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Radical Happiness Blog

The End of Striving

One of the gifts of terminal illness can be the cessation of striving. When we know that our life will soon be over—when the play we've been starring in is about to come to an end—we stop striving to be someone, get something, and get somewhere. The ego's story is all about being someone special by attaining or achieving something. The ego has a storyline in mind. It knows how it wants the story to go and how it wants the story to end, and it wonders how it will go and end. When all of that striving, dreaming, and desiring no longer make sense because we are about to die, we may be freed from the ego. The cessation of striving that often accompanies terminal illness opens the door to discovering and experiencing more fully who is really here and who has always been here beneath the costume. When our functioning is stripped away, our looks are gone, and possessions no longer mean anything, who or what remains? What a blessing it is to find out the truth about who we are. This discovery is one of the spiritual purposes of terminal illness.

Most of our thoughts are in service to the ego, the I that we think of ourselves as. They promote a story about ourselves that's driven by desires and other conditioning: “I have to do that, I should do that, I can't do that, I want that, I need that.” This story seems true and real. We believe we need our story to go a certain way, even when life has other plans. So we strive and push against life, trying to make that story happen—and happen on our own timetable. It's natural to do this. However, all this striving and suffering over how our story is going isn't necessary because life is happening anyway, and it's happening as it's meant to be happening, and on its own schedule.

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Unnecessary Thoughts

It's obvious that some thoughts are unnecessary. Many of our thoughts come out of nowhere and have nothing to do with what we're doing or experiencing. We are like radio stations, picking up signals that come from who knows where, and some thoughts are like that: They come out of nowhere and seem to have little relevance to us personally. But even thoughts about our past and future don't contribute to what we are doing. Even thoughts about what we are doing aren't necessary!

How many of the thoughts you are having right now, or in any other moment, actually contribute to what you are doing and experiencing? When you examine this, you will discover that most thoughts don't contribute to your life, and they aren't needed to function. Try to find an example of a thought that is necessary. Necessary thoughts are few and far between.

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Do What's in Front of You

Living from Essence is often a matter of doing what's in front of us: If something needs picking up, you naturally pick it up. If someone shows up who needs help, you offer it. If dishes need washing, you wash the dishes. If a job needs to be done, you do it, one step at a time. Or if you need to rest, you rest. Or if you need to eat, you eat. The mind complicates life with a lot of thoughts about how, when, why, and whether to do various things. It plans and thinks about doing things, when life is simpler than that.

Much of the time, living is just a matter of doing what arises to be done. Life calls on us to take action: Phones ring, children ask for assistance, dog's look at us longingly, email arrives, papers arrive on our desk, the refrigerator is empty, the laundry basket is full, ideas and inspiration arise. We may think that our ego and conditioning are responsible for accomplishing what we do in a day, but the ego doesn't actually do anything. (How can it, when it doesn't even exist?) The ego only thinks about doing things: It debates, pushes, resists, complains, and worries about whatever arises to be done. Meanwhile, we do what we do. We choose whether our doing is in response to the egoic mind or follows naturally from Essence.

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