It's one of life's grand ironies that it can be so hard to relinquish the idea of control and just be. For so many, doing nothing can seem like the hardest thing in the world, as we seek anything that might prevent us from feeling helpless. But as much as many of us turn to tasks and work to keep our sanity, the truth is there are moments where trying to buck up against your world can only leave you shattered. It's for this reason, its crucial to learn when it's in your best interests to let things go and spare yourself avoidable pain. But the idea of utilizing your effort wisely is far from just a modern concept.
While home recently I was able to listen to author and Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield speak after a guided meditation at the Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California. The topic of his discussion was the Buddhist principle of Right Effort, a component of Buddhism's Noble Eightfold Path focused on extinguishing the harmful instincts of the mind and instead cultivating healthier actions in the self. What struck me about this concept was the notion that the teaching wasn't an overt commandment or demand of what people have to do to live a healthy life, but rather an openness to understand there's more to life than just a series of obligations and tasks to "fix" your world. While Right Effort still promotes the idea of taking action, it understands the shades of gray that seems to be forgotten all too often in our daily lives.
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In Kornfield's talk he mentioned a story of walking with his mentor who asked him if a large rock was heavy. Kornfield answered yes, leading to his teacher to suggest to him, "Well, don't pick it up." In this story, this concept of effort was able to click for me. We all understand there are inevitably challenging and intense aspects of life that will always be presented to us. But that doesn't mean its strictly in our best interest to grapple with every struggle just because its there. Whether it's the actions you take in your own life that you convince yourself must be handled or the burdens that you shoulder for others to try and spare them pain, the idea of right effort reminds us not rely strictly on direct actions to change our lives.
The concept calls to mind a scene from 20th Century Women, Mike Mill's film from late last year, where the character Dorothea tells her teenaged son, "Men always feel that they have to fix things for women, or they're not doing anything. Some things just can't be fixed. Just be there." Sometimes all we can do is be supportive, whether it's to our loved ones or to ourselves in moments of struggle. You may not get the instant gratification we so often seek, but the end result offers a healthier and more sustainable form of growth. All you have to do is let go and stop trying so hard to achieve it.