When to let go and when to use a fighting spirit

Letting go of a problem and fighting against a problem are 2 entirely different approaches which can be used in order to reach a desirable outcome. I have applied both and have found each to have its merits and pitfalls. In my experience there seems to be a tendency in various spiritual traditions, but also even on some personal development sites, to focus too much on one or the other as being the “right" way. Certainly a huge amount of emphasis is put on only one of the methods, which can lead to a lot of frustration on the part of the person looking for help.

It may be that letting go works 90% of the time for a particular type of mentality (e.g. overdoers), while the fighting method is great for another (e.g. apathetic types), but I certainly sense a danger of buying into just one of them without questioning the value of the other at all. This can happen when somebody has any noteworthy, positive experiences at all with one of them and assumes it can therefore be applied to all situations. Maybe this is because it is more comfortable to do so. In any case, a lack of awareness as to the integral role of each in life can lead to much frustration and eventually even a personal crisis. It is important to be open to healthy experimentation in order to find an optimal balance and try to listen to your intuition which tries to inform you when you are on the wrong track.

I have discussed the usefulness of making goals with determination then letting them go to come back to the present in  "When Goals Become Obstacles" . Here I would like to look at some other issues.

One of the dangers of the fighting spirit is that it can often mean underlying arrogance. It must be understood that it is more often than not about an inner resolve to transform the self, not an attempt to change others. It should certainly be fed by compassion or determination to maintain respect for others. Let me illustrate: when a child cheerfully helps his parents with the clearing up after breakfast, then spills orange juice all over the floor in a moment of clumsiness, if his parents are loving and understanding they will try to let go of any anger they might initially feel like throwing at him, because they know that his intention was pure, i.e. to help everyone. It was simply an accident.

Similarly if you are a perfectionist at cooking and despite your efforts, the rice ends up burnt so that you are ashamed with yourself, thinking that your guests deserve better, you won't get far if you try to change the situation with anger. You need to accept that your intention was pure, and it was a completely normal part of life: you are only human. That means letting go.

Suppose you are a workaholic who gets ill through overload because you place more value in high output than in good physical health. If you try to fight the illness you will most likely make it worse with stress. Your body normally needs to rest so relaxing and letting go are essential. However, if you get angry that your tendency has expressed itself yet again, you can channel that energy into determination to find the root of that imbalance in your life and then change it. You could focus as much energy and concentration as possible on recognising that workaholic tendency as it arises, so that you can become master of it, and not it of you. You can decide that your negative voice should under no circumstances dominate you. This is the fighting spirit. It can be quite stressful when you call up your resolve, because of this inner conflict. Nonetheless, this is precisely the time to transform bad habits. Stress has a useful function as well as a destructive one: it can show you precisely what has to be done and retrospectively that you had the strength to overwhelm your weaker side.

If you tend to be lazy and apathetic, you will probably find the correctly-used fighting method surprisingly productive. It is obviously closely connected with forming discipline and getting “on top" of things. Procrastination, timidness and depression can all be appropriate candidates for this technique. It sometimes requires a surge of energy to overcome lack of action, incessant negative chatter of the mind or an absence of courage.

On the other hand, we are not designed to endure us stress continually. If you can't change a situation, let it go. Put all your quiet attention into letting go. Visualize being happy and calm and let the subconscious help find ways of becoming that state. Become the attitude and process of letting go using wakefulness.

Developing a fighting spirit

If we look at figures in history that have struggled with compassion for freedom, built bridges between communities in conflict, and generally had the odds stacked against them yet go on to achieve enormous success in liberating entire peoples or oppressed ethnic minorities, they all have one thing in common: unfailing resolve to win in the end. This is the fighting spirit, which has nothing to do with physical aggression and competition. It means never giving in to the ego: the inner demons that tell you that it is useless, that you should pack it in, that you or others are not worthy etc.. Demons are not biblical monsters – they exist in every mind without exception.

Most people simply haven't understood what reserves of greatness they have in them. The path of living courageously is indeed a very difficult one to follow. It is easy to choose a life of comfort instead as creatures of habit, even if much evidence is presented of the enormous benefits by other people's examples of living big lives. At the end of the day it is simply a lack of awareness that keeps us from following our potential, and maintains our habit of putting great achievers on pedestals out of our league. Nevertheless, it is simply a matter of time before the negative effects of shying away from our own greatness accumulate to form a crisis of some sort that shakes us to the bone. Humanity seems to be going that way.

When we don't live consciously, our ego speaks and shouts loudly – often incessantly – so that the quiet voice of wisdom goes unnoticed. The ego must be identified, accepted as part of life to be learned from, and mastered by the stronger self. We can achieve this through a sensitisation process: the training of self-observation. We need to practise this both alone and in our communities – in silence but also in the thick of things in everyday life.

The more we become the observer of our thoughts, the more we tune in to the voice of our stronger self, which is really our true identity. Now we are in the space of free will. We are more able to brush aside our fears and negativity that try to bring us down. It is somewhat like walking a seldom-trodden path, overgrown with vegetation that must be pushed out of the way to move forward. It actually requires a lot of effort and courage to go against the weaker voice of our ego. It can take a long time before we become accomplished at recognising the "right" voice, but the positive effects of our efforts can be quite dramatic along the way, and that spurs one on considerably.

The power of this fighting spirit is immense. When we call up our last reserves of courage in the middle of a crisis, to focus on hope, humanity and winning despite the odds, we can move mountains. We will experience enormous growth and personal satisfaction. We engender such a force of change in our own lives, that dramatic, parallel developments can be seen in our environment. In those moments when we are in the pit of hell, we have the most to gain from the fighting spirit. If we train ourselves to get up after every knockdown, to never give in, we will build a bastion of inner strength like we never could have imagined previously.

The more we use the fighting spirit, the stronger we become and the bigger the challenges are that we are able to take on. Nonetheless, we must remain on our guard. We may think that we are skilled in this respect if we have already proven it to ourselves on several occasions, but our demons can sometimes take us by surprise. Therefore it is essential to remain awake through regular meditation and mental "household-cleaning".