The Zen-like Trick to Maximum Results
The grand challenge of life,
or certainly one of the biggies, is
in every moment
to simultaneously pursue what I want
let go of what I want.
Only there, in that stark juxtaposition between attacking and retreating, is the real tension of life experienced and the hope for real and lasting success found. Only there, in that delicate tension, is life truly mastered.
Of course, the grand task for most people is the letting go part. We are so conditioned to attack, attack, attack -- pursue, pursue, pursue -- that which we want. Our capitalist pursuit of happiness is precisely that -- a pursuit. And we are so conditioned to believe that success only comes in the incessant, even dogged, pursuit of that which we lust for (read 'money, sex, and food'; throw in 'drugs, of some sort' if you like, though that is too often the function of food). The notion of letting go of that pursuit, at all, not to mention the alien notion of keeping it in f-ing tension with pursuit, is beyond comprehension for most people, or at least most people under, say, 35 or 40. Age weathers us; it almost effortlessly deconstructs our previously held notions, not the least of which is the belief in the eternal virtue of pursuit. And that cracks open the possibility for letting-go (and perhaps even eventually living in the pursue/stop-pursuing tension).
Yet, quite contrary to that, are the souls who long ago jumped off the train of pursuit and are quite adept at not going after what they want. In fact, though most people think they're in the camp of not being able to stop pursuing, the real truth of the matter is that most people (read '99% or more') are much more in the business of never having pursued what they truly want.
Sure, I understand. See, what I have discovered in two and a half decades as a spiritual leader and guide is that most people, long ago, gave up ever pursuing what really makes their heart sing, what really lights them up, what really sets them on fire and going a hundred miles an hour. Most people -- and yes, I do mean 'most' -- have abdicated the determination of their life pursuits to those people in their past who were in the business of telling them what to do. Usually, and rather obviously, this takes the form of mom/dad and society. Later , the message that was cemented into one's soul is reinforced by friends, teachers, lovers, and eventually one's own progeny.
And the core message invariably takes the form of either 'The real you isn't good enough' and/or 'The real you doesn't matter' and either one, or both, are then affixed to the common ending, "...and so, you should do what I tell you to do and live the way I tell you to live." And, sadly, this deeply ingrained implicit message is all-too-often masked by the explicit message, "You can do whatever you want in life."
So, when the child gets that message through mom and dad's actions, the child's soul, at a very deep level, says, "Fuck that! I'm not going to keep showing the world -- i.e. family -- who I really am, only to keep getting my ass handed to me. I'm going to stuff away the real me and just start being whomever I gotta be to win praise and be seen as 'good enough', or at least be whomever I gotta be to avoid criticism, put-downs, or the implicit message that I suck or am not good enough the way I am."
Thus, from a very, very young age, little Billy or Suzie stops being who she really is and what feels good to be, and she starts becoming an expert at reading people and what they want, then adapts herself in every situation to be that person she needs to be to win praise or, at least, avoid criticism. For, it is far, far easier to be rejected for being some person you aren't than for showing the world who you really are and risking rejection of that. Criticism of one's real self exceeds nearly all other forms of pain in life. The greatest fear in life, apart from the proverbial acts of god, is the fear of showing the world who I really am, because that could lead to being rejected for who I really am; and that is an exquisite pain with no parallel. I would offer that it ultimately exceeds even the acts of god, such as losing a child, death of a dream, poverty, and loss of a lover; but I'd rather not get into that debate, at this moment.
Ultimately, the reason most people are incapable of living in the tension (in which there doesn't have to even be tension, per se) between pursuing and letting-go is because they've never really known what it is to pursue -- to truly attack or go after -- that which is written on the deepest depths of their soul to pursue. Most people live in the sheer terror of being who the f**k they really are.
Yet, for those who do eventually get worn down by the life-sucking pursuit of that which is not that them -- that which has been put on them by society and/or by family and friends -- there is a certain amount of strength that is gained, potentially. It is the strength that comes from pain. Eventually, your pain gets so bad that you say 'Fuck it!' and simply do the very tasks in life that formerly terrified you, whether it's leaving a marriage, cutting off a child, leaving a meaningless job, or what have you. Pain is a powerful motivator, and it takes many different forms -- from extreme boredom to discomfort, from mental anguish to physical wretchedness, from mind-numbingness to rage.
