The Futility Of Trying

One more! It was intimidating but I would try. In the back of my mind I knew that if something went wrong I could get seriously hurt, but something in me recognised that I risked everything by not risking everything, and so I heaved. The loaded barbell began to fly up as expected, to float weightlessly for a split second at the apex of its trajectory, but I just couldn't get under it fast enough. As I recoiled back to safety, the weight crashed unceremoniously back to the ground where it mocked me. 

Olympic lifting and sprinting complement each other. The race and the weight must be respected, and being successful requires nothing less than 100 per cent commitment. To hesitate is to fail. When you step up onto the blocks or grip the bar, you must be totally ready. There is no time to get tough, or to build into the effort. 

After two hours in the gym, the law of diminishing returns was beginning to kick in. I was getting noticeably weaker, and the weights were getting heavier. Fatigue, my old familiar enemy, was beginning to counterattack. This was the final tier of a pyramid set, where the weight gets heavier as the repetitions become less. This last intimidating effort was an obstacle between me and the rest of my life. I had to try harder, I thought.

And then it occurred to me in an epiphanic flash of lucidity. I finally understood the profound truth that was expressed by the character Yoda in Star Wars when he said: “Do or do not, there is no try.” There really is no try! Allow me to explain.

The idea of trying is a mental trap. The notion of trying is a distraction that comes between you and what you are actually doing. The very thought of trying is nothing but a terrible waste of mental energy. To entertain the illusion of trying is to divert your focused attention away from real life, which is the process at hand, by going into abstract thought about trying. The truth is that when you make a tremendous effort to do something, so much of your energy is diverted into the idea of making an effort instead of going into the actual doing. 

Trying creates angst in life. Trying stems from worrying about the outcome while doing. How focused can you be on what you are doing, if you are simultaneously worrying about the outcome and also constantly evaluating and passing judgement on how hard you perceive that you are trying?

We have been conditioned since our early childhood to try to listen, try to see, try to focus. When you are trying to listen, what effect does that effort really have upon the sound reaching your ears and your brain interpreting it? When we try to look, all we end up doing is squinting a little, which has absolutely no effect upon the light reaching our eyes. You will find that you actually listen better and see better if you just relax and let it happen as nature intended.

On a deeper level, the concept of trying is nothing more than an abstract idea in the mind. What is trying and who is trying? Trying is an idea that belongs to the idea that you have about yourself called me. It’s an idea that another idea has about itself in the mind and not actual reality here and now.

Our mental conditioning makes us break down the immediate present into a memory that has the idea of a doer who is separate from the idea of something that is done. If you really observe what is happening right now, you will find that there is only doing; thinking, feeling, walking, all verbs. Try it!

What if we could live without trying, would we stagnate? No. To live without trying is to act without expectations. To do this is to be free from the angst that plagues us when we want an outcome, while simultaneously being afraid of not attaining it. If we can approach the outcome with easy equanimity, we will be free to be totally focused on only the most immediate aspect of the process that is at hand in the present. In this way we get out of our own way and just do it! Only by being totally committed to the process do we become truly capable.

Resetting the stance in front of the bar. Squatting down to set the grip. Feeling each and every sensation as chalked fingers curled around the rough knurling of the cold steel bar. Gazing straight ahead, the detail of the wall seemed interesting. Retracting shoulder blades to take up the slack between the bar. Breathing all the way out and in again.

Then, as if of its own accord, the weight effortlessly flew up, and I found myself standing underneath with it pressed triumphantly high overhead. Now, I could get on with the rest of my life, the mind chirped up as it announced its return to itself. I let go of the heavy barbell, stepping back with a smile as it crashed resoundingly to the floor.