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The Four Efforts

silversilver In the beginning there was nothing, and then it exploded.USA, Left coast. Veteran

This came in an email today, and I thought it was great...It's surprising how often the simplest of advice and ideas just pop with incredible wisdom.

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Nuts and Bolts

In this week's podcast I talk about emotions and energy.
http://www.unfetteredmind.org/nb-emotions-and-energy/
A discussion of energy transformation practices, questions on the four immeasurables, experiencing regret, and loss of energy during meditation.

Practice tip: what is worthy of repetition

The central theme of Peter Sloterdijk's You Must Change Your Life is that modern culture is essentially a culture of practice, of constant refinement of ability in every area of human experience. As Sloterdijk notes, the essence of practice is repetition and the key question in modern culture is "What is worthy or unworthy of repetition?" This simple question applies to everything we do, from meditation practice, to relationships, to how we earn our living, to climate change and ecology.

For any kind of practice you engage, you could do worse than look at the precise systematization of practice that Buddhism offers, unique perhaps in the integrity with which it has been transmitted from generation to generation.

Buddhism has often been called a religion of lists. Many of these lists were developed for practice purposes and one of the better know is the 37 Factors of Awakening, itself a list of lists.

Here are two links to two versions of the 37 Factors, the first from the Tibetan tradition, the second from the Theravadan:

http://www.rigpawiki.org/index.php?title=Thirty-seven_factors_of_enlightenment

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bodhipakkhiyādhammā

Today I'm going to focus on the four efforts, the second list in this list of lists. In terms of practice principles, they can be rendered as follows:

•Reduce doing what makes things worse.
•Stop doing what makes things worse.
•Start doing what makes things better.
•Increase doing what makes things better.

Pretty straightforward, no? Yet there is an immense amount of practical common sense in these four lines.

First, whatever you are practicing, whether it is running, dieting, mindfulness, taking and sending, medicine, business, science, your relationship, music or art, you have to start from where you are, from what you are doing now. Thus, take a look at what you are doing in your chosen discipline, and look at what is making things worse, what is undermining your practice, what is preventing you from moving in your chosen direction. Start by reducing those activities, cutting back here and there, in whatever way you can. That becomes your practice. In doing so you have identified what is unworthy of repetition and are taking the appropriate action.

You will reach a point, sooner or later, when you cannot reduce a given activity any further. There may be nothing left to reduce or to reduce it any further creates other problems. With this first effort, you inevitably reach a point where you either have to stop the activity completely or turn attention to another activity that is not worthy of repetition.

That brings us to the second effort: stop doing what makes things worse. This becomes possible now because you have reduced the activity or activities that were making things worse. Initially, it would probably have been too big a step to stop right away, but because you are now doing less, it is possible to stop completely. Even so, don't be surprised if there is an emotional shock when you do. We are, in a very real sense, addicted to our patterns and stopping them can precipitate the symptoms of withdrawal, even when we know full well that the pattern is poisoning our experience of life.

As we let go of activities that were making things worse, again, don't be surprised if you feel better and have more energy. Often, we often do not realize how much energy goes into problematic behaviors. As we recover vitality, time and energy, we now find that we can engage the third effort: start doing what makes things better. Again, we are applying Sloterdijk's principle of what is worthy of repetition. We build a practice by establishing habits, constructive habits, by doing what is worthy of repetition and doing it again and again.

This third effort is the beginning of building positive momentum in our practice and that positive momentum leads naturally to the fourth effort: increase doing what makes things better. Strength builds on strength.

One might think it is all plain sailing from here, but we still have to apply the principle of what is worthy of repetition, for two reasons. First, even with virtuous cycles, there is often a law of diminishing returns. Second, we have to take care that our efforts with one activity, even when it is a good activity, doesn't itself cause imbalances in other areas of our lives, or even in our chosen discipline. In athletics, for instance, the development of muscular strength may reduce flexibility or agility. In meditation practice, clarity may disrupt stability.

Over the next week, look at your life, look at your practice, and look at what is worthy or unworthy of repetition. Identify one activity you can change and apply these four efforts. Please send me your experience (to ken@unfetteredmind.org). I look forward to reading about them.

With best wishes
Ken

WalkerlobsterShoshinBuddhadragonEarthninjaZenshinWill_Baker

Comments

  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    @silver said:
    This came in an email today, and I thought it was great...It's surprising how often the simplest of advice and ideas just pop with incredible wisdom.

