From the moment I was asked to write the theme of the month for October, the journey began. I took this theme with me throughout my days, carried it with me as if it were my closest friend.
At first, it was only the two words "Right Effort" that I held close. I did not read too much into the philosophy; I just felt what these words meant for me personally. How I experience them and how I could directly relate them to my path, my life. For me, it became more interesting to discover what happens off of my mat. It became a search not only for what I put effort into, but how I move through the world, how I talk to others, and what I choose to put in my body. What thoughts I choose to keep and how I treat myself.
During this process, I discovered that I was pregnant. The new discovery brought me face to face with Right Effort. How beautiful to connect to the little one growing inside of me as I move through this theme of the month.
After this time of contemplation, I read more about this noble truth. "Right Effort", also called "Right Diligence", is the sixth component of the Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path. In Buddhism, the most traditional definition of Right Effort is to exert oneself to develop wholesome qualities and release unwholesome qualities.
The Buddha taught there are four aspects to the Right Effort:
- The effort to prevent unwholesome qualities, especially greed, anger, and ignorance from arising.
- The effort to extinguish unwholesome qualities that already have arisen.
- The effort to cultivate skilful or wholesome qualities, especially generosity, loving-kindness, and wisdom.
- The effort to strengthen the wholesome qualities that have already arisen.
The notion of Right Effort does not just apply to our practice, but how we conduct our lives. It calls us to develop and encourage good qualities. There are many good qualities to be cultivated, but the ones that the Buddha particularly targeted were mindfulness, energy, joy, tranquillity, and equanimity.
Along with this, the Buddha taught that our practice should be like a well-tuned string instrument. If the strings are too loose, they will not play the sound. If they are too tight, they will break. A spiritual practice should be nourishing, not draining. So cultivating Right Effort must begin with finding the "Middle Way".
The Middle Way
My life has always been about finding balance, both on and off the mat. Finding balance in relationships, how I communicate, give, receive, and share. I have learned that what is especially important is finding the balance in our relationship with ourselves, what thoughts we keep, and how we are kind to ourselves.
I love this Middle Way that the Buddha expresses, as it rings so true for me. Everything depends on this: not going into extremes and pushing ourselves over our limits, but also not laying back and not giving any effort at all. The middle way is where the magic can unfold. We allow ourselves to find what works best for us and renew that practice each day, every time we step onto our yoga mats. One of the first things that deeply inspired me at the start of my yoga practice was a teacher sharing this in class:
"Every day you will feel different, your practice will be different, you will be more flexible some days, and some days you may not be able to do what you just did the day before. It is about just showing up and doing your best, and allowing your best on that day to be good enough."
I loved how practising yoga every day showed me this. How my mat was a direct mirror into my inner world. How finding the balance helped me find myself.
So the Middle Way.
The Buddha shared that the path can be difficult and progress sometimes can feel so far away. One day you improve and then you take a few steps back the next. It can sometimes be difficult to feel that progress is actually being made. This can of course then lead to doubt, but when doubt is arising, don't fear. Instead, use this doubt to dive deeper. Use this time to connect back to the truth that our only constant is change.
Doubt can also be a gentle reminder to study; not only self-study but also to study yogic teachings and spend time reading and in contemplation to strengthen and provide new direction.
This is truly " Right effort "