Scratch: Transcript of "Wise Effort and Wise Attachment"
So, tonight, what I want to go into a little bit is wise effort and wise attachment and explore this a little bit with you. Particularly this question of, um, wise effort that has a lot of different kind of levels or sizes to it. So both on a micro level in our practice, moment to moment, how are we doing with that effort? What's happening in relationship to effort and trying, etc? Really, really crucial, but equally crucial is a kind of a macro-level big picture question, "How am I in my life in relationship to effort, to goals, to progress, notions like that?"—which I touched on very briefly last night but I want to explain more fully tonight, starting with the macro, the big picture, and working towards the micro level.
This question I feel is really, really key. What is my relationship to concepts, notion of goals in the spiritual path, progress on the spiritual path. It's actually really, really fundamental for us to, well, to grapple with that question, because it turns out not to be an easy question for most people nowadays in the West. So, we can have a notion, "it's about just being", whatever on earth that means. "Just being" or "just being with what is", but like I said last night the Buddha didn't actually say that, or speak that way, or really point to that. A notion like that can be very useful, very useful at times, as sort of one approach within our buffet of approaches. But if that's exclusively how we're approaching the spiritual life, our spiritual life ends up bearing very little similarity to the rest of our life because our life is actually full of goals. It's full of goals.
So I gave the example of driving a car. One needs to, I'm getting from here to there and I'm going to negotiate in a way that gets there. When I go to the toilet, I need to have a goal to get the stuff in the bowl. (laughing) And others are thankful that I have that goal when I… If you're in a relationship, even a friendship, you may be conscious of this or not, but a goal is for it to work, to move toward more harmony, and if there's a fracture or disharmony or disease between two people, the goal is to heal that, to move toward something that's harmonious and working. We may not frame it that way, but it's actually important that aspiration is there. In the heart, in the mind.
Goals in themselves are not a problem, aspirations are not a problem. Where we trip up, where get ensnared is in the self-view that forms around our relationship with goals. The problem of self-measurement, "Am I good enough? Am I not good enough? How do I compare?" All of this brings pain. I and I and measuring and comparing go together in a way that's oftentimes not very healthy, they often go together. It's when the I is wrapping around a self-view in relationship to the goal. "I'm not there yet. He's there. She's there. They're further toward it and I am not." And I create a self-view around failure. Around being slow. Around being stupid. Around being spiritually inept, or whatever it is.
So the question is "If I'm throwing this out, this whole notion, is then my conceiving of the path, the spiritual path, is then that atrophied in some way? Do I then have a kind of shrunken and atrophied relationship and version of spirituality?" And sometimes, well, often, that's quite common, for us in the West to do that. We may be conscious of the reasons why we do, we may be less conscious of the reasons why we're doing it, but this is very common for us to just sweep that whole aspect, those whole notions aside, and have a different, you know, it's easy to get into a different kind of image of what a spiritual person is or what the spiritual path involves.
Even teachers can do this. One teacher was telling me she was teaching in a city in Europe where she lives, and it's a very affluent city—I don't know what they do, something that makes a lot of money (laughs)—and she had an evening class and the first time it met, arrived about 20 sort of corporate executives from work, with suits and briefcases from work, and went around sort of introducing, "What do you do?" and they were all like really high-flying executives. And just vaguely, in the back of her mind, she thought, "Well, this is different, I wonder if these people are going to get it," kind-of-thing, not even fully formed. She said as soon as the class started, all of them just plugged in the same kind of get-down-to-it, gung-ho they do in their corporate whatever.
And she said it was fantastic, absolutely fantastic! She hadn't even realized she had this image of what spiritual people, whatever, they'd have been taughtness (?) (laughing) Sorry. Apologies to Tawny.
If you read the original suttas, the word striving, the Buddha uses that a lot. It's a word which has disappeared from the modern dharma culture, and there are really understandable reasons for that, and I'm going to go into that tonight, but the Buddha originally uses this word a tremendous amount, all of the time he uses it, "striving, striving," toward the goal. And at the same time, he's not, you know, dumb about this. He acknowledges that in the process for yearning for something beautiful, aspiring to something, wanting to move to a goal, there will be something called the distress of the renunciator, the distress of the practitioner that there's an acknowledgment there's going to be some dissatisfaction. "I'm over here and I want to be over there," and it's like ugh, and that's oh—just the acknowledgment, that will be there from time to time and, you know what, it's ok. It's really ok. It can be embraced, included."
