Non-striving – When my nemesis raises its head 

Written by Mandy Mercuri 
May 7, 2024 
Photo of some well-worn steps leading upwards - indicating a path of striving

Rushing, pushing, proving, striving….

I recently had the pleasure of rewatching one of my favourite movies, Dead Poet’s Society. A character called Charlie Dalton (aka ‘Newanda’) in Dead Poets Society performs a poem with some associated cool saxophone playing called “Gotta be more, do more”. This so often feels like my soundtrack…grasping forward for something that is frustratingly just out of my reach.

Sitting outside eating my breakfast, on my recent 7-day silent retreat, I was gazing at the point on the horizon where the textured blue-green of the mountains met ominous, grey skies. I heard the distinct call of a Lyrebird. If you are unfamiliar with them, these secretive creatures are mimics. The male’s mating display is a cobbled performance of other bird calls mixed with some strutting and preening in an attempt to woo the lady lyrebirds. Just blokes showing off! Some might even say, they are striving. ‘Look at me’ they cry, ‘Look what I can do!’

It got me thinking that each of the cries he mimics is like the masks we wear in our daily lives. These pretences, the attempts to blend in, coverings of our true nature. We too are striving to be accepted, to show off – ‘look at me, I am lovable! Pick me!’ We might hide away our true identities to conform, seek refuge, and be accepted. We might hide what we believe to be our flaws or perceptions about ourselves – trying hard to prove we are not broken or damaged or unworthy. With each insincerity, we lose a part of ourselves. It gets buried beneath the fake calls, fake smiles, fake ways of being in the world. The more we strive and perform, the further we get from who we really are our buddha nature, our essence, our golden divine, true selves.

So, as I sat listening to Mr Lyrebird, I wondered, what is the call of a Lyrebird? Has he forgotten the sound of his own voice in his desperate striving, primping and pretending? Have I? Have you?

A woman sits and plays a singing bowl on a mindfulness silent retreat

Then even more striving surfaced ...

For me, striving is often related to my tendency for comparison. I noticed myself wanting to be the “good meditator” in front of my treasured teachers. Sitting upright, still, the picture of calm, dignity and presence.

But my back ached and was definitely making its complaints known! Each sit became more and more excruciating. I could have kept pushing myself, but I remembered my April word was non-striving. Umm, hello!!

I relaxed a little and decided to get comfortable with ‘my way’ of meditating. My kind of meditation is about listing to the body, nurturing what is needed, feeling free to move and sway and take up new postures. I made smarter, kinder choices, mindfully and with a healthy dose of self-compassion. And funnily enough, when I did eventually speak to my meditation teachers after the retreat, they praised these choices. They make them too. We are all humans doing our best after all.

For some, striving might actually be helpful – sure, we get stuff done when we push ourselves, right? Research shows that people prone to achieving do perform well academically and in the workplace, but there are also some links to poor health outcomes from all that striving like stress (and its associated mental and physical impacts), depression and anxiety.

Non-striving, as a foundational attitude of mindfulness, is helpful for letting go of all the limit pushing, the masks and fakeness and pretence. Resting, dropping in, saying a tender hello to our true self.

I see you in there, friend. I hear your genuine voice.

When we pause in this way, there is an opportunity to listen to what that voice might be trying to tell you. What is it that your true nature would have you know?


I recently heard a good podcast interview with Lael Stone. She was talking about the younger parts of us and how they can show up in times of struggle and disconnection. Taking a mindful pause and reflecting:

  • How old am I, right now?
  • What’s going on?
  • What stories am I telling myself?
  • What am I believing about myself, right now?
  • What does that part of you need?

Aren’t these some gorgeous and pertinent reflections to find insight and the reason behind the things we say or do? Often it comes back to unresolved issues or memories from our childhood, when those darn limiting beliefs were initiated. These may have been triggered by a desperate self-protection and need to be safe.

Our nervous systems will always err on the side of safety and send messages like ‘It is better to hide your emotions than get hurt, better to fight than be hurt etc.’ Always trying to avoid harm. If we are aware of what is happening, we have more opportunity to find clarity and make stronger, more pertinent choices. For example, we can tell that younger version, we are okay now, we can handle it. We are actually safe now. We can offer ourselves some compassion, linger in intentional rest, just cut ourselves a bloody break.

Since hearing that, and reflecting on my drive to strive, I have wondered – what younger part of me might be behind this?

I am 12 years old.

An old photograph of Mandy aged around 10, she is pulling a silly face and flexing her non-existent muscles

I have had my first scoliosis correction surgery. I am on the sidelines during high school sports class, and I feel desperately miserable that I am missing out. I am having FOMO (even before it was a known thing!). This girl, she believes she needs to fight harder than everyone else to be accepted, to push and rush and be a part of everything so as not to let anyone know of the limitations, the flaws, the spine that she believes to be broken and somehow “less than”. This may also be the point at which my younger self develops FOPO. The Fear of Other Peoples Opinion. This is a term coined by Michael Gervais (see this great recent podcast interview).

I can turn towards that lonely teenager (I belovedly refer to her as my little bony maroney) and say, it’s okay. I am older now, my relationships are stronger now, they love me for who I am, not how much I do. It’s okay to rest and let go of the need to prove myself. I belong.

Are you a bit of a striver? What is behind the need to push, please, prove? What helps tone down the drive of the strive for you? How can you bring a little more compassion towards yourself? How might you cultivate a friendly curiosity to how you go about things in your daily life?

And if you are interested in knowing more about this extraordinary creature, the Lyrebird, check out this blog written by dear friend of mine, Dr Mel Birtchnell, ecologist and general superstar. She goes deeper (and much more eloquently) into the sounds and ecology of this bird.

I'm Mandy Mercuri

I'm here to help. I'm a mindfulness coach that can help you on your own mindfulness journey, to work through the challenges life throws us.
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I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the unceeded lands where I work and live, the Wurundjeri People of the Kulin Nation. I recognise their enduring connection to the lands, waters and culture. There is so much we can learn from them about being present and walking mindfully through Country and life. I pay my respects to Elders past and present. There has been and remains prejudice and ignorance, including my own, yet I look forward to the future where our great nation is strengthened and grounded by Voice, Treaty and Truth.
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