Updated: May 2
Sometimes one approach is needed; sometimes the other. Sometimes a balance of both is the most helpful. One person will swear all their success came from determination and hard work; another will explain that their most delightful opportunities would have been missed if they hadn’t slowed down (or been forced to slow down). Some will say their success required sacrifice. Others will say their peace of mind and contentment came from allowing their life to unfold without the stress of trying to control it.
I'm not advocating an attitude of "just be content no matter what happens," "anything goes," or "don't worry; be happy" as a constant state. There is a lot we can do to improve situations for ourselves and others. Stillness can help us get clear on what to do and how, so we don't wear ourselves out and waste time spinning our wheels.
Eckhart Tolle says that acting with presence is indicated by one of three states: acceptance, enjoyment, or enthusiasm. When action is called for, it should be in a spirit of enjoyment or enthusiasm, and action is amiss when motivated by fear or anger. When inaction is called for, it should be in a spirit of acceptance and patience, not apathy or passivity from feeling powerless.
Many women have adopted a “masculine” approach to life, especially as they entered the work world, because that is more rewarded in a competitive economy. In contrast, those seeking stillness would say of the Pareto principle, “Someone else can have the 80% of business, and the stress and hassle that goes with trying to be all things to all people. I’ll do only the 20% that yields the most, and be content with a lower overall yield in that arena.”
If you have been more in a “try harder” mode, which seems to be the default in western culture, or at least more respected in business and academic realms, here are some suggestions for stillness. Martha Beck in “Finding Your Way in a Wild New World” wrote of acting from an intuitive state of “wordlessness” rather than trying to continually get more information so you can figure it all out:
“If you know how to drop into wordlessness, you’ll be so aware of your situation and your own responses to it that you’ll go straight toward your best life, no matter how obscure it may seem or how many obstacles lie before you. At a time when social change is so rapid and the pressures on each person so unpredictable, wordlessness is a skill you truly need to find your way.”
The Quakers in meeting wait until they are “being spoken,” when they aren’t striving, trying. Then words come thru you, not from your egoic impulses. This is what Taoists call wu wei, “doing without doing.” Gratefully, you don’t need to worry about doing it right or figuring it out, because worry, rightness, and logic are not in the realm of the intuitive.
“In the pursuit of knowledge, every day something is added. In the pursuit of the Tao, every day something is dropped. Less and less do you need to force things.” –Lao Tzu from the Tao te Ching
When Yoda said, “There is no try; only do,” I at first thought that he was saying “admit no possibility of failure,” which is an ultra yang mode—an irrational “just believe” or "if you want it enuf" psychobabble—that didn’t seem consistent with his sage-like persona. Now I interpret Yoda's words with a Taoist meaning, “Don’t be concerned with the outcome; simply act.”