Dropping the Struggle: Book Review

Life, as most of us experience it, often consists of challenge and conflict. So begins Roger Housden’s book, Dropping the Struggle: Seven Ways to Love the Life You Have. That statement calls to mind the Buddha’s First Noble Truth, the truth of suffering. As humans, suffering and struggle are two of our least favorite words, but as Housden explains in this pithy book, you can drop the struggle and suffer much less than you need to. We need to learn to surrender, another “s” word we struggle with. The rewards of surrendering, or dropping the struggle, are worth it. In giving up control, or more aptly, our illusion of control, our lives can finally start to fall together.

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It’s obvious that Housden is a poet, his writing is lyrical, beautiful, and yet not too much so. His message takes center stage and he writes with clarity, even explaining difficult topics with ease. What I liked most about this book was its practicality. Letting go does not come naturally and easy for me. I always felt like I needed to maintain some form of control, however delusional that proved to be in each situation. I often saw things as black or white, with no shades of grey. One of my biggest concerns was if I gave up the struggle in a situation and did nothing, well, nothing is exactly what would come of it, or worse yet, things would fall apart. I couldn’t just wait and watch. I had to do something, right? So I struggled and things usually fell apart anyway! Housden addresses this common confusion by contrasting the terms struggle and effort. He writes:

 

For struggle is not the same as effort—what is sometimes called “right effort.” We all need to make an effort in every area of our life, effort that allows us to fulfill an intention or that edges us towards what we know to be true, even if we don’t inhabit it now… Effort is a natural extension of the personal will toward a specified end. But struggle is an added push that is born of fear. Ultimately, it is born of the fear of not surviving, of dissolving and disappearing, not just as a physical form but as a psychological self.”

Living our lives from a place of fear. Hmmm…sounds familiar. There’s another way? Tell me more, Mr. Housden.

This is not magical thinking; this is a practical guide for a life well-lived. And it’s up to each of us to choose the life we want. By releasing the need to control everything, Housden explains, we choose to live with more awareness, not less or detached awareness–true awareness. Dropping the struggle doesn’t result in a lackadaisical attitude towards life, it results in the opposite–a courageous life fully lived and deeply appreciated. We still care, and actually, we end up “caring so much that the heart spills open.”
I appreciate the way each short chapter weaves in poetry, literature, and Housden’s own life experiences and stories in just the right measure. He includes poems from well known poets: Kabir, Whitman, Rumi, Derek Walcott and Naomi Shihab Nye. We also get to hear from student poets in his writing groups, which I enjoyed. Each succinct chapter is arranged around a struggle to let go of. They are:

 

  1. Dropping the Struggle to Be Special
  2. Dropping the Struggle for a Perfect Life
  3. Dropping the Struggle for Meaning and Purpose
  4. Dropping the Struggle for Love
  5. Dropping the Struggle with Time
  6. Dropping the Struggle with Change
  7. Dropping the Struggle to Know

 

And although Housden never judges these particular struggles as bad or wrong, he does show how dropping the struggle to control them is time consuming, exhausting, and not conducive to living and loving the life we have.

A few of my favorite “take-a-pause” moments while reading Dropping the Struggle are:

Life itself is making us all up as we go along.

I have learned to be kind to myself, to know that I am human because fallibility goes along with being human.

If we maintain our attention in the present moment…then the past can serve a useful purpose right now as a memory library that we can use as a resource when necessary.

And you just know, you know with every cell of your body, that your life is calling you to follow it where it needs to go.

We feel more alive when we finally come home to who we are in our entirety—not to some manicured and spiritualized image but to who we are as we show up, moment by moment.

Ultimately, we are not in charge. We can either fight this fact through needless struggle or we can relax into this unknowing and allow our lives to unfold by a far greater design than we could ever imagine for ourselves. In Dropping the Struggle, Housden shows us through story, poetry, and personal anecdotes how we would be wise to choose the latter.

I could go on, there’s so much wisdom packed within the pages of this seemingly small book. I’ll stop here, though, and suggest you may want to pick up a copy of Dropping the Struggle for yourself, and begin to glean your own insights. Read an interview with Roger Housden on New World Library’s website, here.
Find Dropping the Struggle at your local library or bookstore. Or order from Quail Ridge Books, here.
Let me know what you think about it.

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