One of the most difficult thing to achieve in this life is to give up on effort. And yes, I’m aware there is a paradox buried in that statement, but paradox is the engine of truth. In any case, by the time we become young adults we have learned that the only way to achieve anything is through effort – school, work, seduction, physical training, and so on. As I have mentioned many times in podcasts and on this blog, virtually all our efforts are driven by the will-to-life, or survival instinct. And so we make efforts to earn money, secure shelter, buy food, find a mating partner, become part of a social group, maintain our health, and a hundred other things that serve to keep us alive and provide an environment for rearing offspring. And if we had no reflective consciousness we would behave as other animals and simply strive to exist and rear our young, and then die.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you view it, we do have a reflective consciousness, and so we can look at our life and ask whether we simply want to be a slave to nature, driven by desires, and suffering the emotions that are a result of these desires being fulfilled or otherwise. Once we have identified desire to be the root cause of our suffering, and that all desires derive from the desire to live, then we can make efforts to understand these desires, the emotions, and how we might be less affected by them. But there is a twist. All effort comes from the beast, the will-to-life, without exception. And since we are mainly beast, so we have a hard time understanding how we might free ourselves from its tyranny. Various sages and philosophers have indicated what we need to do, although even the word “do” is loaded with the desire. Gurdjieff said we should let our non-desires dominate our desires. Lao Tzu in the Tao te Ching says things like – the grass makes no effort to grow, or a storm has no fixed schedule or timescale. Many Gurdjieff groupies interpret his statement to mean they should do things they do not want to do, but in order to do these things they ultimately have to convince themselves that they do want to do them, and so the result is not a non-desire. Non-desire is no desire. We should let no desire dominate desire. Unfortunately our language does not help here. For example, the only way we can express the opposite of doing is by saying non-doing. Non-desire, non-doing, and by implication no-effort is where we should go, but oh-dear, the word “go” implies action. Seems like we are in a trap, since we can only think in terms of doing, of effort, of goals and preferred states. And so we find people chasing after enlightenment, moksha, mindfulness and any number of other seemingly preferred states.
Fortunately, nature cannot hide its intentions and its deceptions. Its most obvious deception is the inbuilt sentiment that every creature has, that it is the center of the universe. This leads inevitably to a sense of self-importance, and each creature experiences itself as the only thing that matters in the world. It should be fairly obvious that none of us have some important role to play. The world will get along fine without us, and so nothing we think, nothing we do, nothing we feel, or any purpose we may think we have, is the least bit important. It is extremely important that we realize nothing is important, including this statement. This is our get out of jail card. At the times when we think we have discovered the secret to freedom, how to be happy, that we understand how everything works, or simply the expectation that some new practice or knowledge is going to set us free, we can remember that it is not the least bit important. Obviously the ego does not like this, and so there is likely to be resistance. But if you remember that the resistance is also not important, and that your so-called efforts are not important, then you may indeed get a taste of inner freedom. So here’s a list of things we can do, none of which are important, and which might help us abandon the addiction to effort.
- Nothing is important, including the idea that nothing is important.
- It is not the least bit important that you should recognize when you have a gaining idea. The idea of gain is our default mechanism for doing things. When you see you have attached some idea of gain to an action, simply acknowledge it and move on. Do not try to resist the gaining idea, because then you simply create another gaining idea.
- Do not resist anything within yourself. If you see ambition in yourself in the work environment, or ambition in your play, or ambition in your relationships with others, just observe it and let it be. To resist these things would mean that you take them seriously and that you have decided that there is a preferred state. There is never a state that is preferable to the state you are in right here and now.
- Finally, remember that all effort comes from the will to life. If you see yourself making efforts, then just observe them and move on. To make efforts to try and eliminate effort is the ultimate folly.
This is tricky work, but I have found in my experience that the constant remembrance of my own nothingness, and that nothing I think or feel is the least bit important to me or anyone else, usually breaks the logjam of emotions and thoughts that crowd our inner world. But breaking the logjam isn’t important either. Finally a word from Lao Tzu:
A good traveller has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.
But Lao Tzu isn’t important either.