Reaching back to my own childhood memories, I can hardly recall a time when I didn't believe in the necessity of hard work. My father worked hard at a job he didn't enjoy in order to ensure the survival of his large family. My mother worked equally hard to keep us fed and clothed and living in a house she kept to her exacting standards of cleanliness.
I was expected to work equally hard at school, to do my homework religiously and get good grades. By the time I reached junior high school, guidance counselors were telling me and my classmates that every grade counted if we wanted to get into college. College admission didn't mean rest for the weary. Every grade counted there, too, so that you could get the job you wanted or be admitted to graduate school and continue the fight for good grades.
This fiercely competitive atmosphere taught me another lesson: there wasn't enough to go around. If someone else got whatever I was striving for, I wouldn't. That meant I had to work, not just hard, but extra hard.
If I didn't manage to get my dreams realized, it was my fault. I might have relaxed for a minute or two or taken a day off. Maybe I didn't take the importance of success seriously enough.
I have heard people speak of their 12-hour (or more) work days, or of their busy after-work schedules. While, in some cases, they may give themselves overloaded schedules in order to feel important, the sense of importance often stems from the belief that, whether they're in the office until midnight or attending back-to-back meetings, they're working hard.
It is no wonder that stress-related illness -- ulcers, heart conditions -- are results of over-busy living. As stress and tension block energy, they can generate imbalance in general, which in turn, can lead to a wider variety of illness.
On a more subtle level, we in the New Age/metaphysical/spiritual community, may also apply the principle of hard work to our spiritual practices. Some may feel guilty if they don't give themselves a Reiki treatment every day. Some speak with great seriousness about their spiritual WORK.
Others may berate themselves for not having let go of anger, judgment, and other obstacles on their spiritual paths. They haven't, they think, worked hard enough on themselves. They may feel like spiritual failures.
I used to congratulate myself for having overcome the urge to overachieve, but recent events have conspired to convince me I am no less a believer in the culture of effort. I realized in the course of writing this article on hard work that I thought writing it was hard work.
Taking this idea to a more general level, I discovered I believed writing in general was hard work. There I was, sitting at the computer for several hours a day, typing, editing, deleting, staring blankly at the screen, waiting for inspiration that wouldn't come.
If it wasn't hard, I realized, it wasn't a talent. It wasn't worth appreciating. I wasn't worth appreciating. What if I wrote a useful article in an hour and had fun during the other five or six hours I would ordinarily have devoted to it? I wouldn't be entitled to the respect due a writer who sits and suffers, battles writer's block, and struggles for the ideal word, who refuses to declare a piece done until it's beyond perfection.
No matter how we strive, we have become conditioned to believe that only through hard work can we have what we want, whether it be material rewards or the less tangible but no less important rewards of self-esteem and respect. If someone told us focusing on our goals in a relaxed and happy way would yield us far more, we would find it difficult to believe we could we have what we want without "earning" it.
We can attribute this emphasis on hard work to a number of cultural factors. These include religions that focus on original sin, on earth as a place far inferior to paradise, a kind of holding cell where we must suffer while waiting to be released (which only happens if we're "good"), with our physical bodies as smaller versions of our earthly prison.
Even if we don't formally practice such religions, their influence is everywhere, so all-pervasive that the hard work philosophy may seem like the only way, rather than one way, to live in the physical world.
Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of this way of living is that the more we believe we must work hard, the more difficult our lives actually are.
This what I did when I decided writing was hard. I unknowingly created an unwanted affirmation: "Writing is hard," and repeated it to myself. The more times I said it to myself, the more I believed it, and the more I acted as it were true.
You can notice this process of creating difficulty by thinking of some task you don't especially like to do. It could be cleaning the house, filling out legal forms, balancing your checkbook.
If you pay attention to your thoughts, you may notice how often you have negative thoughts about the particular task. You might think, "Oh, no, I have to balance the checkbook tomorrow" and visualize the difficult of making the figures work out. You might think about how difficult it is to get into all those corners and under the furniture when you vacuum.
By the time you actually physically perform the job, you may have done it a dozen times in your mind, each time affirming its difficulty. Who could be surprised to discover that it's just as difficult to do as you imagined it would be?
The difficulties we create in our minds become energy blockages that don't allow the creative force of source energy to flow through and make life easier for us. The antidote is to use methods that release and dissolve these blockages.
One way is to break mental habits. Catch yourself whenever you find yourself thinking something is difficult. You may not initially be able to think with any conviction, "It's fun to balance the checkbook," but you can work yourself over to that belief by degrees. For some, the first stage is saying, "I can balance the checkbook."
Also monitor yourself regarding general-category thoughts about how hard life is. Write them down, if this appeals to you, and as you do so, say to yourself, "This is not reality; these are only my beliefs about reality, and beliefs can be changed."
It's also helpful to work with crystals and flower and animal essences. I have often been amazed at how much more easily my intentions become reality when I program a crystal and relax about the outcome. Meditating with crystals can also help to release energy blockages. Flower and animal essences can help to dissolve habitual negative thoughts and the energy blockages they create.
You can best benefit from those crystals and essences which most closely relate to your particular forms of energy blockages. For example, if you're resigned to life's difficulties, the Bach Flower Remedy Wild Rose can be helpful. If you're in a constant race to build up declining self-esteem, citrine and the Bach Flower Remedy Larch are valuable.
Below are some general suggestions.
Called the happy stone, though it's actually fossilized tree resin, amber quietly energizes and cheers the spirit.
Herkimer diamond is a more high-voltage tool. It can be placed on any chakra point (or all of them) to dissolve blockages and create a greater spirit of cheer. Often, energy blockages become dramatized in the dream state, and herkimer diamonds help to stimulate dreams.
For assistance in discovering beliefs running the show behind the scenes, azurite is a very helpful crystal. In meditation, it can be placed on the third eye.
Black Tourmaline has the value of releasing both external and internal negativity. Many people discover that once their internal negativity disappears, they find fewer instances of it in the outer world.
Lepidolite, first introduced to me as the "New York City" stone, is especially helpful for releasing the stress which often results from the over-achieving lifestyle.
Wild animals, no matter how busy they look, rarely die of stress-related diseases. Three animals who most visibly demonstrate the integration of work and play are Dolphin, Otter, and Squirrel. Their energies can be found in Wild Earth Animal Essences.
Dolphin is well-known for its playfulness. As an air-breathing animal who lives in the water, it is also associated with the power of deep breathing to allow us to get in touch with and release our emotions. This can have a powerful effect in dissolving blockages.
Otters are honored in both Celtic and Native American cultures as the masters of play. To watch an one or a family is to begin to understand that it is possible to see life as a game to be enjoyed, rather than a burden to be somehow endured.
Squirrel, while seemingly one of the most industrious members of the animal world, is a gifted play master. Whether they are making breathtaking leaps from branch to branch or playing with each other, their gift for enjoyment is apparent.
Oak and Elm are two Bach Flower Remedies that can be very helpful to the overworked. Oak is recommended for those who tend to take on the burdens of the world, carrying on heroically until they drop. Those who need Elm tend to find themselves overwhelmed by how much they have to do, to the point where the smallest additional task can leave them in a state of emotional exhaustion.
Brief descriptions of crystals begin here
A complete listing of Bach Flower Remedies, with links to articles
A complete listing of Wild Earth Animal Essences begins here.
The index of Rainbow Reflections articles has a number of articles about beliefs
under the category, "Realizing Your Dreams."