Whether we are practicing asana (the physical movements of yoga), or seated meditation, our experience arises through the filter of our sustained attention. The ancient yogis understood that through a deliberate cultivation of this attention, practitioners could experience the natural mind as radiant and clear. Yogis use the eight fold path as a way to cultivate this sustained attention and as a way influence being and behaviour. Through teachings and practices, the eight fold path gives us the tools to recognize ourselves as pure and radiant awareness.
Two points that are outlined within the eight fold path are wise effort and wise mindfulness. Contemplation of these two qualities helps one to find balance and clear seeing, and is a necessary step on the path of practice.
"There is one thing monks, that cultivated and regularly practiced, leads to a deep sense of urgency...the supreme peace...to mindfulness and clear comprehension...to the attainment of right vision and knowledge..to happiness here and now,... to realizing deliverance of Holiness: it is mindfulness of the body” ~ The Buddha
Wise mindfulness helps us meticulously examine the true nature of the body and mind. By directing the mind, and cultivating the power of attention, mindfulness puts us in touch with our patterns, and in the ultimate sense, points us toward insight regarding our deeper nature. Through directing and sustaining attention the mind becomes collected and unified and we can begin to recognize the difference between what is continually changing (our reactive patterns) and that which is always constant (awareness itself). Mindfulness is the development of this "muscle" of awareness.
Mindfulness develops a quality of presence that is used to investigate and relax patterns of thought and action that keep us trapped in reactivity. By attempting to relax and observe pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral feeling tones, and the changing nature of sensation, thought and feeling, we can avoid becoming overly identified with whatever we are experiencing.
By tracking and moving our attention through the whole field of our sensory and bodily experience we develop an awareness of our interpretation of our experiences. And through this knowing of ourselves, our compulsions to react out of habitual tendencies relax. In other words, as our awareness of what grabs us is strengthened we can suspend our need to act out.
“my sincere motivation is my protection” ~ Dalai Lama
The quality of wise effort helps to sustain and support our practice. Much of the "hard work" in our practice is just showing up. And so through effort we overcome habitual disconnection and the momentum of reactivity that so often colours our everyday experience. We use wise effort so that we can release unwholesome states such as restlessness, anxiety, or laziness, and embrace more wholesome ones such as love, compassion and wisdom. Through right effort our good intentions are transformed into reality.
At their core these practices and teachings are simply directing our attention to what gets in the way of our peace and ease. Wise effort contains both patience and equanimity. Like a finely tuned instrument, our attention must not be too tight or too loose. It must not take on an air of endurance; gritting our teeth and bearing it. It also must maintain a sense of care and confidence. This balance between relaxation and determination bolsters a practitioner when facing difficulty. Wise effort strengthens the mind so one can be with challenge instead of abandoning the moment. In our practice we can work with this balance by asking ourselves: “what does even effort feel like in my body”?
For the vast majority of us this path is slow and gradual. And so by patiently and diligently practicing with wholehearted presence and effort we become more mindful. Remember that practice is not about creating a state that is peaceful and calm. Its actually about interfering less and less with what is already here. And by taking a longer term view we can see how being in process is the point of practice. Investigation through wise effort and mindfulness leads to the discovery of a vast awareness beyond the cherished assumptions of a solid self and helps us to realize our true nature.