Throughout much of our lives, we live in a state of striving. We might be striving to get a new job or house, striving to escape the incessant stream of our thoughts, or striving to be different than who we are. Non-striving in mindfulness invites us into something completely different – it invites us into ‘being’.
What Does Non-Striving Mean?
Non-striving is one of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s nine interdependent fundamental attitudes of mindfulness. It is an attitude of being rather than doing, one that embodies an openness to the present moment as it is. Without seeking for things to be different or desiring to be elsewhere, non-striving in mindfulness is about being here and now without anticipation of any future outcomes.
In a culture that values progress, non-striving can seem counterintuitive to success and well-being. In this modern society, we are continually presented with information that suggests we need to be, do, or achieve more. However, ancient cultures have long understood the beauty and power of presence, for all we ever really have is this moment. Learning to be here and now goes against the grain of what we’re taught, yet it brings us right back to who and where we really are.
Listen to Eckhart Tolle talk about settling into presence
How to Practice Non-Striving
Now, when we are practicing mindfulness, we might misunderstand what it means to ‘non-strive’. For instance, when we are in silent meditation and note that the mind is thinking about what it wants to achieve tomorrow or next year, our first response might be to force that thought away.
The paradox with pushing these thoughts away is that we might then be striving for something different – perhaps perfection or escape. What we can practice instead when we notice the mind wandering into thoughts about the future or escape is to witness this tendency without applying positive or negative judgment. Instead, we can simply say, “I see you,” and gently come back to this present moment as the seeking mind softens naturally.
This does not mean we won’t have goals or aspirations in life. The attitudinal foundation of non-striving is simply an invitation to open ourselves up to where we are right now – to reconnect with this present moment with loving embrace.
“You might be tempted to avoid the messiness of daily living for the tranquility of stillness and peacefulness. This of course would be an attachment to stillness, and like any strong attachment, it leads to delusion. It arrests development and short-circuits the cultivation of wisdom.”
Non-Striving During Times of Difficulty
During times of difficulty, it is completely natural to want to strive to escape or fix our challenges. For instance, if we are struggling financially, it is reasonable to want to make plans and to take action to support ourselves. Likewise, when we see destruction of the natural environment occurring, it is understandable to want to stop it – to fix it. Action is a part of what it means to be human, but through presence practice, we learn to hold the duality of present-moment acceptance and a heartfelt longing to bring more light and love to this world.
Non-striving in mindfulness and meditation is simply a practice of taking a moment’s pause from our incessant activity – both internal and external. In mindfulness meditation, when thoughts arise that say, “I wish things were different,” we can hold even these with open, loving embrace. This does not mean we are saying, “I am happy that things are the way they are.” It is simply a return to presence. From this place of presence, we can move forward in the world in wise and courageous ways.
To learn more about non-striving, listen to Jon Kabat-Zinn talk about this attitudinal foundation of mindfulness
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