Why do we strive for anything? And how do we know what we can't change and when to stop trying?Sep 11, 2019
(By Eldad Ben-Moshe)
Loved ones ❤
You know I love it when you write back, right?
And that I always answer personally?
Well sometimes, like today, I want to bring a particular question to everyone’s attention, because I believe many of you could benefit from it and from my answer.
This is another way in which we can study together as a growing community.
Last week's post was all about how I reacted to unhappy circumstances in which I suffered, and how it turned in an experience of profound peace, joy, and gratitude, even though the external situation didn't change.
One of the responses I got was this beautiful question by Anthony, and because I think many might have the same question I want to share it, and my answer, with you.
Due to the nature of the questions, this post is a bit more on the informative side, so if you hit a part that is more ‘heady,’ bear with me...
As always, I made sure to put some practical advice, examples, and personal stories in this post to make it all more interesting (lost love and a broken heart? Oh yes... it's all here!)
So here's what Anthony D. from the USA asked me this after my previous email and blog post, and I bet many of you ask the very same question (to keep his privacy, I changed and omitted some minor details):
And I want to ask you about it.
You do a better job of describing the process of managing painful thoughts than anyone else I’ve read besides Byron Katie. I assume you are familiar with her work.
Here’s the rub for me.
Let’s say this is all true.
"I remembered that I don’t really know what will be the best thing for
me, for others or for the world.
I remembered that I don't know why things happen and where they
I remembered that I’m unhappy only because things aren’t the way I
want them to be, like a little boy that doesn’t get what he wants.
Once I could see all that, and experience the effects of that on my
mind, my heart, and my body, it was easy to release, as this is
something I study, teach, coach, and practice. “
If that is all true, why do we strive for anything? If I don’t know what will be the best for me, and I fully accept this, should I ignore my impulses to go after what I want?
Let me give you an example.
I just spent almost 3 years learning how to professionally become a chef. It had been my dream since I was a teenager to make one. Most of my dream came true.
I moved to ____ which has a world class cooking scene, was able in time to meet top professionals who loved my work and compare me to (big name in Anthony’s industry. You know that name. Super big) and who were willing to work with me even as someone without a career at present.
So I spent 18 months making the ____. It came out better than I could ever have imagined. It’s really a masterpiece for me.
Then I spent 6 months trying to get a foothold, even a tiny one, to try and monetize the ____. To try to move forward a professional career as a chef. No luck. The train of support had stopped entirely.
This has broken my heart and spirit.
After my former career went down the toilet, and my marriage, I thought I’d pursue another passion, one I’d been called to pursue my entire life.
I threw everything I had at it, money, time, contacts, favors, hard work, study, I spent hundreds of hours ...
And, I’m at the end of the day the _______ has gone from my guiding star to an albatross around my neck of disappointment.
Do I say, ok life, fuck you? I will never try again? Or attack myself as a fool?
Or do I say, ok life, you know what’s best. If you wanted me to have a cooking career and make money, you would put a way to do it in my path.
Or do I keep pursuing the professional career and now market the _____ myself?
This is where I get stuck with your method and Byron Katie’s. Does that make sense?
If everything is relative and subjective, nothing is worth pursuing at all.
And yes, accepting what we can not change, like your camping trip and getting sick, is a key to happiness. And how do we know what we can not change and when?
Would love to hear your thoughts!
There are different levels in which I can answer your questions, and I’ll touch a few of them, one at a time. As much as possible, I've put them in an order where one flows to the next in line, to make it more streamlined and easy to understand.
So here we go:
1. The common answer.
The typical answer that you'll get from most coaches (and perhaps from friends) is that many people have failed so many times, or were rejected, before they succeeded.
Famous examples include:
- JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, who was rejected by 12 major publishers before getting her first, very tiny ‘yes’ (And I bet those 12 publishers can’t sleep at night to this day).
- Michael Jordan, who’s often quoted to have said “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life.”
- Walt Disney, who was fired from the Kansas City Star by his editor that thought he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas” (imagine that!).
- Steven Spielberg, who was rejected by the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts multiple times (what were they thinking?)
And on and on it goes.
So don’t be too quick to judge that your business attempt has no hope.
But while this might be helpful and inspirational, this is just the surface level.
And, it doesn’t quite answer all your questions, especially the ones about the process I was describing in my previous post.
