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effortless effort

When you are on the meditative path, you need endurance to overcome deeply ingrained habits. Intellectually, you may understand impermanence, unreliability and emptiness, but it is hard for this understanding to become experiential reality. For habits to dissolve, you have to meditate and notice the three  characteristics over and over again. Sometimes you might have a sudden insight but this will quickly be obscured, and you will go back to acting out of the old habits of fear and separation. Today, we are so used to technology and rapid progress that it is hard to endure setbacks. Press a switch and the light comes on; turn on the tap and water flows. We are used to things being
easy and comfortable, and it is upsetting if they are not.

Maybe you have a tendency to procrastinate. You do not feel too good today, the atmosphere is not right, you think it might be better to meditate tomorrow or the day after. But you need to practice right now, in this moment, with conditions as they are. Master Kusan would use the analogy of ice in winter. If the sun shines for a day, the ice does not melt. But if the sun shines for many days, the ice melts and then there is water for washing and cleaning. In the same way, if we do not practice regularly and assiduously we will not be able to break through our patterns and habits to awakening.

Endurance is not grim, you do not need to grit your teeth. Having endurance only requires determination. It helps you bring energy and enthusiasm to the practice. Remind yourself that meditation and wisdom are beneficial and also fun to cultivate. Nobody is forcing you to meditate. Your habits have hardened for twenty or thirty years, it is going to take more than a week or two to weaken them. Meditation is a lifelong process of understanding, loosening and unfolding. You must be careful not to expect quick results; things move in their own way. Help your flow of conditions by bringing willingness and attention to this task of meditating and cultivating wisdom.

You need to put much effort into meditation, without becoming attached to your effort. Bring your understanding of the three characteristics to endurance and effort as well. Try with dedication but without expectations; do not judge or blackmail yourself. Be intent and attentive without grasping at any result. This is cultivating effortless effort — trying not too much and not too little but just enough. Try to tune your effort like a guitar. If the strings are too tight, they will break. If they are too loose, the guitar cannot be played properly. You must tune the strings and tighten them just so. It is the same with the practice of meditation; try gently without forcing yourself. Effortless effort is characterized by a light but steady intention that is energized with inspiration. ‘