It is then that the seed is finally cracked open and begins to germinate. It is when the facade of living all that you thought you were supposed to be gets cracked open by life's pressures and pains that the possibility exists to become a more authentic version of yourself. Pain brings the courage necessary to move forward authentically. Yet, only guidance and the capacity in that guide to take you deeper, down to the real version of you, have the ability to get you to the most authentic version of yourself, rather than some money- and leisure-driven hybrid of yourself.
Living the Tension: Why?
But let's say that you did get on the path of living, more and more, a truly authentic version of yourself -- i.e. that which was written on your soul from your very beginning, long before becoming corrupted by parents who meant well but really had no clue how to unleash your true greatness. How would you go about living in that state of pursuing your true path yet letting go of it, as well, and doing so in every moment?
Well, perhaps, the real question isn't 'how' but 'why'? For, all of this yields the rather obvious question, 'Why?' Why would/should anyone choose to live that tension I espouse? What is to be gained from living in that state of going/not-going, pursuing/not-pursuing, attacking/letting-go? Even if the 'how' were doable, what is the explanation for the 'why'?
Well, the simple answer is that we tend to over-pursue and thereby do damage. We tend to clutter the path and the pursuit with so much shit that just isn't necessary. In so doing, we block the universe from having its say, from being able to work its magic. And when I was young, I never fully believed in the magic that I now, in older age, cannot deny, because I have seen it so many times and still see it in things great and small, nearly every day. The real mastery of life comes in pursuing that which our soul is hot for, yet letting go of it simultaneously. And the reason that is 'real mastery' is because that's simply when the most shit happens AND when the most powerful shit happens. We find the greatest movement toward the achievement of our passions not in our own actions, but AFTER our own actions when we let it go and allow the universe to stir and stew results we couldn't make happen on our hand; or BEFORE our own actions when we wait, wait, wait for the universe to give us an inspired path of action, rather than just busy work or a path of action that is driven by fear and fear's drive to stay busy or DO SOMETHING!
To be fully in-tune to the universe (and thereby engaging in our most authentic life and subsequently our highest joy and highest good) is to wait until the course of action is truly inspired and feels great, even when all the voices around you and inside you are saying, "Are you CRAZY??!!! You need to be doing thus and so, if you want success!!"
But nobody wants to take the path of trusting the universe, because it means waiting, not-doing, and simply being.....until the path of inspiration comes....and THEN going a hundred miles an hour with your hair on fire.....until the inspiration vanishes and it's time to back off, again, and let the universe go back to work. My high school wrestling coach used to say, "We wrestle in spurts, not all at one speed all the time." It's the same way with life -- the truly successful and truly fulfilled, happy, and at-peace people in life are those who have bled off their fears of not-doing; have mastered their own energy, such that they are capable of going 100mph one moment and staying at a dead stop then next, depending on the calling of their energy and where it is leading them; and who are, thus, capable of living in pursuit and letting go, basically simultaneously.
And the reason they do this is because they, too, have seen the grand results of doing so. Whether by hook or by crook, or quite by accident, they have seen in their own lives the results that come from letting go of that which they most want, even while they are simultaneously pursuing that which they most want and long for in the depths of their soul. The results manifest not merely in great external gains but, far more significantly, in the powerful internal calm that comes from it. There is a centering, a calm, a power, a peace, a really trippy joy that comes from being able to loosen one's grip and just let the fucker go, even while pursuing it. It's to be okay with not having it. It's to realize, also, that the real fun is in the pursuit; though the real fun is not even in the pursuit, per se, but in the being on the path that you know is your path. The real fun is in doing the shit in life you most love to do. The success, while a not unimportant element of the equation, is ultimately not the point; even while the success will naturally come when one is pursuing one's true passions, particularly when one is open to the leading of the universe into directions you perhaps didn't even realize you had interest in going.
And see, this is what makes pursuing/not-pursuing so damn hard. It requires letting go of what you think the results should be. It requires an orientation not to results but to the joy of the path, itself. Ultimately, as I've written in books and articles, previously, the task of life and the path of joy is to:
1) hear one's own inner voice,
2) have the courage to heed it, and then to
3) let go of results (for we are called to actions, not results).