    Indeed. We have to be ready to hear rather than think we are digesting by passing on. I feel this is genuine sharing you are engaging in, rather than 'look spiritual stuff', nod sagely in the prescribed way of ultra spirituals and then 'same old behavour'

    Many thanks.

    <3

    silver
  • silversilver In the beginning there was nothing, and then it exploded. USA, Left coast. Veteran

    Thank you, @lobster for recognizing certain things. While I struggle reading long articles, if I spot something in it that leaps into my awareness, I can't wait to share with others because I myself am in dire need for these flashes of inspiration, etc. This part:

    Today I'm going to focus on the four efforts, the second list in this list of lists. In terms of practice principles, they can be rendered as follows:

    •Reduce doing what makes things worse.
    •Stop doing what makes things worse.
    •Start doing what makes things better.
    •Increase doing what makes things better.

    Pretty straightforward, no? Yet there is an immense amount of practical common sense in these four lines...

    Meant so much to me - it's deceptively simple and is pure common sense - but after skimming the rest of the article, it was missing something...something terrible that I usually add in - Guilt. I can ladle on the guilt for not doing this, making bad choices, etc. I have guilt on top of guilt - Bleah! :3

    Zenshin
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    In the heresy I belong to we offer (with prostrations) guilt and other worthless shit to the Boddhisatvas for their regular picnics with the Hungry ghosts and/or hellish realms ...

    Please give us your regular guilt trip, many sentients have more need ...
    Lobster catering services - No destination too near

    silverEarthninja
  • silversilver In the beginning there was nothing, and then it exploded. USA, Left coast. Veteran

    I would've signed in sooner, but...I was too ashamed. :p

  • silversilver In the beginning there was nothing, and then it exploded. USA, Left coast. Veteran
    edited July 2015

    Ooh god, @lobster! When you said "...guilt and other worthless shit..." I cringed, erk what a jerk I am. Tonight, when I read it again, I thought but...but...but...it isn't worthless!

  • silversilver In the beginning there was nothing, and then it exploded. USA, Left coast. Veteran
    edited July 2015

    Yes, I've gone a little bit 'round the bend with the guilt, and possibly (PROBABLY) would spin me into outer space with it, if not for my interest in Buddhism. I mean that! I started reading different books; they have been a real boon to my way of thinking and feeling. Not a moment too soon, either. :grin:

    lobsternakazcid
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    As you are aware, @silver, you are not being judged. <3

    We may know a behavour is something we can offer to Tara or some other dharmakaya. We can still offer even when we are not yet finished with holding to our dukkha. We are in a sense aknowledging or confessing or becoming aware of our impediments, which we all have apart from the mythical Super-Buddha. <3

    silver
  • silversilver In the beginning there was nothing, and then it exploded. USA, Left coast. Veteran

    Yeah, I know. I'm my own judge, jury and prosecutioner* -- Not sure how that one goes.
    It's about my son's death, as you all probly figured. Over the years, a friend or two has done something, posted something that actually made me laugh at how absurd and silly it is to grill one's self and punish for something utterly beyond my control, but I still do it BUT I'm getting better bit by bit. It's hard not to do it, and I never imagined it would get better.

    *oh yeah, executioner. ;)

    lobster
  • robotrobot Veteran

    A good friend of mine lost his first born son a couple of weeks ago to an alcohol/drug overdose. A good boy made a bad mistake.
    My friend is hurting badly. He has ten other children which may be some consolation, I don't know.
    I'm sure it is a very long, sad, road.

    lobster
  • silversilver In the beginning there was nothing, and then it exploded. USA, Left coast. Veteran

    Thank you, @robot for sharing that...yes, my son, was my only and no alcohol, but combined otc and prescription meds. And he was a good boy, too. Well, a man (23). Yep, I know he's hurting badly, as well.

  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran

    @silver said:
    •Reduce doing what makes things worse.
    •Stop doing what makes things worse.
    •Start doing what makes things better.
    •Increase doing what makes things better.
    Pretty straightforward, no?

    I don't find it straightforward, particularly if we're talking about "managing" mental states. I find it requires quite a lot of mindfulness to make wise choices about the way we think.

    lobstersilver
  • silversilver In the beginning there was nothing, and then it exploded. USA, Left coast. Veteran

    Yes, Norman, very true!
    It's especially true
    when you're stuck like glue,
    to traveling the old
    unskillful highways.

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