I had an interesting text message conversation with a dear friend of mine just recently. It was one of those dig deep and think about what you are teaching your kids kind of conversations. What's the best thing and what's the worst thing we thought we were passing down to them? Once we hashed through the good, the bad and the ugly, she shared with me that our next step should be application - how we move forward with what we recognized. She talked about wanting to live out what we captured from our self-reflection exercise (keeping up what we determined was good and restraining ourselves from the bad) which she described as "applying them continuously without effort."
There was a part of me that got what she meant. Yeah, you know what I mean. This vision we all have of being that amazing superhero someday who has "done it all", "been through it all" and can do perpetual good and never bad without dropping a bit of sweat. "Oh that? Eh, whateves. I got that."
But then that part of me that really likes to ponder and delve deeper hit the pause button. Wait a minute. Have I ever really felt that anything I've experienced in my life became "effortless"? Take walking or chewing food. That was a huge struggle to learn initially but to this day, is that something that happens without some kind of effort on my part? For sure, those two tasks have become so much a part of my conditioning that after a fashion I can autopilot and take one step forward and then another or in the case of eating I know how to move my jaws around to obtain properly sized food particles for my stomach. Ah, the illusion of "effortlessness" creeps in (and truthfully, those are practices that always have room for improvement). But you know what? There are times I trip and times I still manage to bite the inside of my mouth or my tongue (or don't even swallow right). And usually when did that happen? When I became lax in my effort. My effort in the work and my attention to it.
I thought too about my yoga postures practice. Take downward facing dog - a pose I've practiced countless times. I've conditioned myself to have my body accept the shape of the pose but you know what? It always takes effort. I still have to engage all my muscles properly to hold up my body in the position. Yes, some days downward facing dog comes more easily to me than others but it always ALWAYS takes work. The first bit of work is just to set the intention - I have to even want to get my body into the pose. Once I do get in and start becoming aware of what is going on in my body to support the actions of the pose, I have to be honest with myself. Am I hanging through my joints? Am I preferring to bear myself more so through one leg than the other? Am I weighing down only through the heels of my hands and not using the mounds by the finger joints? How is my breathing? Every day when I ask myself these questions in the pose, I get different answers. Every day is different. And to be honest, unfortunately I don't ask myself every day - my attention shifts elsewhere, like "you need to get such and such from the grocery store today" or "don't forget the rent is due" or "what so and so did to me really bothers me still" and on and on to everywhere and anything but what I am actually doing.
Here's another thing - even though most of the time I practice downward facing dog on one plane (the ground), something really interesting happens when I take that same shape with my body and put two planes of action to it, tilt my body to work against gravity in a different way or even take it on a different medium (water). Or hey, keep downward facing dog oriented like usual and try to hold it for longer than 10 breaths with other people involved. And if you're not sure what I meant by involved, take a look at one of the photos I've included. Suddenly I become more aware of certain muscles groups or I connect differently with my breathing. My core muscles awaken in a novel and unusual manner. Effort! Wait, but it's just the same old pose - I thought it would become effortless! Ha ha! What a strange little lie I am telling myself.
And I came to the realization that if downward facing dog always always takes work and my full attention, why do I sometimes get led away by this illusion that anything else in my life will be any different - will eventually become "effortless"? Living out my good intentions and diminishing my unwholesome prior conditioning will always require my full attention and effort. Maybe after lots and lots of PRACTICE it becomes incorporated into my behavior, but if I am honest with myself, I still have to actively and with effort set the intention to practice to do good and lessen the bad daily, hourly, minutely. For as long as I have breath in this life.
I'll leave with this. I go to the Bible as my main source of inspiration. There's a very simple verse that I feel resonates with the heart of what I am trying to say and gives an answer to the question I asked in my blog article title. I want to share several different translations because they might help you understand better the idea:
Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.
(New International Version)
Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace; and work to maintain it.
(New Living Translation)
Turn away from evil and do what is right! Strive for peace and promote it!
(New English Translation)
Thank you dear ones for your attention to this blog article! My prayer is that you are blessed and encouraged by it.
Just a few different ways to downward face your dog. Yes, it's harder to practice with your feet on the wall and a dog telling you that it's time to play ball with him. Yes, it can be just as hard with a chair if you tell yourself to make the work between the hands and the feet as equal as possible. With other people involved? Need I say more?