Practice is voluntary; there is no compulsion. The energy required has to come from within – from our own hearts. Don’t expect someone to enlighten you. Your effort can be useless if all you’re doing is rearranging your actions of body and mind to become a Buddhist. That’s not liberation. – Ajahn Sumedho
I have been thinking a lot about these words recently and during the month of June from one of my teachers, Ajahn Sunedho. He is now semi-retired and living in Thailand. But his words are everywhere from the many books taken from his talks, to websites and, thankfully, the occasional email passed along to me through mutual Sangha friends. This quote above is from a calendar dedicated to the spirit of his teachings that sits near my laptop. I look at it daily, as I have each page for each month since the beginning of this year.
The month of July features the quote above and a smiling picture of Lung Por along with the heading “Viriya – Energy” which is one of the seven enlightenment factors according to the teachings of the Buddha. The others are: mindfulness, investigation, joy, relaxation, concentration and equanimity.
For the whole of last month and some of this one, I have been in bed nursing a leg which is swollen due to a large cyst internally and behind the knee and an even larger hematoma also internally on the calf muscle.
Both conditions were largely unknown to me until after some weeks of discomfort and then pain in my knee, I noticed that my leg was slightly swollen. This began a medical adventure which is still not completely resolved but which has transformed me from active, athletic and mobile, to stuck and feeling at the mercy of doctors and medical staff, confined to my own bed, and for a week, to one in the local hospital here, since June 2.
It has only been over the last few days that I am slowly transforming back again into something I recognize as “me.”
Other than the daily questions that arise about what course of treatment I need to follow and how to make sense of the patchwork of doctors’ recommendations, this has also left me with a number of questions about my attitudes about life and practice. Under the stress of difficult conditions, one can see what needs work and how the foundations of practice hold up, and if one is patient enough and willing enough to “talk the talk, walk the walk.”
Does one feel that sense that, even when things are hard, it is possible to voluntarily and energetically be with things as they are? Or does the compulsion to push things away and get out of our situation as quickly as possible take over? It can be easy to fall into old traps and old habits of mind. I speak from experience.
If you are interested in this kind of thing though, the age of the internet will bring all kinds of “solutions” right into your home. Some of you may be old enough to remember TV commercials where you could buy the eternally sharp kitchen knife or mostly anything else you “needed.” “Call now, our operators are standing by.” Once the work of psychology and spirituality, honed by years of discipline and discovery, these days you will find many “experts” and “life coaches” on-line who have the way to make your “wrong” life “right” in no time at all.
They’ll have you believe that “being with things as they are” is passive and that “getting out of your situation as quickly as possible” is just a click away – preferably on the credit card and payment form at the bottom of the page.
One of my life coach friends puts it a little better when he talks about “eliminating mental viruses and getting out of the vicious cycles that keep us stuck.” This perspective on why compulsions and languishing in neurotic loops give us a sense of never quite breaking out is not far from the truth; but I think that selling products that promise us we can “break out of something” is misleading and gets us into thinking that there are short term fixes.
It takes a lifetime to get to where we are – and it takes the same lifetime to smooth out many of the rough edges and sweep away everything that keeps us from being in that space where we can observe exactly the way things are moment after moment. Selling breakthrough solutions is nothing more than selling aversion, laziness and doubt – the same obstacles that many people struggle with in the first place.
I read through a site recently of a well-known Eastern guru who said that modern men and women are no longer able to use traditional systems of yoga and meditation as prescribed by the ancients. I wonder myself sometimes. Maybe there’s some new fangled approach out there that’ll help me “get the bugs out” of my life. Go the gym more, eat better, spend more time with like-minded friends.
Of course, the rest of the site offered trademarked meditation and yoga retreats and the franchising rights to set-up similar places around the world. I guess I’ll just keep on plugging away with those traditional systems as prescribed by the ancients.
I must leave you now. I am still hobbling around on crutches and I must make some lunch. My wife and son will be home soon and, like most predicaments, mine will change radically when they arrive. If I have left you with more questions than answers, hopefully I have given you cause to reflect on your own predicament.
For now, here’s a slightly modified version of the quote from the top. It is what helps fuel my own reflections these days.
Practice is voluntary; there is no compulsion. The energy required has to come from within – from your own heart. Don’t expect someone to enlighten you. Your effort can be useless if all you’re doing is rearranging your actions of body and mind to become someone else. That’s not liberation.
Thanks and be well.