Call off the Struggle

The Struggle

Two Zen monks were walking through the woods. Suddenly, one Zen monk turned to the other and slapped him.

“Ouch! Why did you do that!” cried the slapped monk.

The first said, “I’m Zen monk, I can get away with shit like that.”

It is so very simple. And the ego loves to complicate it. Really, there is absolutely no need to struggle.

In the Indian epic, the Mahabharata—the great 50,000 verse epic poem of human delusion and foible, the climactic scene takes place in Kurukshetra, 5000 years ago, when two powerful, unmovable armies of men, elephants, camels, sharp steel, and fiery missiles face each other, and the heroic warrior-prince Arjuna, throws down his weapons, refusing to fight. He does not want to kill.

Krishna talks him into it. Krishna’s words to Arjuna on the battlefield constitute the Bhagvad Gita, the Celestial Song .

Mahatma Gandhi had some trouble with this scene. How is it that Krishna was promoting violence, urging his young charge to pick up his lethal bow and arrows and decimate his brethren?

Gandhi resolved his conflict by deciding that the battle of Kurukshetra is symbolic of our inner struggle. No battle is more destructive than the struggle that rages on in the mind. It saps our joy and energy in every moment of our lives. We are weighed down by the past and the compulsive anticipation of the next moment. Most of us are rarely able to be present.

This inner struggle manifests in various ways. In my life, I have experienced dark bouts of depression, which I can only describe as the complete absence of love, and debilitating anxiety, and proclivity to self-medicate with alcohol, and often a need for drama in relationships. Your demons are probably different. It is enough to say that if we are not feeling the joy of being–the joy of experiencing the magic and mystery of being alive–if we are not experiencing the flow, it is only because we struggle.

In presence there is intimacy with Truth. But most of us deeply identify with our thoughts, and so we automatically rebel against presence. Try it. Try to be present for five seconds. Sit still, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing. Do not think, just concentrate. What happens?

Most of us cannot be present for more than a second or two. The mind rebels, and we experience this as boredom or fear. This is a powerful and habitual recoiling back to the condition of separateness and struggle and effort. It is so prevalent that we have come to accept it as normal.

This moment, right here and right now, is uncomplicated, absent of drama, absent of problems, absent of unease, and absent of beliefs and opinions.

Try to not be present

There’s a lot said about being in the Now.

Try not to be in Now.

Where else can you be? You are always in the Now. No matter where you go, there you are, and it is always Now. The Now is the only experience you can ever have.

We don’t feel the flow because our attention is wrapped up in resistance. When we resist a thought or emotion, we strengthen it. When we stop resisting, stop interfering, stop participating, when we can simply and effortlessly be aware of whatever is going on inside us, we can release it.

Simply allow yourself to be aware. Watch, without mental resistance. Allow the effortless, gentle noticing. When thoughts are heavy, simply allow them and notice. When emotions are heavy, allow them, welcome them, make space for them, and let them go. It is just simple awareness.

A one minute meditation

Often, this inner noise manifests as stress.

First, notice when you are feeling stress. Sometimes it’s obvious. Sometimes it’s not so obvious–it’s a constant, low-grade unease which we don’t notice. This is why most of us are exhausted by the end of the day.

Bring attention to breathing. Often, under stress, with adrenaline and cortisol pumping in our veins, our breathing becomes shallow. So you may want to start by taking a deep, cleansing breath.

Progressively relax your muscles. Start with the crown of the head, move down to the facial muscles, relax them, and the neck and shoulders and so on. Sometimes it can help to purposely tighten and then relax the muscles.

Find stillness the between breaths. This is awareness. It is the the quiet, gentle, noticing, still awareness. This is the inner stop, where the mind is momentarily quiet. Be alert and aware in between breaths and you will feel it.

Other techniques

Observe thoughts, without participating in the thought-story, as passive watchfulness. The gaps between thoughts will expand and thoughts will diminish.

Become deeply present, completely in the Now.

Bring attention to the inner body. Listen with the body. Feel the tingling in the hands and fingers. Feel the subtle sensations in the muscles. Feel the constant sense of “shoulding” in the body, and release it.

Think of yourself in the third person.

Notice the voice of thought. Notice its acrimonious, criticizing tone, without interfering with it. Say hello to it. This voice is the voice of ego. Notice it with gentleness.

When an emotion is strong, allow it. Accept it, welcome it, make space for it. Then let it go. Just like that. It works even you think it doesn’t.

There are more techniques in the book Awareness and Release.

Your turn. What is your experience? Can you sit in a quiet room by yourself? What do you feel in those moments? Boredom? Fear? An anxious lurching?

27 thoughts on “Call off the Struggle

  1. Josh Hanagarne

    Ah, you had me at the serene monk saying “we can get away with shit like that.”

    Fantastic stuff. I’ve got an unnatural fascination with the concepts of stillness, meditation, serenity, etc. I’ve got Tourette’s Syndrome and it makes it impossible to sit still for even 10 seconds. But I’m still looking for ways around it.

    You’ve given me a couple more ideas to try out. Thanks as always.
    Take care friend.
    .-= Josh Hanagarne´s last blog ..If It’s Important, Do It Every Day =-.

    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Josh,
      I don’t know much about Tourette’s, except what I may have picked up, which is probably not accurate. I would be very interested in what your experience is with awareness and presence. You have a great blog, and I hope to see you here again!


