Will Power - Concentration, Continuity in Striving
Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami , 2011-03-14
Continuity of effort is needed between our inner and outer life. Control of the mind throughout the day is cumulative. The more we're interested in something the more energy we draw out to do it and it seems effortless. Starting impulsively, then stopping before finishing, creates a negative pattern in the mind. Meditation doesn't end when we open our eyes. Concentrate on everything you do. Minimize emotional reaction to what we encounter. The biggest way to have difficulty handling something is to label it a problem. It's just the next thing to do. We are able to go within deeper because we challenge ourselves.
Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu, Guru Devo Mahesvara. Guru Sakshat, Parabrahma, Tasmai Sri Gurave Namaha.
Good morning everyone. Nice to see you all.
Talking a bit this morning about willpower and concentration and the relationship between our inner life and our outer life.
I know some individuals who don't connect the inner life to the outer life. What does that mean? Well it means, for example, they're very serious about meditation. They give meditation a high priority when they sit to meditate and want to go within. But, then they come out and in their external life, their outer life, be it going to school or working, they don't take it seriously. It's what I call "a whatever attitude." Doesn't really matter.
The inner life: That's what's important. The outer life, well we just kind of get through with minimal participation. So, what's wrong with that attitude?
What's wrong with it is that it's the same us. There aren't two of us. There isn't one of us that meditates and one of us that goes to school and works. It's the same us; it's the same mind. It's the same ability. We don't become a different person when we turn within and meditate or when we come without and study and work. We're the same person with the same abilities.
If we're serious about concentration and willpower when we meditate and we come out and we don't pay any attention to what we do, that's what I call counter-productive. It's like exercising intensely for one week and then not exercising for three weeks. Is the one week going to benefit us? No! Cause we didn't exercise for the three weeks after it.
So, if we go within and meditate and really control our mind and we sit there so still for an hour. And then, we go out and we go to school and we work and for 12 hours we don't bother to control our thoughts is that one hour going to do any good. No! Just like the one week of exercise won't do any good if we don't exercise for the three weeks that follow.
So, we need a continuity of effort between our inner life -- what we do in meditation, what we do when we worship -- and our outer life. Otherwise, we're obviously, not making the progress we could. Said in a more specific way. If, when we work throughout the day, we pay attention to what we're doing, we concentrate on it; we don't allow our mind to just wander because it can, cause we know how to do what we're doing. And it can wander into the past and into the future because we know how to do what we're doing. It's a simple task, you know.
If we don't do that but rather focus on what we're doing, keep the mind concentrated on it even though we don't have to. We're driving, we know how to drive; we could think about anything. We're washing dishes. We know how to wash dishes. We could do it blindfolded. We could think about all kinds of things. But, if we don't allow ourselves to do that, if instead, we concentrate on what we're doing, that's helping our inner efforts. It's a continuity of effort. The inner and the outer: we don't see a difference.
If we concentrate on what we're doing when we sit down to meditate what happens? Our concentration is better. It's like exercising for four weeks in a row instead of one week and then taking three weeks off. We've controlled our mind all throughout the day. Therefore, when we sit down to meditate the next day it's cumulative. We've controlled our mind during meditation, we've controlled our mind during study and work. It's cumulative. Each day it would improve similar to exercising. If we exercise every day what happens to a muscle? It has to get stronger. It has no choice. That's the way the body works. If we control our thoughts, when we meditate and when we work, every day, we have to improve our ability to concentrate. It works the same way.
Willpower is an interesting phenomena. Willpower is the ability to do what we want to do. The classical example of not being able to do what we want to do is: The student who wants to get up early to study, to do well on a test, but then sleeps in anyway. The desire is there. I want to get up early. I want to do well on the test. But, the willpower isn't strong enough. Needs a parent to reinforce it; you need to get up. You want to do well on a test; oh I guess so. Okay, I'll get up. But, without the parent the willpower wouldn't be strong enough necessarily.
So, why is willpower interesting? Well, some things the more you use them the less you have. If you spend money your bank account goes down, right? Spend $2000 your bank account goes down $2000. You go into the kitchen, you take the food, you cook it, you eat it; the amount of food in the kitchen goes down.
