I read somewhere that one of the characteristics or ideas of mindfulness is “non-striving”, is that correct? Do you believe that? I’m not really sure how to align that with my future plans and goals. Can you give me your thoughts?

Here’s how I responded:

This is a great question. Yes, non-striving is one of the foundational attitudes of mindfulness, one that I mention in my Introduction to Mindfulness Course, and it is very likely that you’d come across it elsewhere.

If we observe the mind, we will notice that we have a tendency to label everything as unpleasant, neutral, or pleasant. We tend to resist what is unpleasant (aversion). What is neutral usually goes unnoticed. And we tend to cling or grasp onto what is pleasant (desire).

You can think of striving as a strong desire to reach an outcome - a goal, a salary, an accomplishment, a feeling, some fame, whatever it may be. This striving or desire itself is not bad. It is just desire. It is very human and very normal. What we practice in mindfulness is to accept and welcome our desires and all those we strive for. If you investigate desire, there is often a strong biological or neurobiological mechanism under it anyway (desire to eat, desire to connect), or sometimes even a noble cause (desire to end poverty in the world).

The attitude of “non-striving” welcomes the desire and then invites us to investigate it a little bit. What is your relationship with this desire? Are you caught up in it, or are you free? Are you creating extra tension and suffering, or are you at ease?

The practice is not to let go of your goals or future plans. Goal setting and planning are essential tools of a healthy, happy, productive life. The practice is to put some space between you and the desire to reach your goals so that this desire doesn’t control you, and you remain free. You are able to equally enjoy your life and the present moment whether or not you have reached your much-desired goals.

The other part of non-striving is to notice just how much of our time is spent striving. Striving to wake up early, to be productive, to earn money, to find love, to exercise, to eat healthy…. The list of goals in a day is endless. In this mode of constant striving, constant goal setting, and constant doing, there is often not enough of just being. Just accepting the present moment, loving ourselves and loving life as is.

So non-striving also means having more moments in our lives where we are fully present. We are there, in the moment, without needing to change it. We are present without any agenda. Not even the agenda of relaxing, or feeling better, or whatever other reasons may have brought us here. Just allowing this moment to be good enough and inviting in some ease.

In summary, I guess I can say that as with most things in life, this too is a matter of finding balance and finding space between you and the thought/emotion, as well as having radical acceptance and compassion toward all states of life and all versions of yourself, no matter where you stand in relation to your goals and plans.

How does all this sound to you? Let me know in the comments below or reach out to me here! 🤗

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