  2. Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach

    One thing of which I’m always fond of telling my kids/friends is to ‘let it go’. If you feel something strongly (anger/hurt/what have you/etc.), first give yourself permission to accept and honor those feelings (as they’re quite valid)….get them out of your system and then simply, let them go.

    It does indeed work wonders.
    .-= Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach´s last blog ..BY Invitation ONLY – Income Fitness Launch =-.

    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Barbara,

      You’re so right, it does work. There is a resistance to trying–the mind always says how can it possibly so simple? It is.

      Thanks for the insightful comment.


  3. Megan "JoyGirl!" Bord

    I love what you’ve written here (and I really love that Liara quoted Yoda!). There are times when peace and stillness are the deliciousness that I sink my senses into, and other times when ego rules the roost and seeks chaos by stirring up boredom, anxiety and the like.
    We all have addictions; thank you for your candor about times when you’ve struggled. I’ve seen similar moments, but was finally able to come out of them when I surrendered to the moment I was in and woke up.
    This sentence, especially, moved me: “In presence there is intimacy with Truth.” I commented on a post of yours a few weeks back, telling you I experienced something like this in early Spring, and it freed me from an internal struggle. I became intimate with the truth, and realized (unlike ego wanted me to believe) that it wasn’t the big scary monster I thought it could be.

    Blessings to you and your wisdom!
    .-= Megan “JoyGirl!” Bord´s last blog ..Giving Freely =-.

    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Megan,

      “I experienced something like this in early Spring, and it freed me from an internal struggle.” That’s so a wonderful. It’s a very liberating shift.

      For me, it has gone in waves, as you say there are times when ego rules and times of flow. Overall, there is a relaxation into flow.

      Thanks for a very insightful comment!


  4. Brenda

    Sorry, Kaushik, but I totally did not get the monk joke. It makes me think of this though — fill what is empty, empty what is full, scratch where it itches. I can picture a monk doing that, but slapping someone for no reason? (I’m just going to assume it’s a guy thing.)
    .-= Brenda´s last blog ..More Mystery, Baby! =-.

    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Brenda,

      Yeah, the joke may have been a little brash. There’s a Zen story about about a monk smacking meditators to encourage them to keep attention in the Now. The joke was designed to wake up attention–sometimes we think about awareness, rather than be awareness.

      Thanks for your honest and helpful feedback, as always! I hope you are very well.

  5. Avani Mehta

    Gandhi’s interpretation of what happened is very interesting. I haven’t heard of this before.

    I sit by myself in silence from time to time. When I can’t stand silence, it’s often time for some self reflection – since it’s an indication that I am running away from something.

    The times when silence is comfortable, it’s actually a bliss.
    .-= Avani Mehta´s last blog ..I Am The Power =-.

    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Avani,

      That’s an excellent pointer: “When I can’t stand silence, it’s often time for some self reflection…”

      We should be completely comfortable with stillness and silence–most animals are. When we’re not, the mind is lurching out of the Now.

      Thanks for an insightful comment, as always!

  6. Zeenat{Positive Provocations}

    “This moment, right here and right now, is uncomplicated, absent of drama, absent of problems, absent of unease, and absent of beliefs and opinions.”

    That line really stood out for me Kaushik. Its true….where else can we be except in the NOW…but so much resistance makes us unaware of the NOW..and we end up being in the past or future as a result of it..and the Now just passes us by..

    Oh and the monk slap was good…:) made me smile at the simplicity of it.
    .-= Zeenat{Positive Provocations}´s last blog ..Letting Go of the Past: The Healing Power of Forgiveness & Release =-.

  7. Kaizan

    Hi Kaushik. Great post! Very thought provoking!

    The Bhagavad Gita is truly wisdom for the ages. I think the big lesson it gives about struggle, is that you can only ever take responsibility for your actions, not the fruits of your actions.

    Most of us struggle because we get hung up on not getting the results we want. But freedom from struggle lies in doing the action to the best of our abilities and letting go of the result.
    .-= Kaizan´s last blog ..The Simplest Most Effective Time Management System Ever =-.

  8. Nadia - Happy Lotus

    Hi Kaushik,

    During the phase of my life where I was studying with a Buddhist Master and almost became a nun, we studied the Mahabharata and the Gita in detail. And I remember really being bothered by that whole passage that you referred to in your post. I then talked about it with my teacher and then I found the answer in the section where Krishna tells Arjuna that if God were to reveal Himself in all His full glory, Arjuna would not be able to handle it.

    As a result, I came to see that it is not our place to understand what exactly happens and we just need to live in the moment, or as you stated, the now. I know that my response may seem not to relate to what you wrote but I think it ties in on some level. The inner struggle that we have is because we do not have all the answers so we fight with our ego who likes to think it knows everything.

    When we are still, we can see clearly. 🙂 Thank you for writing this post because it reminded me of how much I love the Hindu holy books.
    .-= Nadia – Happy Lotus´s last blog ..Sunday Song For August 23, 2009 =-.

    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Nadia,
      Life knows how to live when we get out of the driver’s seat–that is a truth I have experienced, and that is what you say–that we cannot always intellectually understand, and often it is not necessary to understand. Truth comes from beyond the intellect.

      There is much in Mahabharata and Ramayana that I do not understand, and yet the classical beauty of these ancient stories shines through.

      Thanks for visiting! I hope all is well.

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