On Diligence

From the blog post of: https://stillwatersanghamn.wordpress.com/2014/09/09/right-diligence/

Excerpt from a Dharma Talk by Thich Nhat Hanh, June 11, 2009.

I prefer the term right diligence rather than right effort. Making efforts can make you tired, but when you are diligent, you don’t need to be tired.

I don’t want intensive practice, I want regular practice, diligent practice. There are those of us who practice very intensively for a few weeks and then after that abandon the practice. But there are those of us who practice regularly, not intensive but continuously, that will bring good results. That is why I prefer the word diligence.

Why do you continue to do it? Because I like it. That is a good answer. Because I enjoy doing that. That applies to the practice. If you don’t enjoy the practice you have to make an effort, you get tired, and finally you abandon the practice.

You continue to do it because you like it. It is not because you have to do it. Why did you practice sitting meditation. The best answer is: because I like it. Why do you practice walking meditation? Because I like it. . . .

That is true diligence, right diligence. We know that right diligence brings well-being. The practices of mindful walking, mindful breathing, smiling, bring well-being, happiness.

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There’s a very good reason as to why the quality of diligence is included in the Eightfold Path, the Five Powers, the Six Paramitas, AND the Seven Factors of Awakening in Buddhism. It speaks to the power of its incredible importance. Diligence is a critical component of developing a strong spiritual practice (whatever spiritual practice/religion we resonate with). And not just any kind of diligence, right diligence.

This morning, I was listening to a talk online by Sister Hoi Nghiem in our Plum Village tradition. She spoke about spiritual bypassing and described it as such: spiritual bypassing means that we think that we are practicing but actually we are not. She went on to say that if continue to run away from our suffering that we will never learn how to understand it, which is what is necessary in order to transform it.

The Sister is talking about right diligence. If we consider ourselves to be a practitioner in the Plum Village mindfulness tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh (TNH), we must cultivate right diligence in our daily lives, on a number of levels.

As the founder and program director of a weekly sangha, Be Here Now, since 2002, I have had the pleasure and fortune of being in continuous contact and relationship with many folks over our 16+ years of operation. One thing that has become clear to me is that the usage of the word diligence makes people shutter and scrunch their foreheads in mild to wild pangs of disapproval. Diligence is NOT sexy. If people are asking for suggestions or advice in relation to their practice and I use the word diligence at any point, the chances are good that they will mentally gloss right over that word and not allow it to penetrate and absorb. Or worse, they might just high-tail it to some other tradition or practice that doesn’t put emphasis on that quality all together.

As an aspiring Dharma-teacher-in-training, I am invested in finding creative approaches to such common obstacles and dilemmas. I am forever investigating for myself how to go about offering teachings in such a way that won’t send people off in an agitated huffy state of mind, body, and heartspace. Words matter. And I am interested in finding ways to talk about such things as diligence in modern ways and vernacular that maximizes approachability and minimizes the scare-factor.

As a student of Thay’s (aka TNH), I especially look to his teachings on this subject matter, to help inform me in the unfolding process of finding my own voice as a budding teacher:

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Practicing Ease

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This is a picture I took in Elliston, MT

Lately I’ve been cultivating a new practice skill – bringing joy and ease into situations when I’m really tired and worn out.  This isn’t an all together new practice for me but perhaps a better way to put it is that I’m delving into a deeper level of it.  The great thing about practicing anything is that with diligence you can find yourself discovering new levels and new insights that unfold as a result of the ongoing time you spend cultivating whatever it is you’re cultivating.  Whether it’s learning a new job, instrument, craft, hobby, sport, or mindfulness practice skill the more we practice the more we keep practicing and the more possibility there is for benefits to arise.

I’ve recently started a new job, working as a TA (teacher’s aid) in a local middle school.  I work part time, 3 days a week, which is just what I was looking for.  Not only do I feel that working full time would be detrimental for my health (as I have an ongoing nerve disease and also an immune system illness) but I also want to have time to care for my husband and 15-year old stepson, and maintain time for interests and areas of volunteer work that are enjoyable and important to me.  Naturally, all of this can sometimes lead to full days and getting overly tired (hitting that metaphorical brick wall).

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Relating to the Weather

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How we relate to the weather says a lot about how we relate to life.  And we can use our relationship to the sky as a mindfulness tool (a barometer if you will) to look more deeply into our conditioned responses in our daily lives.