So what we really need, I feel, is a healthy attitude, a deeply healthy attitude towards moving toward the aspirations and our goals, towards effort. In a way our aspirations, our goals… they're what give our life direction and in so doing they align us with what is beautiful and they give our life a kind of nobility.
One of my teachers says, "A life, a life without that kind of aspirations or goals is just"—this is not a very nice image, kind of harsh—"is just like being a fish flopping around in a puddle. Nothing's really happening. You've just got flopping, not going anywhere." It's a little harsh.
It's part of the art, this really… grappling with it, working with this relationship to effort is part of the art of meditation. There's no question about it. So… Why do we back away sometimes from the notion of goals, from the notion of really clear aspirations? Well, as I mentioned, there's that pain of self-view. The self gets wrapped around the whole concept. I said, I think it was last, the notion of success implies the notion of failure. And we fear that end of things, but if I entertain the notion of possible success, I'm inviting the notion of possible failure, but out of my fear around failure, I throw out the whole thing, and there's a cost to that. A deep cost to that.
Sometimes we're just tired, just tired from life, we're just tired, and we don't want another thing to aspire to, another goal. Sometimes, and this is important, too, we're tired from having goals in our life that are not meaningful to us. They're just kind of stuff that somehow we're caught up in working towards and, maybe at one level, we really want that, but at a deep level, this isn't even important to us. And somehow our life is become… kind of on this locomotive toward something that on a relative level is kind of meaningless to us. Of course then we turn off the whole notion of goals.
Sometimes even a noble goal, a beautiful goal, awakening, enlightenment, whatever, wanting to develop a boundless loving heart, even a noble goal can become to feel meaningless to us. If we slip into a relationship with it, which is quite easy, a relationship with it which is unhelpful or distorted in some way, then even what's noble comes to feel like "ugh", meaningless. It's lost it's beauty. If somehow in the way of seeing it, we're distorting something.
Buddha said once, "It is by relying on craving that craving is to be abandoned." So the goal of the path is to abandon craving, that's sort of one of the ways of summarizing what awakening is, enlightenment is. It is by relying on craving that craving is to be abandoned. There's something in actually using this desire, this craving, to move beyond it.
Sometimes I wonder if our problem is not that we have too much desire, it's that we don't have enough. We don't have enough desire. Somehow we haven't let it burn deep in the being, sink deep in the being, that passion, that fire. Somehow.
Or we're not selective enough with our desires. We're not in a way picky enough with our desires. A little bit of this, a little bit of that, a little bit of pleasure. It's all like, almost like, not asking quite enough. We demonize desire but sometimes maybe we don't have enough. It doesn't run deep enough.
So what might be wise effort? What might be wise effort? This a really important question and I do feel that word "grapple" is appropriate at times. We really need to go into this in our life, and we'll go through different relationships with this, etc. Just reflect a little bit what wise effort might involve. You could break it down into three aspects.
One is the question of, "Effort toward what? Where is it directed? Where am I directing my effort? Toward what?" I'm going to go into this. The second is, "What's involved in wise effort and what's not involved in wise effort?" In other words, "What's a part of wise effort and what's not a part of wise effort?" The second part.
The third part is a question of balance. So I'm going to go into these.
So the first one. Where is my effort directed? This is actually really important. When the Buddha talked about what's called right effort, he summarized it as part of the 8-fold path, the path that leads to liberation, to awakening, he said that right effort involves four right efforts. They are the effort to give rise to wholesome, beautiful, skillful qualities of the mind and heart. That we actually… like we're doing here, we're trying to nourish and cultivate a state of calm, of energized calm, of shamatha, samadhi, that right effort, to give rise to what's wholesome and beautiful, metta, generosity, all of the things I've mentioned here or there.
Giving rise to and once it's arisen, to maintain it, so here in the practice we're working with the breath and it feels good and the mind and the body begin to feel unified in that open awareness. It feels good and steady and can we just encourage that to sustain a little, to maintain? That's the second of the right efforts.