So let’s dive deeper than that, shall we?
If I distill your questions, I find that they are about what should you do:
“If that is all true, why do we strive for anything? Should I ignore my impulses to go after what I want?
Do I say, ok life, fuck you? I will never try again? Or do I keep pursuing the professional career and now market the _____ myself?
How do we know what we can not change and when?”
What I wrote about was not about what I choose to do in the external world. It was a change of mind - from worrying about getting out of the hospital on time, to being ok even if it doesn’t happen.
And I think that is why you ‘get stuck with the method’ - You're using the method directly on the external, looking for a rule for decision making (‘should I give my business another go?’).
Instead, use it on the internal state of mind (I’m unhappy, in pain and suffering because my business failed) and let that affect the external.
You might think that your happiness will depend on your decision about what to do in the world (what to do next with my business), but it doesn’t.
How we react internally to what's happening is what’s relevant to our happiness, not what we decide to do in the world.
And how we react internally is a result of our beliefs and practices of psychological and spiritual growth.
Thinking your happiness wil depend on your decision about what to do in the world, you’re looking for the answer in the wrong place, and therefore the focus of your question is in the wrong place as well.
As the Course in Miracles so beautifully says:
“Seek not outside yourself.
For it will fail, and you will weep each time an idol falls...
Seek not outside yourself.
For all your pain comes simply from a futile search for what you want, insisting where it must be found.
What if it is not there?
Do you prefer that you be right or happy?”
I’ll offer you my own experience with the Better Life Awareness Center as an example -
The way I approach this is that I offer myself and my practices to the world. It’s their business if they want it or not.
Yes, I'm working hard to make it happen, and to make a living out of this. I’m busting my ass days and nights, also helping in Erica’s business and taking a massive part in raising our boy Matan.
So I give it my very best. But my happiness does not depend on the success of my business.
Whether or not people want what I offer is 'their business'.
'My business' is my emotional, mental, and spiritual state.
My happiness, suffering, and awakening.
'My business' is how I react when it succeeds or fails, how I respond to whatever life brings. That is what the practice is about.
In the story I shared on my previous blog post, I was in the hospital on my birthday and wanted to go camping, I wanted things to be different.
So I suffered (perhaps your situation now) until I saw I was creating my suffering (maybe your condition after you practice B-AIR), and then I did the other part of the practice and I didn’t suffer anymore.
Nothing external changed.
Whether you try doing your cooking business again or not, whether your business will succeed or not, is not what this is about.
It’s about how you are when things happen, and how to suffer less and live a happier, better life in spite of what happens in life.
So it seems to me that you’re kind of trying to use this method on the wrong issue - on what to do rather than on how to be, how to receive things. That is why you get stuck with it.
3. The key understanding: What’s the goal of it all?
We all want to gain happiness and avoid suffering (yes, even an Enneagram type 4…). It’s just the way our minds work.
You want your cooking business to succeed because you believe that will bring you happiness. If you believed business success would bring you suffering, you would not have been upset that it failed.
The source of the problem is inside, in our minds, in our perception, our beliefs - including our beliefs about what will make us happy or suffer.
Therefore, the answer and the change are there too. The process I described in my story deals with the cause of the problem, not the effect.
If you start dealing with the situation with the question “what should I choose to do?”, you might deal with the failed business (if you’re lucky), but not with your emotional pain and the cause of your suffering. Therefore the suffering will be back.
Unattended repeating patterns of thought and beliefs, and our attachment to what they say, are causing our suffering.
If you don’t deal with that, your suffering will come back again and again, in both similar and different forms - regardless of what you choose to do about your business.
4. Asking the right questions.
Since I want to be happy, the question is not “what should I do with my business,” but rather “why am I unhappy and what will make me happy?”.
The answers to that are always internal, in our mind, rather than external, in the world.
Does that mean not doing things in the world and that anything goes?
No. Because we don’t fully believe that yet.
Even if we understand the theory, we don’t fully experience it to be true.
At least some part of us still thinks our happiness and suffering are a result of what’s happening in the world.
Acting according to where we really are is vital. Honesty is critical.
5. Answering honestly
The only honest answer to the question “what results in the world will make me happy” is “I don’t know, and I can’t know” because we have no idea how things will evolve - personally and globally.
