In practice, we are always dealing with the tone and depth
of our awareness. First, of
course, is the question: are we aware of what’s going on at all? In the beginning, this requires quite a
bit of effort to bring the mind to the present. We need to have reminders everywhere and different types of
techniques, to keep our mindfulness on target, which is Now!
Our ordinary minds are quite wild. They are:
Distractable with thoughts, emotions and sensory
Discontinuous, jumping around, not continuously
Reactive – reacting through the screen of our
like and dislikes which elaborate into attachment (grasping) and aversion
In the beginning it requires quite a bit of focus to corral
our wandering-in-circles mind. But
even within that effort there is a balance. Our Practice needs a balanced tone of not-too-tight and
not-too-loose. Practicing with
this balance, has you working on the edge of your capabilities. This is the expression of Right Effort.
We can use a metaphor of a rocket ship taking off to describe
learning to concentrate the mind.
In the beginning, to get the space craft off the ground and out of
gravity there has to be a tremendous effort and energy expended. They even have auxiliary boosters that
happen at different times in the ascent to sustain the effort against gravity. The “gravity” in meditation is the very
strong habituated mind that keeps on proliferating. On and On. In
order to interrupt this strong flow of mind habit, we have to make a great
effort to interrupt it and bring the attention back to the object of
meditation. Over and over.
However, once the ship is out of the gravitational pull of
earth, you can’t use the same force.
If you do, who knows where you’ll end up in the universe? There’s no force pulling against
you. When you are out of the pull
of gravity and you want to dock the ship into the space station, for example,
you would use very subtle, very slight beeps of energy to make the slightest
adjustment in positioning. This is
very similar to the adjustments made in the subtle levels of concentration.
At some point as your concentration practice develops, you
need to ease off and relax into concentration. If you continue with “trying and efforting”, you are
actually reinforcing the “I” that
you want to see released. So,
Right Effort at this point, becomes non-effort. Letting go or relaxing into what is, with no preferences at
all. Our longing for something other
than what is, produces our suffering.
experiment with this letting go of control (especially in meditation) by
investigating the phrase, “Don’t produce or suppress”. If you don’t try to make something
happen or suppress something from happening, you end up being able to stay,
simply and clearly with what is.
But if you relax too much, all of a sudden - no
concentration. The mind is just
roaming around as usual, flooded with thought. Right Effort in
our practice, in all our practice whether on the cushion or in activity, is
investigating each situation to determine the amount of energy required. Am I too loose or too tight? Should I ease up or intensify my
This subtle modulation of effort continues throughout our day
and our life. Through this
practice we build an awareness that has a vivid, sustainable tone. This tone of awareness, neither too
tight or too loose, can ride us through the waves of our life. As Reb Anderson once said, “Practice is
learning how to surf.” To learn to
surf you need to know when to let go and when to hold on.
Labels: balance in practice, concentration, easing up and intensifying, letting go, letting go of control, non-effort, Right Effort, subtle and coarse concentration