The third is to abandon what is the qualities that are the opposite of that, the unskillful, unhelpful, unwholesome, not-so-beautiful qualities. That are actually… not that they're not going to arise, not that they're not part of being human, but we're interested in letting them go when there's irritation, when there's jealousy, when there's anger, when there's things that aren't helpful. Some of these [unintelligible], some of these are more interesting. So anger, sometimes there may be aspects that are actually helpful. That's a whole other talk.
Abandoning what's not helpful, and the last one, preventing the future arising of what's not helpful. So what am I doing now that I'm in a way setting the soil, taking care of the soil, so that the weed don't arise? Now, I know nothing about gardening. I don't even know if that's possible. (laughing) But I'm assuming it is. Probably you just spray it with a bunch of chemicals. Something we're doing that's preventing the future arising of states that are not so helpful.
These make up the four right efforts. So where is it directed. It's directed toward that… awakening, liberation, nirvana, whatever word you want to use. Now, interesting, that's really not that interesting to some people. And that's totally fine, and I totally accept that, but for some people it really is. That again will be a whole other subject.
Or the whole idea of there is perhaps something deathless to be realized. Something that is beyond death. That as human beings it's possible for us to know, and the knowing of that is profoundly liberating. Indescribably liberating. And so in a way the right effort is also toward that. And again this will be sort of interesting to some people and not to others. But, always the Buddha said the four right efforts are: giving rise to what's beautiful, what's helpful, maintaining what's helpful, abandoning and preventing what's not so helpful.
Sometimes I know that in mentioning the deathless, etcetera, that does not resonate at all with some people, because in a way not to mention it would be doing a bit of a disservice to what the possibilities and what the aspirations might be, for some.
What's a part of this wise effort, I feel, and I feel the Buddha also, that wise attachment is actually needed. What does that actually mean, wise attachment? So we actually need to get attached to our care, about our ethics, care about what we're putting out in the world, the sila. We actually need to get attached to samadhi, shamatha. We actually need to get attached to our understanding, our insight. Attached to sila, samadhi, these pali words for that.
We tend to think we shouldn't get attached to anything, but I don't know if that's the most skillful way of seeing things. That doesn't seem to be the way the Buddha thought either. A baby, a newborn baby needs to get attached to its mother. It absolutely needs that. It's getting attached to a good thing there. It's healthy for the baby to be attached to the baby and the mother to be attached to the baby.
It's like modern psychologists talk about attachment theory, and it's that whole theory like how that happens, and how to take care of that, and what happens to the baby and the growth of the baby when that isn't there. So attachment is actually important for something to grow, and it's the same spiritually. It's the same on the path. So the baby is nourished by attachment to the mother. With a sense of balance! So if the mother is unable to, say when the baby starts toddling, unable to tolerate the baby going, you know, twenty yards away or whatever, ten yards away, the mother is over grasping, an unhealthy kind of attachment, and that's too much.
The same with what attachment to what's beautiful in the path. What's healthy, and when is it too much? And, eventually, we begin to wean ourselves off that attachment, off our attachment to ethics, which doesn't mean we act unethically, it just means we're not attached. We wean ourselves off the attachment to the pleasure of shamatha and samadhi. It doesn't mean we don't keep practicing samadhi. We wean ourselves off the attachment, even we wean ourselves off the attachment to insight. Insight is also not the goal of the path. It's actually just a stage, a stage to liberation. And one can wean oneself off these things, but only when you've had enough of them. Only when you've caught on to them in a good way.
So the Buddha didn't say let go of everything, right now, just let go. He didn't teach that way. What happens if we try and do that is that one just falls back on the kind of hidden attachments that one has, or one's even, I think I said yesterday, unaware of a whole strata, a whole festering forest of attachments that are actually operating. We haven't developed the subtlety enough, the depth of wisdom. One just falls back on default assumptions. Sometimes one just falls back on obvious attachments.
Without in a way attaching to ethics, to samadhi, to insight we don't have the leverage, yeah, the leverage to pry ourselves loose of the less helpful things that we're attached to. I think of an image of a ladder, and climbing the latter, climbing towards liberation, wherever, in a way you hold on to this rung up here and that very holding on up here is what allows you to let go with your feet down there. Or you push with one foot on the lower rung. So there's a leaning on and attachment, relying on something to reach something else.
