Listen to the audio here or take a look at the write-up below.
Coming back to our analogy of the journey. Right view gave us our destination, right intent governs the choices we make during our journey, to help us get there. Right speech, right action and right Livelihood are the baggage we take along the way to support us and help us get there (or not of course). The next group can be brought together and put under the heading of concentration. If our journey is long, we are going to need a degree of tenacity and clarity of mind to get there. The group is made up of right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. They are all supporting our approach to the journey and, of course, again this is all about mind. It is our state of mind. How we mentally approach the journey. With respect to meditation, the association with this part of the eight fold path, is clearer.
These three can be grouped together but essentially their goal is right concentration. We will come to that in a couple of weeks. Today we look at right effort.
This one is going to ABSOLUTELY CRUCIAL to our success on this journey. If we don’t get there, we might like to blame the traffic or other road users but, at the end of the day, we have to take full responsibility for our journey. Uncomfortable as it may be. So let’s take a quick look at life in this modern world. It seems to me that our lifestyle is providing us with more and more ways to step away from that uncomfortable feeling of being responsible for our selves. A lovely illustration. A man bought one of these large recreational vehicles. A Winibego. This vehicle had cruise control. The man decided one day, during his journey to get up, leave the wheel and make a cup of tea. Unsurprisingly the vehicle left the road. Surprisingly, he successfully sued the company because no where in the manual did it say he couldn’t leave the wheel while the vehicle was in motion. Frankly, that is just outrageous. Even if the man had some sort of mental issue or failing here, that was HIS responsibility, difficult or otherwise.
Right effort is about stepping up and taking responsibility for our journey fully and completely.
But, we have to qualify this. Right effort is about having drive and tenacity but it is also about having a sense of friendship towards ourselves. It is no good at all if we drive ourselves so hard we make ourselves ill. We must find e balance. Knowing when we are working too hard or knowing when we aren’t. To this we have to apply total self honesty and a dispassionate view. And of course in doing this, are we fully stepping up and taking responsibility. I see some people with physical difficulties who battle through life and carry on. I see other who use their physical difficulties regularly to explain why they cannot continue in the direction they want to head.
Taunton, last year in the snow, closed. But many people in the town, live in the town. Why did the town close? Yes, it was right that they didn’t drive in to work. But why not pop their boots on, enjoy the fresh clean air and take a stroll through the snow in to work? Perhaps, for many, the snow day was a nice excuse to take an extra days free holiday. I can fully sympathise with that with respect to our attitude to work. But if we have the same mindset with our attitude towards spiritual progress we will never get there.
So, what is it that stops us from making the effort. To arrive at our destination this effort needs to be made up of commitment and conviction. Commitment gets us going in the first place. It is the underlying emotional drive that kicks us off. This needs to be sitting there all the time, sustaining us. When we set out on our journey we need to really examine this. Take a look at your emotional commitment. Why are you making this journey? You will need to understand this clearly because you are going to need to remind yourself regularly when your enthusiasm wains. Then, you need conviction. This keeps you going when that enthusiasm does wain. Just think about New Years resolutions. The number of those that fall by the wayside. There is usually lots of commitment at the start but the conviction fades after a few weeks. So how do we do this? How do we keep our conviction? Well, mostly, the killer of conviction is doubt and often this is false doubt. Take meditation for example. After a few months battling away perhaps we start to think “I’m not making progress, my mind is as busy as ever, this isn’t working”
So, tackle the false doubt. Look at it head on. Ask yourself, why has meditation lasted for 1000’s of years if there isn’t anything is it. Do I really believe that all those 1000’s of people before me found it easier. Of course they didn’t. But they did just knuckle down and push on through.
Then of course there is all the lovely stuff that life offers us that takes us off track. There are so many things that we can do these days, so much opportunity, why would we want to sit on the cushion? Well, if we don’t, we won’t get to the end of our journey.
Let’s take a look at what the Buddha said about right effort. Again he looked at wholesome or unwholesome. Sitting behind all of this, again are the areas we have looked at before. Desire and craving, aversion and I’ll will verses generosity, self-discipline, kindness, concentration and understanding for others. It all comes back to this. So we can look at our challenges with applying our effort and see what is wholesome and what isn’t.
Buddha said that our effort is there to
- prevent the arising of unarisen unwholesome states.
- Abandon existing unwholesome states.
- To arouse wholesome states that have not yet arisen
- To cultivate wholesome states that are already present.
So, we now start to cross over in to meditation because, of course, these are all states of mind that we can begin to cultivate in meditation. Our mind-state can be seen as a container. It has a particular shape. When we put our life into this container, our life will take that shape. The good news is, our mind is malleable and shapeable, through effort. We can create a shape which is wholesome.
In simple terms we can carry out a simple practise that I like to practise each day. As I rise in the morning, I say to myself “today, I am going to avoid harming others, in anyway I can” an ideal which proves impossible, as we sometimes hurt one person when we avoid hurting another. But, the purpose of this isn’t to necessarily achieve an outward affect, it is to make an inward change. When we say this type of mantra to ourselves, we are teaching our subconscious. Essentially establishing a subconscious intent. It is here that we change the shape of our minds.
Our meditation is all about training that subconscious. So, with right effort, we are training our subconscious to keep coming back to the meditation subject. To return, time and again. The mindfulness of breathing is our vehicle to take us there.