Willpower isn't that way. The more you use it the more you have. It's like spending $2000 and adding $2000 to your bank account. Eating a meal and then twice the amount of food that you ate appears in the kitchen. Why is that? Cause it's mental; it's not a physical quantity. We draw on it and therefore, there's more of it there. It's like purnamadah: The idea of fullness. You can't deplete fullness even when you draw out of it, it's still full. It's the same idea.
Some energy, the more you use the more you have. An interesting aspect of it is interest. Gurudeva says that awareness, energy and willpower are one and the same thing. You remember that? Oh, what's an example? If we're doing something we don't like to do it never seems to end, right? It was only five minutes but we didn't like to do it and it seemed like an hour. If we're doing something we love to do, it took an hour but it seemed like five minutes. That's awareness, energy and willpower being the same thing. The more we're interested in something the more energy we draw out to do it and it seems effortless. The less we're interested in something the harder it is to do it. So, clearly, if we can find a way to get interested in what we're doing it's a lot more fun, right? If we're bored by it then it seems to take forever. So, that's the same idea. The energy comes when we draw on it; the energy comes when we're interested.
Gurudeva has a nice statement about willpower: How do we cultivate willpower? Well, first of all, it's easier to cultivate it in external things. That's one of the advantages of not dividing life into external and internal. And thinking about the internal in a very precise way and the external in a very loose way. To sit there for an hour and concentrate and control our thoughts is difficult because it's abstract. To do a task, a physical task well is a lot easier. To study something and do well on a test is a lot easier because it's not abstract; it's concrete. Therefore, it's easier to improve our willpower, to improve our ability to concentrate in our external tasks then our internal tasks. That's why the external tasks are important. That's why going to school and doing well is important.
We're developing our ability to concentrate. We're developing our ability to get up in the morning and study instead of sleeping in. That same concentration and willpower is there when we sit and meditate. We can use it. But it's easier to improve on it -- for most people -- in our external tasks. That's the idea.
So, Gurudeva's point is for willpower: Finish every job you start. Sounds easy, right? But we don't do that. There's many things in life we start and then we give up on. Why? Well, it was a little harder than we thought. It's usually what happens. Takes longer than we thought it would. We don't have enough time. You know, we have all kinds of excuses for not finishing what we start but it's not a good pattern to put into the mind.
I have a talk on it. And I happened to look at it and it reminded me one of the reasons we don't finish what we start is: We start things impulsively. We don't really think it through before we start it. Our friends are doing it. Our neighbors are doing it. So, we'll do it too. I mean, that's not necessarily a good enough motivation to finish the task because when they stop doing it maybe you'll stop doing it. You never really had a personal reason for starting it.
So, we don't want to be impulsive when we start things because then we stop. And that creates a negative pattern in the mind. So it's good to think something through carefully and make sure: I want to start this. It's not because my neighbor's doing it. He's putting in these flowers, therefore, I'll put in these flowers. Maybe he know what he's doing and you don't, you know. Could be a lot harder for you.
So, think through what we start and therefore, start on it in a realistic way and finish it. And then Gurudeva says: Do it well. But he doesn't stop there. He says: Do it even a little better than you planned to initially. In other words, if you have to do work, do a project at work and come up to a certain standard, if you have the time possible, do it a little better than the standard that you have to come up to. Why is that? Because you're using a little extra willpower. Something you didn't have to use to get by. You used a little extra.And that strengthens the willpower. Next time we sit to meditate we have a little more willpower to sit there without moving, control awareness.
One of the phrases I like to use is, about meditation, because again there's this division in life that we stop meditating when we open our eyes or we stop worshiping when the puja's over. And we shift. But, that's not ideal. So, the phrase is: Meditation is controlling awareness throughout the day. Not just when we're sitting there and meditating: I'm going to experience the energy in my spine; I'm going to see inner light. Meditation's over; okay, now I'm going to work. Meditation doesn't end when you open your eyes; worship doesn't end when you stop, you know, you close the puja down; you finished. It should extend throughout the day.