Oftentimes, especially around shamatha and samadhi, people often arise the objection, "Won't I get attached to this if it's pleasant? Won't I get attached to it?" Sometimes we're more worried about the possibility that we might get attached to the pleasantness of samadhi, when our life is full of all kind of attachment: attached to where we live and where we eat, and all kinds of stuff.
Why are we more worried about one necessarily than the other? So the Buddha has this image of a raft and the image of liberation being the other shore, and we're moving from this shore where there's suffering to the other shore. It's a poetic image. And you use the raft to get across, but you don't abandon the raft on this side or even in the middle. You don't chop up the raft to make firewood before you've set out, and then jump up and down triumphantly that you've let go of the raft. You're still on this shore.
Or a more modern image, perhaps. I got a car and I want to drive to, I don't know, Inverness or something. Is my car going to last forever? Certainly not my car, but that's not the point. No, the car is not going to last forever, but maybe it can still get me to Inverness, which is where I want to go. Is the car going to break down? Maybe. Maybe it'll break down. I can fix it. Am I going to run out of fuel? Maybe, but I can refuel.
Okay, so where is it directed? The second aspect. What's involved in right effort and wise effort, and what's not involved. Well, one really important energy constellation that's not involved in wise effort is the whole kind of structure of the inner critic. Now, we could easily spend a whole dharma talk just on this. It's so prevalent and endemic to our culture. This kind of inner voice that's constantly commenting in negative ways, constantly judging what we're doing. "It's not good enough. You're not there yet. Didn't do that right. Nun-nun-nun-nun." Always blaming. Always criticizing. Always judging. Always comparing, in that negative way.
This is I think absolutely huge in our culture in the West. It's massive. And in a way it has massive, massive clout, both internally—how much power does that kind of constellation have in our lives? For each of us to really reflect on this, how much does that structure, what I'm calling the inner critic, how much is that pulling the strings? It's not there for everyone, but a lot, a lot of people it's there. Maybe not all the time, but a lot. How much is that directing my choices, pulling the strings? How much clout and power does that have?
And how much clout and power does it have in the dharma culture? So, in the wider culture, but also in the dharma culture. Are there things that perhaps we're not talking about as teachers because somehow they, the inner critic in many people, will get hold of them and it will be painful, and is that effecting the dharma culture as a whole? That because I might, I feel if I might say something, when I say something, I feel some pain in response to that, do I then back off saying that thing? If I do, how much is that effecting the dharma culture?
Am I not talking about certain things, nibanna, the deathless, etcetera etcetera, samadhi even, because it's painful for me to feel the pain coming back? I think this is a huge, huge question as in the West as a dharma culture, collectively together, we need to really look at and address. There's so much pain bound up in this structure, so much suffering bound in this structure, and it has so much power. And it's possible, it's very possible, to be totally free from it. No matter how bad it is now. It's possible to be completely free from it.
And that could happen gradually. I know from some students I worked with over quite some time. Or it could happen (snaps) like that. Very, very suddenly. Either way. Gradual or sudden. It's totally possible to be totally free.
I just want to spend a little time talking about this structure of the inner critic and how to work with it, although we could spend a whole talk on this. I'm not going to.
I want to throw out a few possible strategies of working with it. The first is, to turn around and actually speak to it, and ask it, "If I achieved whatever it's saying I'm not good enough for not achieving, if I achieved X, would you be satisfied then?" Now, what happen, what might happen when you do that, it might just go, "Yes. I will."
Don't move too quickly. Stay there with it. See if that yes is a genuine yes. "Really? Really? Are you telling me the truth?" Hang out with it. What you'll see is that it's full off… bologna, basically. It's full of hot air. It's whatever, you'll see that whatever stage you get to, whatever you achieve, it will never be enough to satisfy the inner critic. It's never going to be enough. You begin to see that it's a totally unreasonable, irrational kind of structure that's going on. In a way that begins to just… you can't take it so seriously. This is even anything reasonable, or intelligent, or rational.
Sometimes you see this— it just kind of blips up, this irrational comment of "not good enough, not good enough." It's just a blip of something irrational.
Now, we can also kind of put that in complement with something else which, in a way, you could say, "It's good to not be satisfied on the path. It's good to not be satisfied until one's a Buddha. Until one's totally finished with the path." And there's a kind of healthy dissatisfaction, you know, to see that I can develop more. I can understand deeper. I can do that. That's possible. And in a way I'm not quite satisfied until I'm there. There's another part that's not quite satisfied until it's got that deeper development, deeper understanding. And there's a way that can actually be healthy.
