Wednesday, October 3, 2012


Trying to become like somebody else, or like your ideal, is one of the main causes of contradiction, confusion, conflict. A mind that is confused, whatever it does, at any level, will remain confused; any action born of confusion leads to further confusion. I see this very clearly; I see it as clearly as I see an immediate physical danger. So what happens? I cease to act in terms of confusion any more. Therefore inaction is complete action.  
--Jiddu Krishnamurti, Freedom from the Known

In school, we're taught how to solve solvable problems. A solvable problem is generally fixed by doing something. There's some technique or trick that takes care of it.

We are not necessarily taught how to handle the multitude of unsolvable problems that we are guaranteed to encounter in life, so our default response to intractable problems is usually to treat them like solvable ones and try to do something, even if every available action is a bad idea.

Inaction, aka not doing, aka not striving, is a great way to approach these problems. Not doing means not blundering around making problems more complicated. Remember the Beatles lyric, "When there's no easy answer, let it be..."

Doing and not-doing can alternate as you solve a tricky problem that involves a lot of uncertainty. In those cases, judicious not-doing is just as important as skilled doing. Not-doing includes waiting-and-seeing, not-opening-your-big-mouth, letting-your-opponent-make-the-first-move, etc.

Not striving has a similar meaning, on a bigger scale. We don't strive just to get a doughnut. We strive to become astronauts or doctors or movie stars. In other words, we strive to become something else.

Because everything is always changing, we're guaranteed to become something else no matter what. However, we're not guaranteed to become the particular something else that we had in mind. This gap between expectation and reality causes a lot of distress.

My question is: Can we get rid of that distress without giving up on life?

Not striving doesn't mean "sit still and waste away." It means "work hard and be sincere, but forget about the particular goal." It's great to have plans and to work hard at them, but think about why that is. I don't think it's because the end goal is going to be all-that-and-a-bag-of-chips. I think it's because we inherently love having something specific to work on every day.

Striving is when you sacrifice the present for the sake of plans and goals. Not striving is when you use plans and goals for the sake of structuring and enjoying the present. Both paths can look similar and require equal amounts of work, but only one path is oriented toward enjoying the entire journey.