Beyond the Striving Journey
This isn’t flying. It’s falling… with style!
Immediately after publishing Trust Your Struggle, I received an email from my friend Parker Sherry, from SpiritQuest Sanctuary:
Strive to be a clean instrument. It’s the striving that’s key, and the striving journey is the real destination. “I don’t take pride in my accomplishments,” Andre Agassi once said, “I take pride in the striving.” Or as Gandhi wrote, “infinite striving to be the best is not only a person’s duty; it is its own reward.”
It made me think of the evolution of my articles and writing. For me, writing has been a journey of communicating thoughts and philosophy. It has its own pace and rhythm as I explore concepts… from suffering to struggling… to striving. It is interesting because they are three ways to describe an experience and each word captures a different perspective of the experience.
experience or be subjected to (something bad or unpleasant).
make forceful or violent efforts to get free of restraint or constriction.
make great efforts to achieve or obtain something.
Suffering is passive. It is something that happens to you.
Struggling is breaking through resistance, forcefully.
Striving is choosing to achieve a goal.
What’s beyond striving?
Named by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in 1975, Flow is a state of consciousness during which, people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with life. Csíkszentmihályi originally published Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience in 1990 and the idea of flow has been popularized in human performance circles in recent years.
Flow is being in the zone. It is what professional athletes train for. It is what software engineers hate being interrupted from while they are coding. In Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work, Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal write about the elements of flow.
Driven by four accelerating forces — psychology, neurobiology, technology, and pharmacology — we are gaining access to and insights about some of the most contested and misunderstood terrain in history. Stealing Fire is a provocative examination of what’s actually possible; a guidebook for anyone who wants to radically upgrade their life.
In Stealing Fire, flow is described as having four primary subjective experiences:
- Selflessness — the sense of self disappears.
- Timelessness — the sense of time disappears.
- Effortlessness — intrinsic motivation and high levels of performance.
- Richness — sensory bandwidth of information is highly enhanced.
Together, these are represented by the acronym STER. My word for it is aliveness. Kotler and Wheal also created the Flow Genome Project, a project to “Unlock The Next Level Of Human Performance.” There are a lot of resources for finding flow.
A couple of years ago, I was working on a Burning Man art project called Teeter. We were hoping to build a 48 foot-tall, 220 foot-long four-person teeter-totter. Stephen, the lead artist, had built some scale models, and I played with some basic rendering to capture the feeling of the project.
The goal of this project was to send a pair of riders (strapped in) on each end of the Teeter floating up into the air, powered by a gentle push from their legs, alternating launching each pair into the air as the LED lights pulsed, as the music and the background of the Playa danced around this giant art piece.
It was ambitious. We weren’t able to get the project fully funded beyond the design phase, but it’s still a dream of mine to manifest it someday.
Most humans experience a fear of heights (after all, we do die when we fall from high places, so it’s natural) and this can be used to create a state of flow because overcoming fear while nearly fifty feet in the air gives a certain sense of aliveness. This was the goal.
Thrill-seeking, cliff-jumping, skydiving, fast vehicles, extreme sports, and the excitement of danger can create this sense of aliveness. Plant medicines and psychedelics are paths to this aliveness. Breathtaking beauty, the dwelling place of the divine, is also a vehicle to aliveness. Aliveness feels like love.
It seems to be a truth that we feel the most alive when we find courage in the face of death. Responsibly capturing this aliveness in the presence of fear and harnessing it with a growth and training perspective can be transformative. Confronting fear to push trauma up to the surface and transmuting it with aliveness is the magic. The catharsis when we break past our limits is when we can heal ourselves into self-love.
During the Teeter project, Stephen stumbled on a book review of Teju Cole’s book of essays, Known and Strange Things that contained the quote:
“The Balance Favors Epiphany.” -Teju Cole
He mentioned it as capturing the essence of Teeter and it really resonated with me. Flow is sometimes fetishized and constantly running in bliss states, seeking peak experiences, being “bliss junkies” as Steal Fire cautions against, can overclock the human hardware. Striving is important but so is balance. Up and down, effort and rest, seduction and orgasm, waking and sleeping, breathing in and breathing out, life is all about balance.
Finding ways to experience peak states and training the human machine to be able to tap into that space is a key practice to raise our consciousness. The goal is to retain an echo of that sense of aliveness and bring that state into our everyday lives and feel it, fully present, almost as a background process, in everything we do, even when we are doing nothing.
Wu Wei (無爲)
Wu Wei (無為) is a Chinese concept that literally translates to “non-doing” and is an important concept of Taoism. 無為而無不為 (wú wéi ér wú bù wéi) is a poetic phrase that translates to “Do nothing… yet leave nothing undone.”
Shibumi (渋み) is a Japanese concept that captures the paradox of the very best of everything and nothing at all. Elegant simplicity. Effortless perfection.
Leo Gura, from Actualized.org, provides a great way to visualize the paradox:
In my journey, the key to integrating the peak experiences, the deep internal explorations through all the different modalities is to feel into the paradox of life. The other day, in a conversation with Satyen Raja, the Warrior Sage, he recommended as part of our Jedi training, “searching for and integrating the antagonistic dualities.”
Sitting in this, meditating on it, feeling into the paradox, and acting with effortless perfection is the way through.
It is the 道 Dao.
The Life Journey is a series of articles about philosophy, self, and life.
- Part 1: On the Nature of Suffering
- Part 2: Trust Your Struggle
- Part 3: Beyond the Striving Journey
- Part 4: Escaping the Victim Control Drama
- Part 5: Grief is the Flower that Blooms at the End of Love