Again, what makes it unhealthy is when does it become a self-evaluation, a self-value judgment. When are we defining the self, binding the self with conclusions about our ourselves based on this dissatisfaction? It's turned into something that was about the path and about our aspirations, it's moved from that into a kind of self-definition, and we're wrapping that around ourselves and it's painful, and constricted, something that's burning the skin.
Judging oneself. Third possibly. It's not, it's usually just not helpful outright but, if we're going to judge anything, how about judging our intentions? We are a little bit more in control so-to-speak of our intentions. We have the intention for samadhi. We have the intention for kindness. We have the intention for goodness. Etcetera. We have less control over the results. There are too many other factors that are at play that govern the result.
In other words, I have the intention for samadhi, but I might have just had some really bad news, or a cold. I might have this or that. I'm not in control enough of the flow of past conditions and present conditions that are effecting the result. If I judge myself based on the result, it's… it's not wise. If one is going to judge oneself, judge based on the intentions.
Can we respect ourselves for the right kind of things? So oftentimes self-respect in our culture gets measured in different ways: how beautiful we are, how rich, how this or that, what kind of status we have in society, and then we end up, our actual sense of self-respect gets measured along those lines. Can we actually have it run along more healthy lines? That we're respecting ourselves for our ethical care, for instance, that we're respecting the beauty of our intentions, the beauty of our aspirations, the fact that we're actually engaging in a process to work towards what we really care about, that we're really doing that. That's something to respect.
And sometimes it's worth actually inclining the mind again toward the positive and actually dwelling, sitting, in the sense of our goodness, the sense of what we really value and respect about ourselves. Actually cherishing that beauty of ourselves. This is not a very popular notion in the culture. That sounds very egoic, very kind of self-obsessed, etcetera. What would it be to really just remind oneself of one's nobility, of one's beautiful aspirations, etcetera? Of one's care for ethics. And, really, as a meditation sit with that. Bring the mind back to that. Dwell in that. See what happens.
Most of the time we dwell in the exact opposite. (Mumbling) "I'm not good enough." (Unintelligible mumbling) (Laughing) It becomes a habit, unfortunately, and we're suspicious of the wrong thing. Instead of being suspicious of that, we're suspicious of dwelling in a sense of our beauty and cherishing our self and respect for us.
The Buddha makes a very important distinction between actions and essence so, instead of judging people, it's assessing, discerning whether action helpful or not. This thing that I do, this response that I gave, or that way that I was in that situation: was that helpful or not? Not judging the self for that, just judging "Ah, that wasn't that skillful how I said that to that person. In the future I want to do it differently." It's a very subtle shift, but it's actually, you know what, it was one of the strokes of genius that the Buddha introduced. Shifting to actions from essence, and not making conclusions about the essence of oneself or another person, but instead just discerning, "What action is helpful? What action is not helpful?"
It might sound a little abstract but trying to put this into effect in our being, that actually is, it's implications are massive and run very deep.
Fifth one. What exactly am I criticizing when I criticize myself? What exactly am I criticizing? I usually feel like I'm ending up criticizing myself, whatever that is, but that's a kind of big, abstract picture. If I dissect it a little bit, what I find is what I'm actually judging is a moment of something and that moment, when I really look at it, I can't find a self in it.
I'm sitting in meditation and the mind wanders off. What am I judging there, exactly? Judging a moment of forgetfulness? A moment where I didn't have mindfulness? Is that moment of not being mindful, is that myself? Somehow we don't see that. We're taking this micro-moment and blowing it up to be a self and then we judge that self and we get into pain, pain around self. Does that make sense?
What one sees the more one practices samadhi, the more one goes into this, is that when it feels good, when things kind of come together and unify and the mind feels good and the body feels good, and that's going well, that's not really dependent on the self. That's dependent on the conditions, and when the conditions are there, and they come together, samadhi is there. When the conditions are not there, samadhi is not there, and it actually has very little to do with self. It takes time to see that, but it takes away, either, feeling pumped or "I'm a great meditator" or the opposite, "I'm a failure." It actually has very little to do with the self. When the conditions are there, it's going to be there.
