How ‘Doing Your Best’ Transcends Suffering
This story of ‘doing your best’ appeared in the timeless classic, ‘The Four Agreements’ by Don Miguel Ruiz. It is a powerful lesson we can all relate to.
There was a man who wanted to transcend his suffering, so he went to a Buddhist temple to find a Master to help him. He went to the Master and asked, ‘Master, if I meditate four hours a day, how long will it take me to transcend?’
The Master looked at him and said, “If you meditate four hours a day, perhaps you will transcend in ten years.”
Thinking he could do better, the man then said, “Oh, Master, what if I meditated eight hours a day, how long will it take me to transcend?”
The Master looked at him and said, “If you meditate eight hours a day, perhaps you will transcend in twenty years.”
“But why will it take me longer if I meditate more?” the man asked.
The Master replied, “You are not here to sacrifice your joy or your life. You are here to live, to be happy, and to love. If you can do your best in two hours of meditation, but you spend eight hours instead, you will only grow tired, miss the point, and you won’t enjoy your life. Do your best, and perhaps you will learn that no matter how long you meditate, you can live, love and be happy.”
Applying the lesson
When we do our best, we live life intensely and that is enough. We don’t need to overachieve or prove ourselves to anyone else. The action is both the seed and the fruit. If we take care of the seed (with love), then we will have the fruit (in time).
Today, far too many people take actions because they expect a reward, and don’t enjoy the action itself. This is mistake the leads to self-criticism and self-condemnation: our Inner Judge then condemns both the action and the result/reward because the action was not good enough in and of itself.
Let’s take the common example of working to pay the bills.
Most people go to work, mostly thinking of their ‘pay day’ and the money they will receive. They are always looking forward to the end of Friday or Saturday, when they can take time off. That is why people frequently experience the ‘Monday blues’ – the weekend has just finished and the next weekend seems like an interminably long way away!
Working for the reward means that they are continually resisting the here and now, and resisting the work itself. They avoid the action mentally, or even physically, and it thus becomes more onerous, so they don’t do their best.
They work hard all week long, suffering the work, suffering the action, not because they like to, but because they feel they have to.
They have to pay the rent because they have to support themselves and/or their family. They create a lot of inner frustration around the situation, and when the pay check finally comes (after tax), they are perhaps happy for a moment but unhappiness quickly sets in. That pay-off is never enough. They have two days to rest, to do what they really want to do – so they try to escape the pain inside. They get drunk mainly because it provides them with a sense of relief – it dulls those nagging subconscious thoughts they’ve had all week long.
Getting drunk seems like fun (the whole alcohol industry thrives on the fact that it blots out unconscious pain) but they really don’t like their life. If the root cause is not corrected, drinking can easily turn into an addictive cycle as they get older. The mind becomes dull, and the body becomes weak.
There are many ways we hurt ourselves when we don’t like who we are, when we are not doing our best and enjoy the here and now.
Start today to change your habit of suffering: always do your best, no matter what. Then you won’t feel guilty, and you won’t punish yourself, and you won’t suffer.
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