What is the difference between striving and thriving? The general understanding of the words is the difference between making strenuous effort and flourishing. To me it is the difference between getting clean and recovering. Both efforts are important. One got me to the gift of desperation; the other keeps me on my road to restoring my sanity. Striving got me here (to recovery) and thriving keeps me here.
I was depleted, guilt ridden, ashamed, and exhausted when I gave up drinking. I was demoralized and spiritually depleted when I first gave up using drugs. My move to being sober was not toward the wonderful life I would be living; it was away from the pain and misery my life had become. I wasn’t working toward anything. I had no idea about what my future would be like, the life I would eventually lead. I had only the goal of stopping. Stopping drinking and using.
This first step was a form of striving. It was fear based. I was afraid of what my life would be like if I continued drinking and using. My decision to quit was based on my innate deep desire to survive. To continue as I had been living would mean certain death. I may not have physically died, but my spiritual and moral existence was in grave danger. My life was completely unmanageable – there was great stress and distress. There was no peace, no grace, no joy or enjoyment to be had anywhere in anything that I did.
Once I got here I had to find ways to thrive. I learned to eat well, keep my space tidy, my mind tidy. I developed disciplines to get enough sleep, or at least rest effectively. And eventually I found yoga. My mat yoga practice continued to heal my body and my emotions. I learned to breathe with intention and meditate with some ease. Being in the moment and living from that point on was a gift of my yoga practice and a way to flourish.
Yoga has a term for mind habits; samskara. It is good to have a mind that makes certain things automatic: brushing your teeth, looking over your shoulder when changing lanes, successfully aiming for your mouth when you eat. We rely on the brain’s ability to make automatic certain activities. It also makes a habit out of the ways we respond and how we act. If I have responded to change with fear over and over this will become a habit. The was a way that I was striving to cope. If I want to thrive this response may be something I will have to “rewire.” I could learn to respond to change with curiosity or eagerness, or at least with neutrality; changing the striving to thriving.
When I make a choice out of confidence rather than fear; when I move forward in the direction of healthy living rather than away from the discomfort of now, when I experience trust and openness in my choices I am thriving. When fear, resentment or insecurity drive my actions, the same decision, the same activity can be from the force of striving rather than the ease of thriving.
Backsliding, slipping and relapse can be a part of this disease. Knowing the differences between thriving and striving are important to me in preventing them. If I remain fear based, insecure, angry and resentful I will take these attributes, these feelings into my choices. This negative outlook can become the bedrock of my next phase of life, whatever it is. However, taking the time to investigate my motivations and feelings, understanding that my mind can be / has been trapped in unhealthy thought cycles gives me some choice in how I want to move forward. I can use the principles to create a life of value and values as the new bedrock for my future.
If I feel I am slipping check my motivations and my choices. Are they coming from “old truths” or am I using satya, or non-lying, to examine what is true for me now? For example: I used to distrust everyone. It was a way to keep myself safe, to avoid being let down, to prevent disappointments and disillusionment. I made decisions based on that; I strove to be independent and to avoid relying on others. In recovery I have re-evaluated that “truth” and I now trust others more unless I have been given a reason not to. My choice of decision making in that area is changing; I am rewiring my brain to become more discerning rather than reactive. I thrive in a trustworthy atmosphere and environment.
Yoga discusses two obstacles: attachment and aversion. In both of these mind states the opposite can be achieved with an attitude of thriving or one of striving. I can avoid attachment actively with aversion and aversion with attachment. That is a form of striving. When I am thriving, coming from a place of compassionate equilibrium, I am able to avoid attachment and aversion with softness and neutrality. This is the way of recovery for me. In recovery I am learning to do things less out of a reaction, aversion or attachment, and more on the basis of evaluation and acceptance.
The physical yoga practice gives me a stage on which to practice this as well. Am I in pose, finding its challenges and finding its ease out of some desire to do or be something or someone else or am I in the pose finding the appropriate balance of effort and ease, enjoying the pose for what it has to offer me here in this moment? Am I striving or thriving in my practice?
So now I ask myself am I moving from or moving to? Is my job difficult and unrewarding? Can I make it better? When I change, am I leaving a bad situation or choosing a new one? If I move to a new home or a new town am I leaving some difficulty behind or moving toward a new opportunity, a more secure environment? Where is my focus? Is my desire to change based on fear of the past or an embracing of the future?
Like recovery, yoga is a spiritual practice; it is practice not perfection. So even now I thrive to thrive: not strive to thrive.