The seventh one is metta. Loving-kindness meditation. What a huge resource and tool this is for us. So, long-term loving-kindness practice makes a big difference to this inner critic. Long-term, really just over and over directing loving-kindness to the self and other, especially towards the self. Washing the being, bathing the being in loving-kindness. Over a long period, it begins to just soften, open, to crack open that inner-critic.
But, also, in the short-term, so when you're here on the cushion, in the context of this retreat we're working on the breath, and the mind has got very tight, and a lot of harshness and judgment, maybe just go to the loving-kindness practice, and actually just direct some loving-kindness toward yourself. Maybe just for a few minutes, for the rest of the session, whatever it needs. So both long-term and short-term really, really help.
And just lastly, I mentioned this in the opening talk, shifting the emphasis away from a kind of self-preoccupation in practice and realizing that we're practicing for all beings. Just reminding oneself of that. We get too tight around the self and, "How am I doing?", etcetera. Just opening out can really help.
Attitude is really, really important with all of this. I head that Michelangelo at 87—87 years old!—he'd done David, he'd done the Sistine Chapel and everything, and he said, "I'm still learning how to sculpt." Still with that process of learning, discovering, and even someone who's fully enlightened is still learning, still learning. So to expect waves is also really important of our attitude. It's not going to feel good all of the time. It's going to be a real up and down, and really expecting those up and downs. There's going to be hindrances. There's going to be times when the body feels constricted, etcetera. When there's agitation, "What can I learn here about working with what's difficult?" That question, if that question can be here, "What can I learn here?" So shamatha practice is not just about things feeling good. It's also about, "What can I learn when it doesn't feel so good?"
Sometimes in this kind of practice, you know, we talk about the mind settling down, etcetera, we actually need to not get too fixated on how concentrated we are and actually step back and see a bigger picture, "What else am I encouraging, nurturing, cultivating, in this process, even when it doesn't feel good?" So it may be that mind keeps going off and I keep coming back and it keeps going off and I keep coming back, and I'm actually developing patience there. Do I see that I'm developing patience? Because that makes a difference, if I see a bigger picture of what's happening here. I see more usefulness to this time, even if the mind is off, I'm still developing patience. Maybe the development of patience is as significant as the development of concentration.
If the mind goes off many times, and I'm trying not to get involved in the judgmentalism and I'm just stopping the judgmentalism and coming back, I'm also weakening judgmentalism. That's also immensely significant. There's a bigger picture of what's going on here, than just, "Can I stay with the breath?" and if I can I get a tick and if I can't I get a red dot, "Please see the teacher."
Patient, non-judgmentalism. We're developing the muscle of the mind every time it goes and bring back and every time it goes and bring back and every time it goes and bring back. Soon, the muscle gets big. It's not imagined.
Or when it's not going well, bringing some questioning in. What's the reason it's not going well? What can I do? The spirit of questioning is also something we can cultivate. That's also going on in the bigger picture. That's also helpful. That's not wasted time. That's really, really important. That's not wasted time.
Sometimes in our relationship with a goal we get too focused on the result and we lose the focus on what we need to do in the moment to move toward that goal and this can be quite subtle. We're just in the meditation with a bit of like, "em, it's just not good enough." We want something. Maybe we've had a taste of it before, and it's a kind of leaning forward in the moment. So watch out for this.
And the question, "Is that there? Am I skipping over paying attention, to taking care of the causes right now? Am I engaging with the practice?" This is really important. Am I engaging? Or have I gone to the future or just kind of given up. So, am I taking care of the wide body awareness? Am I playing with the breath? Am I playing with, as I'll talk about now, effort levels? etc.
One of the Buddha's lists is what's called the four, four bases of success. It's not a list you hear much. The four bases of success. If you want to succeed at something, including meditation, four qualities need to be there and you need to check that they're there: Desire. Persistence. Intent-ness, or kind of focus, full-attentiveness, and the last one is, um, sort of ingenuity.
But check, "Is the desire there?" Desire is actually a factor of succeeding. We need to have desire. We need to want it to work. Persistence is just keep trying. You just keep trying. You fall off the saddle, you get back. It's like this persistence is actually a factor needed for success.
