The point of struggle

Is struggle always futile or does it play an important role in life?

Silhouette of a victorious man on top of a mountain

One of the most inspirational programmes I have ever watched is an episode of the Master Class series by Oprah Winfrey in which she shares her own story. In particular, I remember the part in which she narrates the way she landed a role in the film The Color Purple. Oprah wanted this role desperately as it was based on her favourite book by the same name and the story had reflections of her own life.

She tells us about her excitement and keenness to get the part, her audition, her phone call to her agent, the agent’s response that she won’t get the role because she has no acting experience, her inner turmoil and resistance and her eventual letting go, when she finally surrendered deeply and accepted what is, before the magic phone call she received from director Steven Spielberg informing her that she was selected. Describing her experience, she says, “When you have worked as hard and done as much and striven and tried and given and pleaded and bargained and hoped—surrender. When you have done all that you can do, and there is nothing left for you to do, give it up. Give it up to that thing that is greater than yourself and let it then become a part of the flow.”

Surrender and struggle are really two sides of the same coin

The sentiment behind these words stirred me deeply. I found great resonance with them because I have been through similar situations when, after struggling, striving, praying, wishing and doing everything I could, I would give up. And soon after, whatever I had wanted would miraculously come my way. It’s surreal, this phenomenon.

But this kind of giving up is not the same as resignation—it comes from a deeper place in me. A place of knowing that whatever is happening now is as it should be. That’s when I give up blaming others and I let go of all resistances that were creating resentment, frustration, anger and other negative emotions. I fully accept the situation, without any reservations whatsoever. This acceptance is surrender.

But—and here’s the exquisite paradox—every time I have accepted and surrendered, I have first struggled. In other words, I couldn’t have surrendered before the struggle. There would be no meaning in it. So, surrender and struggle are really two sides of the same coin.

As soon as I let go, life begins to flow

I have come to see struggle as necessary for my growth. I think it builds character and also adds colour to life. I was listening to an Osho talk, in which he explains that without the struggle, it would not have been a great achievement for Edmund Hillary to climb Mount Everest. Hillary’s conquest was worthwhile only because it involved great effort.

Think about it. If you get something easily, do you value it? Value comes from the difficulty that preceded the achievement or acquisition, the greatness comes from the struggle, the toil.

The problem is, I keep forgetting this lesson of life, and the next time I face a challenge, I begin to resist the struggle. Perhaps resisting is also part of the grand design, because unless I resist, I cannot let it go. And as soon as I let go, life begins to flow.

“Suffering is necessary until you realise it is unnecessary,” says Eckhart Tolle. I guess, that’s the purpose of my struggles—to help me understand that I don’t need to struggle. Till this understanding becomes natural to me, I may have to continue to struggle from time to time.


This was first published in the May 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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