For example, if your business had succeeded - you could just as much ended up just like many other people who got super famous, successful and rich: alone, depressed, drunk, in debt, addicted, and even commit suicide.
We don't want to hear that, but we know it's true - because we've seen it happen so many times already.
The richest ones sometimes ended in debt, some of the most loved ones committed suicide. Our logic as to what will bring us happiness fails time and time again.
Getting what I want doesn't guarantee happiness.
We don’t know how things will evolve.
6. Not denying what we feel, think, and want.
Understanding what I wrote above does not mean we experience it fully and all the time.
So the important part here is not to deny or restrain what we really feel, think, and want.
Suppression (consciously restraining or controlling what we really think or feel) and repression (an unconscious forgetting, denying or ignoring of emotions, motivations, memories, etc.) can be a very unhealthy result of doing the inner work in an unhealthy, unbalanced way.
I personally believe that a lot of the work and tips that are given nowadays are leading to unhealthy repression and suppression.
Even great systems like meditation, the Enneagram and A Course in Miracles can lead to that if misunderstood or wrongly used, and sadly that happens all too often because most people do not understand the systems well enough.
To add to that, we also misunderstand these great tools because our ego wants us to misunderstand them so that the change they bring won't happen.
The change they will bring, even if we think we want it, is presenting a huge unconscious threat to our ego and our sense of wellbeing, and even to our very sense of existence.
So what to do?
Be honest, and act according to where you are in the moment.
Translation: While understanding that I cannot know what’s best for me, for others, and the world, and therefore releasing my attachment to the results I wanted, I still acknowledge I have a preference to a specific outcome.
For example, I want my business to succeed, as I believe that will make me happy.
So I will act according to my beliefs and preferences, and try my best to make it thrive.
Spiritually, you can connect with your inner guidance, and act from there as well.
That can be tricky and requires practicing the ability to distinguish between the voice of our ego and the voice of our guidance/our authentic self.
But that is one of the best practices one can do to have a better, happier, more awakened life.
7. What to choose?
Now that we know all that, let’s go back to your questions about how to decide what to do next:
"Do I say, ok life, fuck you? I will never try again? Or attack myself as a fool?
Or do I say, ok life, you know what’s best. If you wanted me to have a cooking career and make money, you would put a way to do it in my path.
Or do I keep pursuing the professional career and now market the _____ myself?"
First and foremost, do not attack yourself.
Shame, guilt, and attacking yourself or others not only doesn’t solve anything but also makes everything worse.
Notice that I’m talking about the internal attack.
The external attack can be the right thing to do (for example in a case of self-defense), but it is better done without anger and hate (both of which are specific forms of internal attack).
As for the different business options - trying again vs. letting go, this really is a case-by-case based question.
There is no universal answer as to what to do externally.
The universal answer will be what to do internally: connect with your inside, with your truth and guidance - psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually.
You might find that you want to try again, and you might find that you don’t.
Both are ok.
Nobody can know that except you.
Many times the answer will not be clear, and it will be a process to figure things out.
For example, you might want to have another go at it, but will be afraid, or don’t have any money left to risk another round of going at it.
Or maybe you’ll find that there is the idea of wanting to try again, and the idea of wanting to succeed, a fantasy about how it would be like - but deeper inside you might find you’d rather do something else.
That might be a surprising revelation, or it might feel like you knew it all along but didn’t want to admit it.
In either case, the answer to your question is to go inside, as that where the answers are.
And yes, many times the process will take time, and you will have to guess before you know.
You’ll have to choose, and it will be hard because you want clarity.
But that's life, and sometimes we have to throw our arrows in the dark, live with the uncertainty and the unknown.
8. Befriend the unknown.
That is probably the bottom line of it all.
The fear of the unknown is one of our biggest fears, if not the biggest of them.
Alongside it at the top of the list are fear of suffering, fear of not being loved, and fear of not existing. And yes, they are all connected.
If we had known for certainty, as an absolute fact, that there’s life after death and that it’s so much better than life here, even our fear of death would be either gone or at least not as big as it is.
It's the uncertainty about it all that bothers us, it is the unknown that makes us so afraid.
In this life, in this world, we just don’t know.
We want to know for the sake of security, and because it gives us a sense of identity, and so we imagine that we know, we are sure that we know, but we have no idea.
So sometimes, as much as you would like to know what to do with your business, you will not know.