The first step is to shine the light of awareness onto how we perceive the weather day in and day out.  Do we find ourselves obsessively worried about it, checking the forecast often?  Are we disappointed when anything other than sunshine happens?  When the weekend rolls around do we find ourselves saying, “Man, I really hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow, that would suck.”  Do we describe the day as dreary, awful, or some other adjective for unpleasant when it’s simply cloudy out?  How quick are we to label the day as “bad” solely based on the weather?  Do we dread any sort of physical discomfort or complain about the cold, heat, rain or snow?

This may seem trite but I would counter that indeed it is the areas that we label as un-important in life that can often bear the most fruit.  If we get bent out of shape over the weather, which is almost entirely out of our control, it stands to reason that there are other areas in which we are not grounded in our lives.  Getting bent out of shape can take many forms from anger to mild irritation to simply carrying your hope for “better” weather around with you in the back of your mind.

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If our relationship to the weather is that of it never being just right or commonly waiting for the promise of tomorrow to bring more sun, more warmth or more whatever it is we think will make us happy this provides a mirror for us to see how we relate to the present moment.  When we spend our present moment waiting for something better to happen in the next moment, whether it be in regards to the weather or not, we carry with us the stress of never being satisfied.  When we spend our lives waiting for better weather we spend our lives waiting for a day that never comes.  Learning the art of Be Here Now is the most valuable practice we can offer to ourselves, our loved ones, our community, and the world.

Being here now is not an ethereal idea or intellectual thought it is a true practice – a practice that you engage with and bring alive.  The practice doesn’t just happen on its own when the conditions are “right”, you have to actually do it.  It can be easy at first to think that Be Here Now means to deny your feelings or cover up certain parts of your experience but this is not the case.  To Be Here Now is to let go of the stories we attach to life’s unfolding that are neither skillful for our process of moving forward or provide value.  When we practice letting go of our regrets about the past and worries about the future the present moment is available to us.

We create the internal garden that we water.  When we water seeds of negativity, self-doubt, self-pity, complaining, worrying, stress, fear, anger, and so on those are surely the seeds that will grow inside of our mental, physical and emotional states of being.  When we water seeds of joy, ease, acceptance, openness, connection, adaptation, letting go, and so on those are surely the seeds that will grow.  What kind of garden do we want to nourish right here in this present moment?

Daily Practice – Day 20

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Day 20 – I did my 10 minutes of sitting meditation before leaving the house this morning.  I’ve been finding this online meditation timer really helpful: http://onlinemeditationtimer.com/  Since I’m on my laptop a lot when I’m at home the online timer gives me the flexibility to sit anywhere in the house and not just in the bedroom where my meditation clock/timer is.

I stumbled upon the quote above a couple of weeks ago and really resonate with its message.  This saying is interwoven with what I often talk about in regards to having a small comfort zone and not being able to step outside of it.  When we cultivate a security bubble, never challenging ourselves in different situations, places or around other people we generate a small comfort zone and then have difficulty engaging in anything outside of what we’re familiar with.  In our attempt to avoid discomfort and suffering we often will create more discomfort and suffering simply by trying to control the parts of life that are out of our control.

In my experience when we are able to make friends with the things, places, people, and situations that create fear, stress, anxiety, sorrow, frustration, discomfort or difficulty we are then able to let go of the tension we create by trying to control and avoid those things.

This is one example I’ve heard a lot over the years from people in our meditation sharing circles – let’s say I’m afraid of spiders (we have a lot of them around the mindfulness center :).  If whenever a spider appears I react by shrieking, shirking away, turning my head so I can’t see it, tensing up my whole body, and eventually fleeing the area I will never be able to make friends with the spider.  In that moment I would be making friends with my fear and imagination instead.  We have very active imaginations (and many of us have watched WAY too much tv/movies).  We allow our minds to carry us far away from reality and what is happening in the present moment.  When we are able to stop and come back to our breathing our breath will be our anchor to the here and now.

Of course with all things there is a balance and it will be different for each of us.  I’m not saying we need to immerse ourselves in a tank of spiders or that we have to pick one up everyday and say, “Hello little friend, how are you today.”   But I know for myself that when I am able to take small steps in the direction of making friends with whatever it is I am uncomfortable with I move in the direction of ease and joy and I then become more skillful when it comes to the next situation.  And there is always a next situation to be encountered.