The Effort To Be Effortless
“Be As You Are”
These dictums are the essence of most spiritual teachings. Deep. Profound. Valid. The only problem is, how does one do it? As soon as you “try” to be natural, it becomes unnatural. When we make an attempt to be spontaneous, it becomes rehearsed. And how in God’s name does one do nothing!
The purpose of spirituality is to be our natural self. But the more we try to be our natural self, the more we become unnatural. So we drop the idea of being natural and simply observe what is happening. In spiritual lingo this is called by different names — mindfulness, witnessing, consciousness, being, awareness or presence — all referring to the same thing. But the more we try to observe, the more it comes in the way of our natural observation.
Let me explain this with two examples.
What if I told you “try to sleep”. The more you try, the more difficult it will be to sleep. And what if I told you “try to be alive”. What would you do? You would probably wonder what a ridiculous thing to say, “I am already alive!”
This is the paradox of “being conscious”. We are already conscious, so how can we “be conscious”?
But are we conscious? And if we are, what are we conscious of?
Most of us are conscious of our thoughts. While that is an indication that we are alive, there is more to life than thinking. We experience life through our five senses. We sustain our life through breathing. We feel alive through the sensations in our body. All this is a tangible experience of being conscious. But when our attention is totally consumed by our thoughts we live in an abstract, conceptual and intangible world.
The other aspect of thinking is that we are not doing it, it is doing us. It is an unconscious, mental activity that is happening all the time. Like a radio that starts as soon as we wake up, and goes on till the time we go to sleep. We simply cannot switch it off. It goes on without our permission.
Hence the need to practice consciousness. Because even though we are conscious, most of us are not conscious of our consciousness.
A new practitioner of mindfulness is told to “watch the breath”, “observe the sensations of the body” and “pay attention to the experience of life through the five senses.” In other words the students are being asked to practice taking note that they are alive. They are Life.
This works up to a certain stage. But when the student becomes sufficiently adept at practicing mindfulness a problem arises.
The problem of effort versus effortlessness.
Effort signifies a person, an individual or an entity making an effort. Effort means the direction of attention in a certain direction. Effort means the exercise of will power. But the purpose of spirituality is to dissolve this separate notion of self that believes it is exercising will power, effort and choice. Spirituality is becoming one with Life. But the more one “practices mindfulness”, the more one uses effort, the more one uses effort the more one keeps this ego identity alive.
This is the paradox.
The mind cannot free itself from itself. The more it tries, the more entangled it gets. So what does one do when one reaches this point in the spiritual journey?
“How does one do nothing?” you ask.
Drop the desire to be mindful. If mindfulness happens, fine. If it doesn’t, that’s fine too. At this juncture of spiritual evolution, effort becomes counterproductive. The more one tries, the more one strengthens the mind. Ego, mind, identity, thoughts are different words referring to the same thing. An abstract person called me, put together by thoughts, language and words.
At such times we realize we have done all we can to make the conditions conducive for sleep, but for sleep to happen it cannot be done by us. Or we have done all we can to nurture the tree of spirituality in us, but for the fruit to ripen further and fall to the ground, nature will do it when it is meant to be.
As we evolve on the path of mindfulness, we realize the limitation of effort to live an effortless life. To be free, natural and spontaneous. The more we try, the more we are not.
If what I am saying is resonating with you, then perhaps you have reached this milestone in your spiritual journey. The time has come to let go of whatever the mind is holding on to. Particularly the idea of wanting to be free, mindful and aware. This wanting that was helpful at the start of the journey, is now an unnecessary baggage that needs to be dropped.
The more you run behind someone you love, the more that person will run away from you. Nothing is more unattractive than a wanting needy desperate person. The more you enjoy being on your own, the greater the likelihood that the person you love will be attracted to you.
Self-realization follows the same principle.