Effort & Letting Go

Following 'Beginner's Mind' last month, 'Dropping unhelpful effort - letting practice do the work' has been this month's suggested theme. Our culture teaches us to put constant effort into all we do in order to achieve. Not that effort is wrong - obviously many aspects of our lives require its discipline and energy. It's also worth noting that in Buddhism 'Right Effort' is part of the Eightfold Path, and means, 'to exert oneself to develop wholesome qualities and release unwholesome qualities' (especially greed, anger and ignorance). However, in Western capitalist society we have placed individual effort as largely a way of achieving personal (material) success. I would suggest this is a long way from the internal, interactional meaning of 'Right Effort'  as described in Buddhism.

Predominance of effort in our goal-oriented society can mean we bring it to our practice in unhelpful, even extreme ways. We need discipline to get 'on the cushion', 'in the chair', 'on the ground' etc., taking up our comfortable postures and positions, then we can begin to let go, maybe using our own internal practice directions, or following an audio recording, we can allow practice 'do the work'. And, for example if/when thoughts arise, we can gently, non-judgementally observe and either come back to our focus (if using one) or just notice the thought, and for example, seeing maybe how a sense of spaciousness can dissipate or drain it of its energy. If we should focus on 'getting it right', or 'doing it properly', this will probably simply serve to contract our mind and our body, letting in judgement and possibly even a sense of failure.

The term 'Letting Go', cliché or no, can serve as a useful adjunct, reminder or invitation as we come into practice, imbuing it with a relaxing 'felt-sense'. Jon Kabat-Zinn says the following:-

'Letting go means just what it says. It's an invitation to cease clinging to anything - whether it be an idea, a thing, an event, a particular time, or view, or desire. It is a conscious decision to release with full acceptance into the stream of present moments as they are unfolding. To let go means to give up coercing, resisting, or struggling, in exchange for something more powerful and wholesome which comes out of allowing things to be as they are without getting caught up in your attraction to or rejection of them, in the intrinsic stickiness of wanting, of liking and disliking. It's akin to letting your palm open to unhand something you have been holding on to.' ('Wherever You Go There You Are', p. 53)


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