We want a continuity. And one of the ways is: To look at mediation as controlling awareness throughout the day. For the same reasons, right? It's the same reason we said: Exercising one week, not exercising three weeks. Concentrating, not concentrating. If we control awareness only when we're meditating and then we don't bother to control it throughout the day, it's counterproductive. We're not making the progress we could.
Obviously, if we control awareness during meditation and after meditation, throughout the day and during work and Gurudeva even throws in while you sleep. You go where you want to go, see who you want to see. That gives us greater progress. Just as exercising four weeks in a row gives more progress than one week on, three weeks off. Same idea.
What does it mean to control awareness throughout the day? Well, we gave two examples. It means to concentrate on what we're doing -- not let the mind wander even when it can -- because we know the task and we could do it blindfolded. Thinking about the past, the future, this and that. We let it go all over the place. No! Gurudeva says: Keep the mind precise. We finish what we start, we do it well even a little better than we need to. That's what we talked about so far.
But what else can we do? Well, we can minimize our reactions to what we encounter. Minimize the amount of emotional reaction we have throughout the day. The major cause for emotional reaction is: Something happened and we can't accept that it happened. It wasn't supposed to happen. I wrote my day another way and this came in the middle. I was going to do this and a Tsunami came. That's no fair. Ruined my day. I'm upset. We can't accept what happened. It's not supposed to happen. It's too complicated; it's too difficult. It's too this, it's too that; it's a problem. Well the problem is labeling it a problem. The problem is not accepting it as your next thing to do. You know, you've heard me give that talk and I'm still convincing myself cause I still use the word "problem" now and then.
The biggest way to have difficulty handling something is to label it a problem. And a big problem, that's even worse, a huge problem. You've got this huge, big problem. Then what happens? We want to procrastinate. We definitely think it shouldn't have happened because it's a problem. But it's just the next thing to do. We can stop labeling it. Everything is just the next thing to do. We get all this emotion because we call it a problem, because it wasn't supposed to happen. Because of this, because of that. But if we can just say: This is the next thing to do. What an interesting next thing to do. This is quite a challenge. I managed to do it. Guess what? Strengthen my willpower. So challenges are good.
Gurudeva once said: "My astrology is so good I'm not facing any challenges. This is not good for my unfoldment." That's what he said. The opposite of ordinary thinking. Oh, I have no problems in my life; everything's going along smoothly. Nothing's happening, you know, it's just routine same thing day after day after day. It's just so easy; isn't it wonderful? Gurudeva would say: No! It's terrible! You're not making any progress. You're not challenging yourself. Life isn't challenging you. Where's the progress? Your inner life won't progress because you outer life doesn't have enough challenges.
Well, interesting way of looking at it, right? So, that's this idea of, you know, idea of concentration and willpower that we have to develop emotional control. That we have to develop in what we face in life is actually what helps us to do better in our inner life. It's the opposite of the standard concept. Hawaii is such a beautiful quiet place. If I wasn't here I just wouldn't be able to meditate. I need a quiet, beautiful, serene environment then I can go within.
Common concept, right? How can I possibly go within in the middle of Manhattan? So active. Twenty-four hours a day it's active. Downtown Kuala Lumpur, you know, so active. How can I possibly go within? I need a quiet, serene environment. But, that's a false concept, right? We need a quiet, serene environment initially to go within but then, we need to be able to hold that within with any environment. And that increases our control over awareness by being able to hold serenity in a non-serene external environment. We gain additional willpower, additional strength to control our awareness. And therefore, when we're in a serene environment, next time, we're able to go in deeper, right? Because we challenged our self between times. If we didn't challenge ourselves between times why would we go deeper? Nothing changed. We're the same person, the same abilities.
Well that's Gurudeva's teaching is to try and get rid of this vision between the external and the internal. And realize that most of our spiritual progress is made in the external. It's where we go to school, learn to concentrate. Where we learn to get up in the morning, extend our willpower, learn to well in sports and other activities. All of those abilities are needed to have any control over awareness when we sit down to meditate.
Okay, well thank you very much.
Aum Namah Sivaya
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