Day 184 - Sixth Fold - Right Effort
Welcome to Day Six on the Eight Fold Path!
Only two more days until the Buddha’s Birthday!
It is a kind of a big week for me, three big birthdays in a row. My Tribal BFF Jaymes turns 60 on the 7th, The Buddha turns 2652 on the 8th and my daughter turns 13 on the 9th! Trifecta of goodness!
I am going to work on right effort to make sure that I honor and celebrate each of these wonderful people for three days in a row!
What is this Right Effort?
For me, it is basically working toward things that bring the end of suffering and the causes of suffering to myself and others. The actions I take both internally and externally. It is the work that I do to avoid unwholesome states of mind, body and speech. This would include thoughts, emotions, intentions, sensual thoughts, doubts about the path, restlessness, drowsiness, and ill will of any kind.
Of course, sensual thought and ill will take up most of the air in the room here. So let’s go there...
In a monastic sense, sensual desire must be eliminated by right effort to include anything related to sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. This is to be done by restraint of the senses.
For the rest of us, we are to deploy the same methodology but to a different end. We are supposed to keep ourselves pure and true to the path. We should not use our sensual thoughts to create jealousy, anger, selfishness, harm. To exercise right effort, would be to adhere to our marital vows in practice as well as in thought, to not use sensual thoughts as a way to numb out, to avoid using people or things to check out of the present.
Right effort here looks to me like diving into your relationship with both yourself and your partner with the intention to really see the person and their needs. To give unconditionally. To love without strings or demands. To really do the work to see the other person and have theirs dreams, desires, needs and wishes be important to you, as important as your own. Thich Nhat Hanh wrote a lovely book “How to Love” that describes this process beautifully. I highly recommend.
Right effort is avoiding endless hours of watching porn, habitual online dating, mindlessly checking out of your relationship instead of being present and really listening to your partner. Right effort requires that you work hard to stay on the path and also to get back on it when you find that you have strayed.
Sensual thoughts are not bad for us lay people, right effort just helps us work on not using them in a destructive, harmful way.
Ill will or as I like to call it, resentment, must be eliminated by right effort. This would include any form of aversion including hatred towards anything or anyone. Kind of a tall order....
I think of resentment as re-feeling. It is a process by which I leave the present to return to some time in the past to re-feel something that bothered me. Some slight, imagined or real, some time when I was treated poorly or acted poorly and then letting it take root and branch in my mind. I re-feel the whole thing often and over and over again and this re-feeling causes me to hate, resent, avoid another person, place or thing.
I can also future trip here and do the same thing. I can pre-feel something related to a scenario that my mind has created about some future event, imagined or real, and then cop a really good resentment towards the person, place or thing.
Either way, I am not present. I have missed the point of breathing and living because I have left the proverbial building. I am gone and re-feeling something that is either long done or may never happen, I have allowed my willingness to do this to rob me of my present moment. Right effort looks a lot like noticing I am doing it, and stopping. Just returning me to the present, where all is well. Right effort looks like stopping the storyline. Just dropping it and coming back to the present where I am just fine and so are you.
Right Effort Applied
For me, this means staying aware, noticing when I am caught or hooked by my story. My enjoyment of suffering has returned and I am caught in the dynamics of my own pain. I hate it but love it at the same time. I have shut down all the ways that I have endeavored to be free and am now trapped in a vice of my own making. Right effort is the mental work that I do that leads me to see that I am there. Right effort is the herculean effort it takes to notice and then just stop it. Right effort is the amends that I make when I have fallen off the path and hurt another or myself. Right effort is the willingness to change my mind which leads to changed thoughts, emotions and eventually action. Right effort shows me that I am off the beam and then gives me a path back to a more wholesome state of mind, body and spirit.
Right effort right now just looked like this:
I am sitting in bed writing, the cat decided to get on my nightstand and eat a flower in a vase by my bed. What she succeeded in doing was knocking it over and sending water all over. I admit, I yelled at her and then cussed at her. Stomped to the kitchen for paper towels, stomped back into my bedroom to clean it up. I may have said things like “Fucking Cat!” “I fucking hate mornings that start off like this!”
Right effort today is to notice that no matter the cause, I am off the beam...I have left the path. The cat didn’t do this to me because she had it in for me as my reaction would imply. She just likes to eat tulips, especially white ones which are my favorite. This results in a dynamic of her always going after them and me always being irritated with her. It would be so much simpler to buy a different color or avoid tulips all together, but I refuse to let the cat decide for me. So right effort here was to clean up the mess, notice that I was acting like an ass, if even towards the cat. Right effort caused me to walk back into the kitchen (where the cat ran when I was cussing and ranting) and pet her and tell her it is ok. I apologized for my outburst...
Why is that right effort? Because I didn’t want to do any of it. I didn’t want to clean up the mess, I didn’t want to let go of the anger, I didn’t want to not cuss and rant, I didn’t want to drop the storyline of how much of a pain in the ass my cat is with fresh flowers. I DID NOT want to own that it was my behavior that got us here in the first place...
Right effort required that I take a breath. Clean up the water. Realize that I was overreacting. Apologize to the cat. Return to the present moment where all is well and let go of the storyline where I am a victim and completely put upon because my morning routine was just interrupted...
In short, I returned to the path. The one that leads me to my higher, better self. The one the helps me see that I am always going to need right effort to help me return to a state of grace, equanimity and serenity. Right effort, is just that, very right and quite a bit of effort. But a tool that I can always use to bring me back to a place that I like living in...is remembering that right here, right now all is well. All I am responsible for is keeping my side of the street clean and allowing you to take care of your side...or not.