Intent-ness, that you're with the breath, and you're really with the body, there's something… you're giving it your whole attention. You're really engaging with the process. How's the breath? What feels best? Where shall I breathe from, in my whole body? You're really there, with a fullness of being. That has to be there.
This is the same for anything. If you want to write a novel, or write a symphony, or whatever. Some big project. These four things: desire, persistence, intent-ness, and kind of responsive ingenuity. They all need to be there. Otherwise this project is not going to happen.
So this last one. Vimumsa is a strange word. A kind of active intelligence, that we're really using our ingenuity. We're creative in the moment. We're responding, and sometimes that might be a deft touch and that might be going into another approach, doing some loving-kindness or, if we feel really like uninspired, reflecting on death. [laughing] That always makes em laugh.
It's good for you! You know, we can get lazy, and it's because we don't realize, we don't have our priorities straight.
So. Factors of wise effort. What's [unintelligible] and what's involved in wise effort? Wise effort, it needs a sense of juice. It needs some juicy-ness. So often—this is so common—people are approaching practice from a "should". There's a sense of, "Oh, I should practice." I should-should-should, or I should be doing this practice or I really should get my samadhi together, or I should be a better concentrator. I should have more loving-kindness.
How much of our effort is coming from should? This is so, so crucial. Sometimes we don't even realize how much is coming from should, and then with that should the question, "Am I doing it right or am I doing it wrong?" and there's fear behind that question. So much fear behind that question.
When practice is coming from should and this "Am I doing it right?" Eventually, and probably not too long a time, it will dry up. It will crack or it will hit a wall. Can we have some juice in our effort, in our aspiration? We're actually approaching practice out of interest, out of love, out of passion, even, desire. We want something. Not that we think should be somehow, that we actually really want…
So, wise effort… it also needs faith and I think it needs a sense of possible. We really need to feel that something is possible for us. With that, there's not going to be a kind of balance and wisdom in the effort.
But with this practice, particularly this kind of practice we're doing, we begin to see… begin to get a kind of experiential faith. We're never too far away from a pleasant feeling. Even in this moment, constriction, pain, this emotion, whatever. Actually you begin to get a sense over time, you're never too far away from some kind of pleasant abiding.
Okay, I'm hopelessly ridiculous with time tonight. Let's skip to the third one.
Balancing, okay? Third aspect of wise effort, and I'm using it in a, I don't know what it's called, present-participle. Balancing. As a verb. So, what that implies, there's a responsiveness there. There's a responsiveness to our effort. It's not a static thing. This is really important.
So sometimes we get the image, I'll just kind of find the like, I'll put the dial on five and kind of go into cruise control with the effort. It's not that at all. There's a real, um, yeah… real fluidity and responsiveness with effort that's important. So actually, it's always a question, uh, am I too much right now? Am I too little? Am I too tight? Am I too loose? It's part of the art, playing with that effort, playing with the effort.
And as we deepen in the meditation, this gets subtler and subtler. So our awareness of when it's too much and when it's not enough, when we're a little bit too tight. We develop more of the sensitivity I've been talking about. We develop more and more subtlety to that, more and more awareness of subtlety with that. And that's very gradual. A big part of what I mean when I say sensitivity.
The Buddha has an image of right efforts like holding a little bird. If you squeeze too tight, you're going to kill the bird. If you're too loose, the bird just flies away. With the mind, if we squeeze too tight, it has a funny effect. First of all, you actually feel it in the body. If you squeeze too tight with your effort, trying to hold onto the breath, the moment, and the body, you actually feel the tightness in the body, so let this whole body awareness actually reflect that back to you when it's too tight.
What you also notice is when you squeeze too tight, it's almost like you're putting pressure on the mind. It actually causes the mind to produce more thoughts. It has the opposite effect of what we want. So to notice that sometimes when you feel that, "Gosh, there's so much thought going on," notice that sometimes it's because we're actually too tight with the mind.
You can think also the image of a potter, like a master potter, with the pottery wheel, of clay, and is it too much pressure to curve the jug, or whatever they're making? Or is too little? There's a real sensitivity, and for a master potter there's a real refinement of that ability to feel when what's just the right pressure.
Some of that, the master potter will be able to explain to the apprentice in words. It's like this, and you feel for this. Another aspect of it, the kind of more subtle aspect of it, is almost not verbalizable, and it's the same with practice. There's adjustments that we make that we can barely put into language. They're so subtle the way we're responding to the pressure or the tightness or shaping things or encouraging things.
