Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Where We Grow

Someone asked recently whether we would grow spiritually without struggle. Good question. The Tao Te Ching describes a life in harmony with Tao as effortless, without conflict or strife. In martial arts, we train with the slogan “Don’t insist. Don’t resist.” We know that trying to force something or someone might work sometimes but there will always be someone stronger. We learn other ways of dealing with force that do not involve struggle.

So what is the role of struggle in our spiritual lives? If my true nature is one with the universe, where is the need for struggle? Struggle occurs when we are somehow in conflict with the natural flow of energy. It indicates a place where we are blocking our true nature. Perhaps it is not the struggle that promotes growth as much as the relinquishment of struggle. In that sense, struggle is not how we grow; it’s where we grow.

I like the phrase “the razor’s edge of practice.” This is where I am poised on a challenge, something that has the potential to get me hooked, something that triggers an urge to grasp or reject or control. The razor’s edge is where I have a choice about which side I’m going to step into – the side of conflict or the side of harmony.

Where that edge is, is different for different people. And different for the same person at different times. We might find ourselves on the razor’s edge infrequently, or every day! No matter. It is always an opportunity to make a choice to struggle or to release.

Lately, it has been on the daily end of the spectrum for me. I’d like to tell you that I always choose to release, especially with so many opportunities for practice (!), but that would be fibbing. When I step into struggle, however, I feel it throughout my body. I tense up, my breathing moves up into my chest, and I am caught in my thinking mind, like the hamster wheel I described in the last post.

No need to judge myself. Just belly breathe. Release the struggle and allow the natural flow of energy. Tolerate the discomfort and uncertainty with trust. Pour compassion over the fear. In this moment…and this one…

16 thoughts on “Where We Grow”

  1. 'Perhaps it is not the struggle that promotes growth as much as the relinquishment of struggle. In that sense, struggle is not how we grow; it’s where we grow.'

    I like your train of thought here, Galen. I have found that struggle allows us to be in a position to let go, to surrender to what is, and just be. In this way we grow in our humility, love and compassion. These are perhaps some outcomes of spirit growth that results in us, as we learn to be more human. Struggle can also create bitterness, hatred and fear if we do not relinquish control of outcome. We can develop the victim mentality and identify with that instead of growing as a result of struggle.I like this post and the question in your opening sentence.

  2. Thank you, Brian. And thanks for the added perspective on struggle that gets us locked into bitterness and fear. That is the other side of the razor's edge, isn't it?

  3. Society tends to reward and celebrate struggle, and question how 'good' something can feel or be if struggle wasn't a part of the experience. So, I think living in ease and joy and peace is so different, it requires faith and trust in the process.

    I've practiced presence to unfolding for two decades. In that, there was a period of time where my kids and I lived aboard a sailboat for five years, and I experienced that struggle wasn't needed to grow spiritually. Growth happened with joy, mostly, and peace and ease and love.

    It's not that opportunity to struggle wasn't there. As a new liveaboard, and a single mom of two children, there was plenty of opportunity to struggle. But, there was something about my practice and my faith, then, where it was easier to lean into, be present through and remain in flow with and honor unfolding. There was pain, but I understood the origins and it was easy to manage and hold space for.

    That's changed, I think in part because I experienced a pain (trauma) that I resisted and questioned and distracted me from honoring unfolding. I am just now learning to hold it and love myself through it and in that, as I bring myself back to honoring unfolding, the feel and effects of struggle are dissolving. It's not that the variables don't still exist, it's that I'm learning to accept they exist and to create (life) anyway.

  4. What a wonderful reflection on the facets of struggle. (Get the reference?! For those of you who don't know, Joy's website is "Facets of Joy.") You are a wonderful model of living with the power of presence. When we are truly and fully present, there is no struggle because we are in harmony and alignment with the universe. So happy that you stopped by, Joy.

  5. Reading this today speaks to me of the daily surrender I make to God and His will. Just a simple prayer of relinquishment, with no struggle involved at all. Yet in it, I find complete peace and calm. And I remember to breathe deeply, from the belly.
    Blessings, Galen!

