Q and A with Roger Housden, author of DROPPING THE STRUGGLE
By Roger Housden
Is it possible to love the life you have — acknowledging and accepting the conditions of your life exactly as they are — and drop the struggle to make you and your life different?
That is the question that acclaimed teacher and bestselling author Roger Housden invites readers to live into in Dropping the Struggle: Seven Ways to Love the Life You Have. We hope you’ll enjoy this interview with him about the book.
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What do you mean by Dropping the Struggle?
We come out of the womb struggling for breath, and most of us continue struggling in one way or another for the rest of our lives. So struggle is a natural part of human experience, and by dropping the struggle I certainly do not mean giving up on life, throwing in the towel in the face of our challenges. I mean that the things that ultimately matter most to us – meaning, purpose, love, an inner sense of well-being and contentment – require us to drop the struggle with our present experience; to stop trying to make our experience other than what it is in this moment.
What is the alternative to struggle when you are trying to achieve a goal?
Struggle is not the same as effort. We all need to make effort to achieve a goal. Federer did not become the tennis champion he is without effort. But struggle is an added push that arises from fear. It constricts our effort and makes it less effective.
What does neuroscience tell us about dropping the struggle?
Struggle happens first in the mind and by extension spreads as a contraction in the body. The research of the neuroscientist Arne Dietrich shows that when the cognitive control regions of the prefrontal cortex are subdued – that is when the internal mental struggle is subdued - we experience a sense of peacefulness and timelessness. The solution to most of life’s predicaments does not fall within the capacity of the pre-frontal cortex, which is where struggle is experienced. Solutions to life’s challenges – and especially to existential challenges – emerge from a more unconscious, spontaneous dimension, one that joins us to a larger field of awareness in which action unfolds organically in response to the truth of the situation.
You say that dropping the struggle requires an allowing. What do you mean by that?
I mean a resting back rather than a pushing forward. A resting back in a felt acceptance of life as it is showing up now. The central principle of the martial art, Aikido, is that when we stop resisting something we stop giving it power.
How does one try not to try?
It’s a paradox, isn’t it, because it can’t be done! It can’t be done by the personal will, as a strategy. Strategies have value, but they always come from our executive function, the ego. Letting go, surrender, comes from a dimension in us that does not belong to the conscious mind. It comes from a deeper knowing, a wordless knowing that is inherent in all of us if we can only listen.
What have you have most struggled with in your own life?
I have struggled mostly with meaning, what I am here for, which was always predicated on the notion that something was lacking in my experience; that I needed to fill the gap with something from outside of myself. When I let go of the search for meaning, meaning became inherent in my present experience.
In your chapter on dropping the struggle to be special you write, “Remember that no one is better than you, but that you are better than no one.” Please talk more about that.
That’s a quote from Thomas Jefferson, though I am not sure he felt that way towards his slaves. I take it to mean that when we know ourselves to be a unique expression of intelligent life, quite independent of our qualities and characteristics, then we recognize that the same is true for everyone. In our essential humanity we are all equal and all equally special.
In your chapter on dropping the struggle for a perfect life, you say that there are three frames of mind we can choose to respond with when something comes into our consciousness. What are they?
When something appears in our life or in our consciousness, we can respond with either a closed mind, which will ignore it; a lost mind, which will identify with the thought and the feeling and react as if it were true; and an open mind, which will experience the thought and the feeling without judgment or fear, and know it for what it is, a narrative imposed on reality and not the truth about reality.
In the chapter about dropping the meaning for meaning and purpose, you write, “your life, however it shows up, is your unique purpose.” How so?
There is no one and never will be anyone just like you, with just the life you are living. So your unique life must be what you are here for, just as it is showing up now.
One of your chapters is about dropping the struggle for love. Aren’t long-term love relationships something that requires work?
They are indeed, but I think work is an unfortunate word to use in this context. What love relationships need is attention, listening, and deep acceptance of one’s own and the other’s experience. All these qualities need a letting go of fixed positions and a genuine respect and regard for the other mysterious individual you are with.
What advice do you have to offer to those who struggle with feeling like they don’t have enough time to do the things they want to do?
Don’t be so hard on yourself! Your life will not disintegrate if you do not get through your to-do list! That is not where your true well-being lies. As you are doing what you are doing, return for a moment to your experience of being by bringing your attention and awareness to your chest area. See if you can keep your attention there while completing your task.
You say it is important not to rationalize or spiritualize the things that happen to us by minimizing the loss or trying to bypass it with attempts to rise above. Please elaborate.
I mean we should give our experience the respect it deserves. Our experience is our life – that’s all we have! So whatever form it arises in – joy, sorrow, anger, peace – allow it to be there without judgment or attempting to change it in some way. Welcome it in, feel it in the body as well as in the mind, and be glad that you are alive to feel it.
One of your chapters is about dropping the struggle to know. Know what?
I mean dropping the struggle to know how to fix your life, to know the answers to life’s deepest questions, to somehow work it all out so that your life can appear to have some coherent order. Deeper than all our accumulated knowledge and information is a knowing that we were born with, a wordless knowing which knows I Am. Who I am can only be experienced. It can only be pointed to by a jaw dropped open, speechless.
What do you most hope people will take away from your book Dropping the Struggle?
I hope they will have a deeper intuition of the wordless knowing that they are and always will be, and also that they will be inspired to relax and smile more in the face of the perennial questions and paradoxes that come with being human.
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is the author of Dropping the Struggle
and numerous other books, including the best-selling Ten Poems
series, which began in 2001 with Ten Poems to Change Your Life
and ended with Ten Poems to Say Goodbye
in 2012. He offers writing workshops, both in person and online, with an emphasis on self-discovery and exploration. Visit him online at www.RogerHousden.com
Excerpted from the book Dropping the Struggle: Seven Ways to Love the Life You Have. Copyright © 2016 by Roger Housden. Printed with permission from New World Library.