Are you trying too hard?

Are there times when you feel you try really hard in life and yet things don’t turn out quite as you might hope? Sometimes (although we really don’t mean to) we can actually be trying too hard, without realising that this is what we are doing.  I was recently reminded of an occasion from a few years ago that I thought I’d share………….

Be still like a mountain and flow like a great river

Lao Tzu

My husband’s eyesight is not terribly good.  He’s had to wear glasses since he was 5.  My older son looks just like his dad and with this in mind, we should have probably realised that he might have inherited his dad’s eyesight. But it wasn’t until he had just gone up to high school that we recognised that this might be the case. One day, not long after the beginning of term, we got an email from a teacher saying she was having to sit him at the front of the class so he could see the ‘board’, and asking us if he’d had his eyesight checked recently?  Much to our embarrassment, and after a trip to the opticians, we realised he very much needed glasses, and probably had done so for some time.

So, we had to adjust to him wearing glasses just as he was going into his teens…….and also to him breaking glasses, and also to him loosing glasses……..which unfortunately seemed to happen on a fairly regular basis.

A selection of the broken ones!

The summer after he started wearing glasses we went camping in the Lake District for Spring Bank holiday.  One sunny day we went to a wonderful spot where there is a bridge over a small gorge that is perfect for swimming in on a warm day. Beautiful crystal-clear waters and a short stretch deep enough to swim in.  There were a few other people there, but it wasn’t too busy.  The boys were playing, jumping in and out quite happily……..until said son dropped into the conversation that he didn’t have his glasses any more…….and that maybe he might possibly have jumped in with them on.

We started looking about for them, in and out of the water but without much luck. Some of the other people there soon realised what we were doing and a number of them very kindly offered to help us with the search.  The challenge of diving down to the bottom of the gorge in search of the missing glasses was too much for them to resist.  They tried enthusiastically for quite a while and whilst their help was much appreciated, in the end we had to ask them to stop as no one could find them and we were thinking of heading off.  Maybe they weren’t there and perhaps they’d got washed down stream after all? And, thanks very much everybody for trying.

As it was coming to the end of the day, everyone else packed up too, such that it was just our family left sitting by the gorge, drying off and gathering our things together (minus a pair of glasses). 

It also meant that for the first time since we had got there, there was no one in the water and hence no one to disturb the surface, to create ripples or waves.  Because of the laminar nature of the flow, as we sat there, the column of water moving through the gorge gradually settled and became clear.  This meant that the stoney base of the gorge became visible…………and there as plain as day, were our son’s glasses, resting on the stones, exactly where he had jumped in the first time!

The bottom of the gorge in clear view!

All that energy, all that searching, all those people swimming about, diving down, trying to be helpful, trying really hard to reunite us with his glasses……and all we had to do was get out of the water and sit quietly, let everything settle……and we could see them. There they were, hiding in plain sight, where they had been all along. 

One last dive and they were retrieved, and we headed off back to the campsite for the evening, relieved that our son would be able to see for the rest of the trip!

A few years on, said same son (now at university) rang me up one day and asked if I’d heard of Wu Wei (the ancient art of non-doing)?  His friend liked the concept and he thought I might like it…….. I hadn’t really heard of it, so I looked it up on the internet and I liked it very much to.

This article from Uplift is a good read if you want to find out more about Wu Wei

As the above article explains: ‘Wu Wei is a Chinese concept central to Taoism and a core theme of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching. Translated literally as ‘non-doing,’ Wu Wei is not so much about ‘doing nothing’ as it is about aligning our movement with the greater flow of life. Often referred to as ‘natural action,’ Wu Wei does not involve excessive effort or struggle, but a kind of ‘going with the flow’ where we are able to move with the energy of the moment and respond freely to whatever situation that arises.

It was while reading this article that the glasses story came to my mind as an example of what happens when we try too hard to make things happen, instead of going with the flow……….literally, in this case.

Sometimes ‘less is more’ and ‘doing what needs to be done’ might not be very much at all.

As humans we naturally want to ‘solve’ problems, make things better, ‘do our best’ and we can so easily get caught up in the busyness of ‘doing something’ (cause doing anything is better than nothing right?) regardless of what might be the most helpful course of action.  But is it really always the case?  Sometimes ‘problems’ simply don’t need solving.  As Captain Jack Sparrow says in Pirates of the Caribbean:

“The problem is not the problem, the problem is your attitude about the problem!”

What happens when we pause a moment and see how things really are before we dive in….?  Sometimes it can be good to ask ourselves the questions…..”Am I trying too hard?”……“What actually needs to be done right now, if anything at all?” Often in these unhelpful times, when we feel like we are ‘swimming against the tide’, we find that we are operating with fixed ideas or plans, trying really hard to control things (often with the best of intentions) but that what’s really needed is to let go of our attachment to things being a certain way and to widen our perspective and be open to other possibilities …..

f you’re in tune with The Way Things Work, then they work the way they need to, no matter what you may think about it at the time. Later on you can look back and say, “Oh, now I understand. That had to happen so that those could happen, and those had to happen in order for this to happen…” Then you realise that even if you’d tried to make it all turn out perfectly, you couldn’t have done better, and if you’d really tried, you would have made a mess of the whole thing

Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh

Every now and then I find myself thinking “is this a glasses at the bottom of the gorge moment?”.  It makes me smile……….and reminds me to take a step back, before I jump in and start ‘splashing’ about to no avail. I can metaphorically sit by the gorge and allow the water to clear. 

Does this resonate with you? Or do you have any examples of your own that you can relate to? To bring to mind, that will help you to pause? That will allow you to create space and develop clarity in those moments when it’s easy to forget the value of ‘non-doing’ because of the pull of ‘doing’? If so please use them instead of mine.

If not, then please come and sit by the gorge with me, it’s lovely here right now………..