What Kind of Effort is Helpful? 

What is the mind doing, right now? Is it thinking? Is it being aware? Is it searching? Is  there ease or struggle? Whatever is happening in the mind, it can be known. Is it noticing  body experience? Is it noticing feelings, emotions? Any experience, every experience can  be known. No experience any more or less useful for wisdom to arise than any other. 

We practice awareness with whatever arises. Sometimes we experience an easeful kind of  awareness, continuity and momentum, when less personal effort needed. It can feel  almost like awareness is doing itself. We like this. We can easily get attached to this  easeful experience of awareness simply happening, and if we’re attached to it, we might resist making the personal effort when it would actually be helpful. 

Different kinds of effort may be called for at different times. Sometimes we can settle  back and let awareness do its thing, but often some level of personal effort is needed. The  most basic kind of personal effort is just reminding ourselves: Am I aware? What’s  Obvious? This kind of effort is helpful when the mind is not so settled, when it is  agitated or pulled away in thoughts or ideas. We also might even intentionally connect to  a particular experience such as to breath or body sensation, just to ground the attention if  it’s really scattered, if it’s not connecting easily with experience. 

This is our basic practice, reminding ourselves to be aware. The level of effort is  connected to how frequently we remind ourselves. We can tune this level of effort also: a  slightly lighter touch to the effort is simply checking in: Aware? Is there awareness  already? Aware. Not trying to do anything additional about connecting to objects in  particular, but trusting that they are already known in awareness. Sometimes this level of  effort is sufficient. Aware? Perhaps: already aware, as a simple recognition of  awareness that is already happening. 

Another support for effort is engaging the sense of curiosity, by using questions. What  am I missing? What else is here? What purpose is this thing that is arising  serving? When the mind is curious about experience, the awareness can be less effortful,  because the curiosity naturally motivates effort. 

Sometimes we simply can remind ourselves of wisdom, acknowledging the wisdom that  may be relevant for whatever’s happening. This is impermanent. This is dukkha. It’s just  an experience, it’s just an object. These are just conditions unfolding. This is  nature. When we reminding ourselves of the wisdom, sometimes a natural effort arises, a  more easeful effort. Sometime effort comes along for the ride as we touch into wisdom. 

Sometimes wisdom combined with confidence supports effort. When we are confident  that it is possible to meet anything that arises, this can also support a natural, easeful  effort. And even when the mind feels scattered, confused, searching or exhausted or  frustrated, if there’s a moment of not resisting that truth of the moment’s experience, the  mind can relax and a natural effort again can arise supported by confidence and wisdom.

Sometimes we think we have to make the effort for wisdom to arise. It sometimes  happens that way, but other times when we stop resisting the truth, when the mind can  fully recognize: This is what’s actually happening, the mind can relax and understand  more naturally. Resistance to experience ties up our energy, and when the resistance  releases energy is freed up, and a very natural continuity can happen, if even only for a  few moments. 

What kind of effort is helpful? Is personal effort helpful right now? Reminding ourselves  to be aware? Is curiosity helpful right now? Is wisdom helpful right now? Understanding  the level of effort that is appropriate requires honesty with ourselves, because we do  prefer some kinds of effort over others. Honestly opening to experience right now, not  resisting the truth of this moment’s experience, and not resisting the truth of the level of  effort that would be most helpful.