Effortless Effort

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Effortless effort? Sounds like a contradiction, right? It isn’t really. As I was reading Zen in the Martial Arts by Joe Hyams there was chapter on this so-called “effortless effort”. What does that mean? It is very simple actually; the less you try to work hard the more things get done. Any believer in Taoism, Buddhism, Zen or any Eastern Philosophy will tell you one simple thing; “Do nothing and everything gets done”.

Let me put this in real-world terms, what many Eastern philosophers are trying to say, is that when we need to do work, it can be any type of work from the most mundane to the most extravagant, it’s better to do that work in calm and tranquility. Putting a strong effort, or working hard, as the Western tradition teaches us to do is a struggle, it puts our mind in a fighting state, in a state worry, anxiousness, and hurry. The Taoists teaches us a different method of encountering work, in which we encounter every day. They suggest being calm and putting less effort into the work. Wait, less effort? Yes, less effort, while putting lots of effort or working really hard on something the only thing that runs through our mind is finishing the job or rather a fear of not finishing the job. Taoists suggest focusing on the task at hand, living in the present. It’s better to concentrate on what you are doing presently, and take it easy, so that the work you are doing will be done swiftly and in a much better fashion. When we stop caring about the consequences, the fears, the sense of hurry, the worries of not doing a good job, when all of that is absent from your mind, then you will truly be able to finish your work easily and without any problems. Think of this, when studying for an important exam that you only have a few days to study for, you are reading your textbook in order to study, but while reading your textbook you are probably thinking about the consequences of failing the exams, you might be dreading the amount of material that is needed to be studied, you might be thinking about the little time you have to study. Most of us don’t even realize those thoughts cross our mind while studying, but they do, and how do you know you are thinking those thoughts, through having feelings of frustration, incompetence, or worry. And how do we overcome these obstacles that limit our ability to work? It’s simple, stop caring! Stop caring about the consequences of not finishing, stop caring about the little time you have, stop caring about the implications of failing, stop caring about how difficult the work is, stop caring about everything. Once you stop caring about everything that might or might not happen in future then you will be able to finish the task at hand. Erase all those negative thoughts from your mind and focus on the current job. Just maintain a positive outlook; just keep thinking, and start realizing, the abundance of time you have, the wealth of knowledge you already have, start realizing that whatever happens in the future is not as important as what you are doing right now at this very moment. Living in the here and now will allow you to focus on your work and only on your work. For example as I am writing this right now, I’m letting the words come out naturally, not worrying about mistakes, not worrying about contradictions, not worrying about the amount of time I’m spending, not worrying whether or not my point is getting across. The only thing running through my mind is writing, writing this article without really caring about anything else. Same thing as a painter, a painter keeps on painting, naturally allowing the images in his head go onto the canvas without really putting an effort. Same thing as the fiction writer, they write everything and anything that goes through their head, they write the story as it plays out in their mind, and there is no room for any other thoughts while writing a story. There is just room for the story. Same thing as an athlete, a runner is not really, nor has the time to, care about the speed or position of his opponent, or the thought of losing the race, the only thing that goes through the successful runner’s mind is just running. There are moments where we just need to stop caring and just go about things naturally and easily. Along with the main Taoist belief of going with the flow goes with this idea of effortless effort. It’s better to allow ideas, motivation, or inspiration naturally into your work. For example the writer who claims to have writers block only has writers block because they are only thinking about a lack of inspiration. For the writer, for the painter, for the runner, for the student, for anybody, just going with the flow and allowing a calmness and tranquility overcome you and your work will allow you to finish many more things much more quickly. This philosophy of effortless effort can be applied to every facet of life, from brushing your teeth, to watering the garden, to eating your dinner, to studying for an exam, to finish a big project, to maintaining a healthily relationship with a significant other, putting an effortless effort to everything in your life will allow you to get so many things done.

In western culture we are taught to try hard to get the things we want. If we fail in getting those things we have to try even harder. It’s as through sacrifice and struggle is the only way to achieve things that are crucial in our lives. But in our lives the most important, life-depending, things are done without an effort. Breathing, digesting, sleeping, cell replication, heart rate, and body temperature are all done without an effort, yet they are all things we depend on, that we need to live on. They are so effortless they don’t even require thought. Look at nature, everything in nature is done without effort. The sun sets and rises without effort. The rivers flow without effort. Plants and trees grow without strain. The planets, including earth, revolve without being forced to. Animals live and procreate without an effort. So all things in nature, all things our lives depend on, are done without a single effort, they are all done naturally. How is this relevant to our lives? Well if all these things in nature and our crucial bodily functions, the most important things in our lives, are done without effort, then is it necessary to put any effort in other (less important) things in life? Not really, just allow things to go naturally. And when you have some work to do, its solution will come naturally to you. Effortless effort does not mean doing nothing. In order for an artist to finish a masterpiece he must paint, write, sing, or sculpt. For an athlete to complete a feat he must run, jump, swim, or throw. For the blood in our body to circulate our hearts must contract. But all those things are done without effort, all are done naturally. Same thing as anything we encounter in our lives, we have to approach it effortlessly, and we have to go about it naturally. We have to let our natural abilities and our natural will take charge. Ultimately if we want to achieve something we will achieve, and we can achieve without working really hard to get it.

This brings into mind that the best things in life come without any effort and work. The best things in life come naturally. As with our ability to breath, eat, and sleep, things we all truly try to achieve in life comes easy to us. To find peace, we just let the right place and right time give us the tranquility we need. To find love, we just let the right person at the right time to come into our lives. To find our true talents, we automatically start doing something that comes extremely easy to us. To find our calling, we find something we are good at doing, we find something we are passionate about and we decide to do it for the majority of our lives. Through no struggle and minimal effort our lives manage to live out the way we want it to. Nothing in life really requires a struggle, when we struggle everything around us struggles back. As many people say, you cannot fight fire with fire. We just need to go with the flow, take things that might seem challenging in our lives and go through it with minimal effort. Not going about things head-on, but calmly and collectively thinking of all ways to finish something. Many people will say life is hard, life is a bitch, but that is simply not true. If you are breathing without an effort then that is the most irrevocable proof that life is easy. Life is easy, life is natural, and everything that happens in life is a natural process in which we must respond to it naturally. As the Taoists preach; just live life to the fullest by enjoying everything around you, by taking things with ease, and by maintaining a positive mindset. Just remember “Do nothing and everything gets done”.

"Don't get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water. Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend." -Bruce Lee


Marty said...

interesting concept. I'm about to try it right now cause I gotta study for a test. classic bruce lee quote at the end.

speaking of bruce lee, did you hear the one where a master martial artist went to Bruce Lee to learn from him, and Bruce lee refused at first. then when he finally convinced bruce lee to teach him, he put on a demonstration for bruce lee showing off all of his moves and whatnot. afterwards, Bruce Lee asked the martial artist if he wanted some tea, and he said yes. so bruce lee took a cup and started pouring tea into it, but he didn't stop pouring even when the cup was already full and overflowing. the martial artist got mad and confused and said "what are you doing". and Bruce Lee said "Much like the cup are you."

actually, I think he used this in one of his movies, so you probably seen this before.

ProphetZen said...

thanks for reading Marty!

and yea I saw that scene, it's from his TV show, Green Hornet. but he also did this to many of his students including the guy who wrote Zen in the Martial Arts, the book I mentioned today.

Marty said...

yea it works by the way lol