  6. You always write such fascinating thoughts. In my life I have found that the hard things are exactly the very things that have helped me to grow.I have learned so many different things about myself through the struggles and as I look back in retrospect I can see how I have grown a lot. I can see the hand of the Lord in my life in even the little things. Having the faith I do; has got me through some very difficult things.
    My husband had a heart attack at age 45, and later a double by-pass and some other surgeries. A few years ago he had a pulmonary embolus and later a DVT in his leg. He has had other struggles too. I have often wondered why. Through the years I have seen that his trials have made him the marvelous compassionate man that he is today.
    I couldn’t have gone through any of this and other things without prayer and knowledge that I have a Heavenly Father that loves me and a Savior that is there for me. He suffered it all and therefore knows exactly how to lift and bless our lives.
    When you talk about releasing and letting go. I do have to release and let go and let the Savior carry the load. I can’t say that is easy but it can be done. We can let go and let his will be our will.
    Thanks for this one, it made me think about how what you wrote relates to my own life. Loving thoughts and hugs for you!

  7. Thanks, LeAnn. You and your husband have certainly dealt with a lot of "opportunities for growth"! For me, I find that some of my opportunities are about internal struggles to release behaviors or beliefs that lock me in and block the natural flow. I always appreciate your reflections.

  8. Daily surrender, prayer of relinquishment — wonderful practices and reminders. As Adyashanti says, surrender is the name of the spiritual game. I know you are practicing belly breathing this year. Good for you, Martha!

  9. I read recently that the Buddha believed that by extinguishing the self we can remove suffering. Sounds so simple,coming from an enlightened one, but trying to die to a sense of self, that we have identified with since birth, is life changing.Its something to learn over a lifetime for most. It would involve giving up our identity with body and mind, most of us are not ready for that. But, no doubt it is our attachments, mental and physical that causes mental suffering. To relinquish self control over perceived outcome is perhaps our greatest challenge. Letting go is not easy.

  10. I wonder if rather than extinguishing the self, we expand to a broader perspective of holding everything–self and no-self — in the same infinite container. The first chapter of the Tao Te Ching says that the origin (Tao) and the manifested universe (Te) are the same but have different names. Accept everything as part of the oneness. I don't think we have to extinguish the self– instead we could not be so exclusively identified with it.

  11. Yes I like that,thought, Galen. It would seem that everything concerning 'Tao' and 'Te' would back this idea. Being consciously aware of the role of the temporary self is key without being totally identified with it. We can probably all agree there is a part of being human that seems to be infinite, we are more then a temporary mind and body.I believe this is what most spiritual teaching conclude. Buddha was known to take this all to an extreme.. Some zen teachers have said no self-no problem. The Buddhist concept of no self is hard to grasp, it seems to contradict what other spiritual paths have to say on these matters.

  12. Yes, I agree. Having a "self" is a necessary aspect of being part of the manifested universe. But it doesn't have to define or limit us. Thanks for your additional reflections on this, Brian.

  13. For me, the truth of this issue is as you describe here: ''Struggle occurs when we are somehow in conflict with the natural flow of energy. It indicates a place where we are blocking our true nature. Perhaps it is not the struggle that promotes growth as much as the relinquishment of struggle. In that sense, struggle is not how we grow; it’s where we grow.

    I think most therapists would agree with this. And I believe the Gestalt approach sees mental suffering/inner conflict as caused by a blockage of natural flow, and they base their therapy approach on assuming just that! It's supposed to be a more aggressive form of therapy but I expect it is quite powerful!
    Struggle is so much hard work, compared to what letting go feels like,isn't it? For me, investigation as to causes of the blockage and then understanding how it has come about is key to the letting go.And how wonderful it is when that is allowed to happen!

  14. That is an interesting connection, Lynne, between letting go of struggle and Gestalt therapy. As Fritz Perls said, "Don't push the river. It flows by itself."

    Your description of your release process as beginning with investigation is so important. When we are curious and willing to take a deeper look, we are able to see those hidden places where we hold on out of fear. When I am aware of some sort of block, I like to ask myself, "What is the nature of this (fill in the blank–anger, fear, judgment, shame, etc.)?" This helps me keep an open and honest attitude towards whatever I find. Release happens almost without effort then.

  15. I like what you said here, Galen . When we become aware of something,in this case, a cause for a block in our natural flow of energy…release happens effortlessly. I have found this with anxiety and fear. When it comes over me like an unwelcome intrusion. I recognize immediately that it is foreign to my true self. It is not who I am. I do not identify with it . It seems to dissipate as quickly as it came. When that which is false is recognized as illusory it seems to lose its power over us. Its this deliverance from illusion that sets us free.

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