So, as I mentioned some point, maybe this morning. The mind will rebel from time to time, the mind absolutely will rebel, no question about it. Doesn't want [unintelligible] stay with the breath, stay with the body. It says, "I don't want to stay with the breath." What can really help is softening, relaxing the effort, the approach there, and moving, using the sense of well-being, so whatever sense of well-being there is, just bathing that sense of well-being with the breath. So it's a much more relaxed approach. Bathing the sense of well-being with the breath, and this can be very, very light and very gentle and even the breath becomes gentle, the effort becomes very gentle, very light, you really just… it's almost like even the image I have right now is when you bath a newborn baby and you just hold the baby's head and just, just you know a little bit of water you're splashing over the baby. Even more gentle than that, you're just bathing the sense of well-being with the breath.
So the comfort and the pleasure is actually important for the effort. If we're connected and nourishing that sense of comfort, it makes the effort easier. It makes it easier, rather than just kind of dry striving. It's actually very important, and over time, gradually, not in a linear way, we get more and more skillful and we develop more and more subtlety in kind of smoothing out the places of constriction, the kind of places that don't feel so good, and dissolving them and evaporating them in the body, using the breath, using the touch of the mind, using the way we're conceiving of the breath. We develop more and more subtlety of skill there.
So I'm gonna throw out… I'm almost finished. I think people are tired. I'm going to throw out three things I'm going to pick up on tomorrow morning in the instructions, but I'll put them out now so it's not completely new tomorrow morning. To be aware of how heavy, how forceful the mind is, in relationship to the body and the breath, to be aware of that, and sometimes to see, "Can the mind and the attention be really, really light? Really light? Like a feather, light as a feather, just kind of touching the body with the attention."
And so aware of this heaviness, lightness, and actually experimenting with a very, very light touch of attention, especially if it's to the whole area of the body, very, very skillful. Something to play with, another thing to play with, to experiment with.
Second thing, I'll pick up on tomorrow, the breath comes in and out. We have the in and out breathing, and obviously that's been crucial to what we've been talking about so far, but there's also a kind of more subtle level of breath energy, that's kind of not so much about it moving in and out, it's almost like the background energy of the body, the background kind of tone of this bubble, this balloon, this egg shape, and tuning into that as an energy-field, as a texture, as a vibration, and… in a way that becomes the breath, the subtle breath, or what we could call the body. The body and the breath kind of fuse at that point when there's that kind of awareness.
The in and out breathing might be still going on, but it's kind of sort of just one aspect of what's going on, and maybe it's bathing that sense a little or maybe it's just a bit to one side, but there's a whole kind of subtler, quieter level of background breath energy. What we call background-body energy we actually want to begin getting interested in.
Last piece: in the guided meditation this morning, I was moving a little quickly through it. One other option, I said I think one of the last things, the breath in the middle of the body and kind of expanding out and filling the body like that. Could it be also that breath energy surrounds the whole body? Here's the body and you're actually surrounded by breath-energy and one's conceiving of the breath as breathing in and out through every pore of the whole body. It's just moving in and out to this… this egg, this bubble. It's just doing this, very, very skillful, and in a way then we can also meld into that breath energy that surrounds. This also has a lot to do with the effort because it's more of a melting movement. It's more of a melting movement, an opening movement.
I'll bring this up more tomorrow, but there's a way of conceiving the breath that's sort of all around the body.
Okay. So this idea of balancing the effort, from here on out, from here until the day one dies, it's going to be part of practice. Subtler and subtler levels. It's going to be part of practice. Balancing the effort levels. It's okay that that's part of it. We want to get familiar with it.
But if we're engaged in that kind of balancing, if our effort is right effort, if we're taking care of what's involved in that effort, if we're those words, "playing", if we're patient, if we're sensitive, if we're steady, if all of that is there, that's half of the battle for us. It's half the battle, and then we're not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, which is the danger if we just sideline this whole question of effort and goals and aspiration. Just that we'll end up throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We're not, if we take care of all this, if we give it, if we grapple with it, if we give it some subtle attention and care, we're not closing doors for ourselves. We're not closing the doors for what might be really, really beautiful.