The Wind in Our Sails: Making Appropriate Effort

Our collective world is churning, and many of us are finding ways to act on behalf of our highest aspirations and values. It seems like a good time to reflect on the role and qualities of our efforts in these endeavors. Shanti Deva, an eighth century Buddhist scholar and poet, uses the metaphor of wind to describe what is called “Right Effort” (virya). His sense was that “just as a ship cannot sail without wind, so the good life cannot occur without effort.” Effort, also known as energy in Dharma teaching, carries our intentions and aspirations into actions. Modern day physicists agree with Shanti Deva: their definition of energy is the movement between the possible and the actual.

Those of us in the VIMS community who have recently studied the Eightfold Path factor called Right Effort will remember that in Buddhist teachings Right or Wise Effort –– the effort that is leading to less distress and suffering in our lives and in the lives of those we share the world with –– has an ethical nuance. With the help of Right Mindfulness, it helps guide the sailing ship of our lives away from unwise reactive states of mind (and emotion) as they arise, and also discourages them from arising again. In addition, this kind of effort guides us to recognize and encourage the calmer, less reactive states of mind. These, which nourish clarity and safety, can help cultivate an inner and outer world of peace and friendliness.

Our newsletter this month is alerting us to a number of opportunities for actions we might take to support this strong and growing collective movement towards human flourishing. There are so many possibilities to actualize! As we make choices and get involved, it will be important to remember our aspirations for diminishing distress and to stabilize our intentions of nonharming, kindness, and letting go. It will also serve us well to check in with the quality of our effort now and again. Shanti Deva named four essential qualities of Right Effort that we might contemplate. He suggests we consider if the wind in our sails is:
Infused with the clarity of aspiration,
Self-confident (not apologetic, but strong as a lion and whole-hearted),
Joyous and enjoyable (not held as grim and burdensome duty),
Restful (Practice as if your house is on fire and take it easy!).

Jack Kornfield advises us simply: “Do everything with a heart that lets go.”


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