The Struggle is the Point

3 Steps to Turbo Charge Your Progress

Kain Ramsey, founder of Solid Grounds, tells the story of when he was struggling in New Zealand trying to get enough money to get back to his home in Scotland.  Having taken a job working at an orchard, Kain arrived at work one day and was told his job for the day was to “make the trees grow.”

A bit baffled, he asked a co-worker what the boss had meant—didn’t trees grow on their own?  His co-worker went on to explain that what the boss wanted was for Kain to take a large bat and walk around the marked trees, hitting them repeatedly.

The co-worker went on to explain that the rings you see within the trunk of a tree indicate periods of growth, and the more pressure and stress the trees are under, the more significant their growth.

We are not terribly different.

As much as we all have some dream where our lives will be easy, effortless, and still somehow fulfilling, we sense the truth about progress: in order to move forward, we have to struggle.

Muscles don’t build if we don’t push them past what they are currently capable of.  Musical skills don’t improve if we don’t try harder compositions.  Athletic performance remains stagnant if we aren’t faced with more capable opponents.  Deep in our hearts we know that this is the case.

And yet…

Somehow we find ourselves avoiding the very experiences that are going to lead to our growth.  Society today is a society of struggle aversion.  When things get uncomfortable (which they always do once we’ve crossed a Threshold and stepped into the Trials and Temptation phase), we are surrounded by hundreds of ways to avoid that discomfort.  We hide those feelings of inadequacy, frustration, even fear, with substances and diversions.  We run from our discomfort over and over, and yet wonder why we aren’t moving forward.

The struggle is the point.  Without the struggle, we cannot progress.

So how do we stop running away and instead learn to “lean in” (as the Buddha taught) to our discomfort?

First, we have to figure out what our hiding places are.  What items, habits, substances, behaviors, or activities do we turn to when we are feeling the discomfort and stress of change?

Second, we have to recognize the absolute importance of struggle in the larger picture of our Journey.  Without the struggle, we have no Journey and, therefore, no growth.  This acceptance can give us the strength and fortitude for the process to work.

Finally, we have to learn to lean in to the discomfort.  When we feel that desire to run from the discomfort and turn to those hiding places, we have to stop ourselves.  We have to learn how to breathe through the emotions, the physical strain, and the unpleasantness to get past the current crisis.  If we can sit with those feelings instead of running away from them, we can learn about—and from—them.  We have to quiet our minds when we are tempted to panic, holding our ground until we can reasonably think past the frenzy of the moment.

This ability does not come quickly nor naturally, but it does come.  Every step we take in interrupting our current patterns, regardless of how big or small, frees us to progress and change.  Our first experience in leaning in may just be a few seconds long before we have to back away from the discomfort.  If we can, the next time, stay just a little longer, and then a little longer, and then a little longer, gradually we will build up the emotional muscles we need to take these experiences head on.

When we hit that point, our story is truly ours.