So, to live in the pursuing/not-pursuing tension is to live in this constant tension between steps 2 and 3, action-wise: doing and letting go of results. Yet, forever staying in tune to step 1, being-wise. Step one always determines the path; the path is always culled from silence and non-action. But the actions are always this delicate movement of doing and releasing.
But, again, the problem is that we get sooooo married to the notion of results. We get so married to what we think the results should look like, and that version is a powerful motivator to action. But in the end, that is never what the final product/course looks like. And so the more we are open to the infusion of wisdom and action from the universe, the more we are open to far more powerful results. Our marriage to our own small visions, no matter how big they seem, ultimately limit and damage that which could be.
In other words, the reason for oscillating in every moment between pursuing and not-pursuing -- or, in the words of the 80's rock group .38 Special, "Hold on loosely" -- is because doing so brings the most massive results, both externally and internally. Doing so brings greater joy and lasting peace than you can possibly imagine. Doing so brings a level of fulfillment and satisfaction that are highly unlikely to be consistently achieved through a course of dogged action, even when success is never achieved in external results. Doing so, ultimately, brings an aliveness and power that you cannot even fucking imagine. Period.
Well, on one hand, the only way to get to the place of letting go of what society is pressuring you to want (not to mention what the voices of mom and dad are saying in your head) is to go through the pain of realizing that what everyone and everything external to you wants for you feels like real shitty shit and that you no longer have interest in pursuing it. But, setting that aside, not that you really can (or assuming you are on your real path that is most authentic to who you really are), the real way to get to the place of power that is living in the pursuing/not-pursuing tension is to ultimately be okay with never having that which you are convinced you most want.
It requires, in the end, the contentment with everything else in your life -- i.e. the medium and small things, such that if the big things are never achieved, life is still full of joy. As the great writer and psychiatrist Dr. James Hillman wrote, The problem in the pursuit of happiness is the pursuit; there is happiness right now. But what it requires is constructing a life that is happy NOT just when all the big things are in place (usually money, career, and love), but when the million little and medium things are in place. It's like living on a three-legged stool (money, career, love) or four-legged stool (money, career, love, kids). If that's all that is really supporting your life, when one of those is yanked out by life, as they invariably are in any life, the whole stool falls. But when the life is based on a million thousand hundred little and medium things, no one thing has the power to undermine the entire life in its absence.
I know this seems to bend toward the trite "Live in the moment" and that's a bit true, but it doesn't really work. For, while that saying is clever, it's not terribly instructive. The real essence of joy and inner fulfillment is found in examining your life and making sure that the million small and medium things actually really feeeeeel good to YOU! And it means in every moment reading your energy to see if it is calling you to shut down and do nothing yet wait for your next instruction, rev up and go 100mph, or simply savor something fun, lovely, or happy right now. Therein is the power to want something badly yet also not give a shit if you get it or not.
So, the question is, what is your energy calling you to do this minute, this moment? And, on the bigger level, what is your soul calling you to change your life pursuit to? And then, do you have a life that is joyful in all the small and medium things? And finally, if you do have these things, do you now have the ability to be okay with never getting the big things you want?
For, once you have achieved those levels, that's when the real shit starts to happen. That's when what transpires can only be called magic! That's when forces conspire to change your life in the most brilliant of ways and via avenues you could never have foreseen or planned, even with a mountain of incessant effort.
Do you have the courage to listen to and pursue who you really are and what is written on the deepest depths of your soul?
Now, do you have the power to let go of the results and simply enjoy the action of doing that which you love?
Do you have the courage to live far more boldly than you ever have before?
Do you have the courage to let go of that which seems the most logical path to what you want?
Do you have the ability to, in every moment, stop pursuing, stop holding on so tightly, and simply allow the forces of the universe to act and move on your behalf and in greatest concert with those around you?
Do you have the courage to finally come alive???
-- Sven Erlandson, MDiv, was the very first person to both name and delineate the 'spiritual but not religious' movement in America in his seminal book, "Spiritual but not Religious". He has written several other books and has a speaking and counseling practice in Manhattan and Stamford, CT (Badasscounseling.com).