This is another reason why the psychological & spiritual work in general, and learning how to deal with pain, suffering, and life specifically, is so important.
Done right, these skills will help you deal with the unknown too.
On a personal note, I'll add that my wife and I each set a "word of the year" each year. It's very helpful and focusing.
On 2018, my 'word' of the year was "I do not know what anything is for."
Remembering that was so helpful during hard times.
9. How do I meet/receive what is happening?
So if I’m talking not about what to do but rather how to be; being rather than doing; internal work rather than external work - why should I deal with the things that happen in life?
The answer is that you'll deal with life either way because we have to.
Even running to meditate in a cave is a way of dealing with life.
What changes, the difference between doing your inner work and not doing it, is in how we meet life and what happens in life.
In other words, when I don’t get what I want, how do I react internally?
Because what I choose to do externally is a direct result of that.
The change of mind affects what I choose to do and how I choose to do it.
In my case, having a peaceful, happy state of mind (instead of the agitated, anxious state I was in) enabled me not to be worried about or bothered by the result - because I wasn’t attached to my preference.
It’s like preferring to have pasta over rice for lunch, but not really caring, so if I get rice I’m still happy.
In your case, the understanding that you can’t know what’s best for you might bring a more peaceful state of mind as to what happened might leave room for the unknown.
And once you’re more peaceful, you already gained the important thing - you’re already happier.
But it doesn’t stop there.
Once you’re more peaceful, it’s also easier to go inside and listen to your guidance, and know what to do next in the world, or to deal with the unknown in a better, calmer way, and thus again - be happier.
After all, that is what we want.
The business we try to make, the life partner we seek to have, the places we want to see, even the spiritual awakening we are after - we want and try because we believe they will make us happier, and help us live a better life.
So focus on the end, not on the means.
Remember your goal is happiness, not a specific this or that.
Remember you don’t know about the external things - you don’t know what will make you happy in the long run, and how things will affect others and the world as well.
Leave room for the unknown.
Learn how to deal with pain, suffering, fear, guilt, shame, and the unknown.
Do your part. Life will undoubtedly do it’s thing too.
And if you learn to dance together with life, you’ll enjoy the ride much more.
10. So, to answer your questions-
- “If that is all true, why do we strive for anything?”
Because we do. Beyond all logic and mind-stuff, the simple answer is that we do. Our desires, wants, and dreams do not go away that easily...
Perhaps fully enlightened beings don’t strive, as they're supposedly beyond the ego-mind complex.
But for the rest of us ‘normal’ humans, you can deny that you strive, you can try to bury your desires, but it’s part of your human nature.
Only dead people (and again, perhaps fully enlightened ones) don’t want anything.
- “Should I ignore my impulses to go after what I want?”
You can try…
Sometimes you’ll succeed. Sometimes you won’t. Sometimes it will be the right, healthy thing to do, and sometimes not.
You are asking for a one-size-fits-all answer, but there is none. Not about what to do externally. Life is too alive, dynamic, and complex for that.
- “Do I say, ok life, fuck you? I will never try again? Or attack myself as a fool?”
No, never attack yourself.
You can think you made a mistake and try to do things differently, but do that lovingly and peacefully, with compassion and forgiveness.
Do not attack yourself.
And if you do attack yourself (we are still not perfect, right?) - don’t attack yourself for attacking yourself…
Love, understanding, and compassion are a better path.
It’s a work in progress.
- “Or do I say, ok life, you know what’s best. If you wanted me to have a cooking career and make money, you would put a way to do it in my path. Or do I keep pursuing the professional career and now market the _____ myself?”
Again, no universal answer on the external level.
The answer changes on a case by case basis.
Go inside, that’s the best thing you can do.
That will also lead to your personal answer to your specific situation.
“The best guru is the Divine in you. Yearn for hearing his voice” (Sai Baba).
This question of yours also touches on the subject of ‘life is giving me signs, telling me what to do.’
An essential understanding is that this is also subjective.
We see through filters (the Enneagram describes them oh-so-well) so we read life’s events - whether they really are messages or not - through our filters such as our personality, past events, etc.
So following ‘what life tells me to do’ is a very tricky practice.
You might never really know if you got the message right.
In fact, the very belief that life is sending you a message is also subjective, not a fact, and you believe it (or don’t believe it) because of your filters (personality, past, etc.).
