The next spoke in the eight fold path is right effort. Right effort has four components to it.
When a negative mental formation arises in your mind consciousness, recognize it, don’t feed it, and let it go back down into the store consciousness.
When there are no negative mental formations arising in your mind consciousness, don’t do anything that will make them arise.
When a positive mental formation arises in your mind consciousness, recognize it and enjoy it for as long as it manifests.
When there are no positive mental formations arising in your mind consciousness, do something to invite one to manifest.
Just to review, the store (or ground) consciousness holds all of the mental formations in the form of seeds. When one of these seeds is watered by something we see, hear, smell, taste, touch, or think, then it manifests as a mental formation in our mind consciousness. For example, think of your mother. Just by reading these words the mental formation of your mother manifests in your body and mind as an image, emotion, thought, etc…
Right effort is to recognize what is manifesting in your mind consciousness and act accordingly. So if anger or craving or some other negative formation is manifesting in your mind consciousness, your job is to recognize it and not feed it. Not feeding it means not acting on it with body speech or mind. Not acting on it with your mind means not identifying with it and actively thinking thoughts based on it. There is a difference between being aware of a thought and actively thinking a thought. There is a difference between experiencing an emotion and identifying with an emotion. When you fully experience something in the present moment there is no identification with it, there is just the experience that comes and goes in awareness. Meditation practice is about training yourself to be able to do just that. You learn how to experience physical sensations, emotions, and thoughts without reacting to them. Some mental formations are very strong and are hard not to react to. Through regular meditation you will increase your capacity to experience strong emotions without reacting to them. You may have deeply ingrained patterns that you are not even aware of. Meditation will help deepen your awareness and reveal this conditioning and allow you to let go of it.
This is a natural and organic process. Just by letting mental formations be in our awareness a process of transformation will take place. Thich Nhat Hanh talks about mindfulness (awareness) being like the sun, the light will penetrate a flower bud without any effort and cause it to open. In the same way negative mental formations will be weakened over time by being exposed to awareness and positive ones will be strengthened. Thich Nhat Hanh goes on to say that in fact, negative mental formations are like the compost with which we make the flowers from. Being present with pain, loneliness, anger, and craving when they arise is how we cultivate a deep peace and happiness that is not bound by any conditions. So we should not judge or suppress any mental formation even though it may be unpleasant. Judging and suppressing is still reacting and feeding.
So right effort is mainly about recognizing and letting go. You can think of a farmer who wants to grow corn. He plows the field, plants the seeds, and waters the field. He has created the conditions for the corn to grow but it is up to the soil itself, the seed and the sunshine to actually grow the corn. You can also think of your own body and how it heals. If you have a cut you clean the wound and put on a band-aid but then it is up to your body to do the actual healing, it is beyond your control. In the same way, by experiencing what is happening in the present moment and not reacting to it, and by following the rest of the eight fold path we are creating the conditions for a process of transformation to take place. A process that naturally results in the increase of wisdom and compassion. To me this is literally the process of evolution.
The previous components of the path dealt with outward behavior, now with right effort we are dealing with the internal work or cultivation. In the next blog I will get into the nuts and bolts of meditation with right mindfulness.