by Friends of Godwin
Now I would like to say something about effort. Here there are two extremes that we need to avoid. One is trying too hard. The other is not trying at all. There are some very beautiful similes used in this connection in the texts. During the Buddha’s time there was a monk who was trying very hard in walking meditation so that even the bottom of his feet were bleeding. When the Buddha spoke to him, the Buddha realised that he was a musician. He used to play a lute, which is a stringed instrument. So the Buddha asked him: Now when playing a musical instrument if the strings are too loose or too tight, the music will not be right. So the Buddha said that effort also should not be too loose and it should not be too tight. This is what is called right effort.
Another simile the Buddha gave is that when you want to catch a small bird, if you grasp the bird too tightly you might kill the bird in the process, and if you grasp it in too loose a way the bird might escape. So in this way right effort can also be called effortless effort.
Now what happens when you try too hard? Naturally there is tension. You might even get a headache, you might feel tired and you might feel restlessness and disappointment because you are trying too hard, and with a strong expectation. Practising in this way you can never achieve what you want, so then you feel bad, you give yourself a minus, you start hating yourself and so on.
And if you do not try at all, what happens? Then you might feel sleepy, drowsy, you might get into a dream-like state. So here again it is by learning, by experimenting, by finding out for yourself that you know whether you are trying too hard or not trying at all. And sometimes we need to exercise more effort, sometimes we need to relax effort. So one thing which will help us is that if we can have a meditative mind, then when we are not meditating awareness becomes natural, it becomes effortless.