A Course in Miracles pushes this a step further, as it so often does, and says that “I see ONLY the past” (caps by me, not originally).
Having practiced that for years and years, I believe the course is absolutely right.
- “how do we know what we can not change and when?”
Sometimes we know (especially if we practicing going inside and connecting with that which is bigger than our ego/mind/self).
But sometimes we don’t, and a big part of living a happier, better life is learning how to deal with, and even walking into, the unknown.
You are asking for certainty in an uncertain life, in a world of uncertainties, and while that’s normal and understandable, you can’t have it.
It’s just the way the game is set up.
Let me share with you something more personal on that point of how do we know how far to continue our efforts and when to stop.
Some years ago, when I was in my late 20’s, I fell deeply in love.
I tried to make it happen for years, and while I got small successes, it never turned into the full-on relationship that I wanted so badly.
While today I’m grateful for this because otherwise I wouldn’t be here, in the present situation that I love and appreciate so much, I was truly devastated and heartbroken at the time.
In hindsight, I should have stopped trying much earlier.
I only stopped when a friend reflected certain things to me.
But if I had stopped trying much earlier than I did, I probably wouldn’t have been here today.
So was it bad that I didn’t stop earlier?
Truth is that we don’t know.
Befriend the “I don’t know” part because it’s the truth, and this truth actually will set you free.
To use a variation of Socratese’s immortal words of wisdom, the only thing I know is that I don’t know.
It also brings honest humility into the game of life.
11. The spiritual answer.
Your questions are based on some assumptions that might not be true, especially from the spiritual perspective.
Consider these possibilities, often suggested by all (or most) major spiritual paths and teachers, and see what it does to your questions:
- What if you're not the body and personality, you're not Anthony, and all of this is not happening to you at all?
- What if you have no free will, no freedom to choose, no choice to make externally as Anthony?
Some paths say it was all pre-written, or that it all already happened.
- Striving is of the ego, and therefore you might be better off not striving, but rather quieting your mind and see what comes up for you to do naturally, without the effort, goals, and desires of the ego.
(Not all goals and aspirations are of the ego. Just like the river flows to the see naturally, letting the divine work through you is very different than striving)
Spirituality, the Bottom line is that It doesn’t really matter what you choose externally.
There are many reasons for that. One of them is that life will keep giving you growth opportunities whatever you decide to do.
Being a world of duality, the river of life will continue to flow between the banks of pleasure and pain, as Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj says.
You’ll keep experiencing both. What matters is how you’ll deal with that, how you’ll think, feel, and react when that happens.
Had you succeeded with your business, or if you’ll try again and will succeed, this answer will stay the same.
That might be a hard pill to swallow at first (‘what do you mean it doesn’t matter?’).
But taken in the right context, and with the proper spiritual understanding (for example - learn to walk both worlds), it can bring great peace, joy, and relief.
It can be very liberating.
Remember though, as anything can be misperceived and misinterpreted, that we’re talking about healthy, grounded spirituality, not fluffy irresponsible one.
Read my words within that context.
12. Actionable step - From information to transformation.
Keep in mind that an email and a blog are not a one-on-one coaching session in which I can ask you questions and work with your specific beliefs, stories and inclinations, so I’m trying to give a broad base of understanding, a framework to work with.
But real change will come only through practice and implantation (or divine grace), no through knowledge.
And if you're ready to take this to the next step, from information to transformation, here’s my suggestion -
- Download the B-AIR guide if you haven’t done so yet.
- Do the entire process (it’s only 4 steps) on the emotional pain that you shared with me so beautifully. Don’t just read and understand - Implement.
- Tell me how it went. Share your experience with me.
In my popular post "18 of my best tips for a happier, better life", tip #18 was "Don't just read tips- implement. Take action", and I wrote that "That’s when we learn the most, so that might be the most important tip."
So I'll be consistent here, and say again that implementing is where transformation is, and therefore it's the most important part of it all.
Sadly, about 9 out of 10 people never do that.
To quote the Course in Miracles again,
“A theoretical foundation such as the text provides is necessary as a framework to make the exercises in this workbook meaningful.
Yet it is doing the exercises that will make the goal of the course possible.
An untrained mind can accomplish nothing.”
To your better life,
with tons of 💖
Founder, Teacher, and Coach
Better Life Awareness Center