23 Aug
Posted in: Books, Practice
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Wise Effort

The sixth factor of the Noble Eightfold Path is samba vayama, usually translated as Wise (or Right) Effort.

In Dancing with Life, Phillip Moffitt writes:
“Right effort is directing your attention so that you are not helplessly caught in the various mind states that arise. The Buddha describes four kinds of wise effort: avoiding unhealthy mind states; abandoning unhealthy mind states once they have arisen; moving the mind to healthy mind states; and maintaing the mind on healthy mind states that have already arisen.

“Attention is a function of the mind and is subject to training, although it often seems as if this is not so. However, energy follows attention, therefore whatever you place your attention on is what will receive energy in your life.

“Right effort is classically associated with working with your mind in meditation, but it also applies to working with your mind states in daily life. If you have a choice, you do not place your attention on thoughts that do not serve you, and you move away from thoughts that are obsessive, contracting, and limiting. Practicing these two forms of right effort doesn’t mean that you should seek to never have difficult thoughts; it just means that you shouldn’t stay stuck on them

“Instead you would move your attention from identifying with the terrible thoughts to the suffering that is contained in the thoughts, which in turn will give rise to compassion and give you clarity to see how you are getting caught in whatever hurt you….

“Instead of being caught in reactive mind, you are able to accept that life includes such difficulty, i.e., ‘Betrayal feels like this.’ Do you see how this is right effort? Your external conditions and your emotional experience are no different, but you are no longer being defined by your emotional reaction. Amazingly, right effort really does work this way; it is not just some abstract idea.”


The phrase that stands out the most for me in this section is: energy follow attention. So as I prepare to retire at the end of next week, and get ready to go on my first 6-week retreat, I plan to be careful about where I place my attention. I don’t want to give any extra energy to anxiety about money or family or health or what’s going to happen in the future. I want all my energy to go toward doing whatever I can do in this present moment…including making responsible plans for the future….and then being open and able to respond to whatever actually does happens in the next present moment. Stay tuned.

Up next: Wise Mindfulness

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