Insight Meditation and the Art of Wise Effort

by Matthew Daniell


(Published in the Newburyport Daily News newspaper on October 21, 2018)


In our fast paced achievement driven culture, we often neglect to pay attention to the quality of effort we bring into our lives.  If we examine this closely we may discover that when we fail to bring a balanced amount of effort to any given task, and to our lives in general, we and those around us suffer.  We may end up paying the price with increased stress levels, harmful emotional reactivity, and a feeling of disconnection.


Perhaps mindfulness training from the Buddhist Insight Meditation tradition, where the quality of our effort is given a high priority, can provide some help.  We can learn from these teachings and skill sets to live our lives with more balance, natural focus, and ease.  Let’s begin by examining the problem more closely. Here are some examples of my own struggles to apply a balanced effort in my life.  When I was in college I wrote a paper that ended up being much longer than required.  When I got it back the professor commented that it was a fine paper, but the last five pages were not really necessary, so why did I write them?  I couldn't just leave it alone at a certain point, it had to be perfect in my eyes.


An example from my formal spiritual training was when I was practicing intensive meditation in a Zen monastery in Japan.  The teacher kept strongly encouraging me and the other meditators to ‘give it your best’, so I strove very, very hard to get it right. One day I went to Kyoto with some of the monks.  There I happened to have my blood pressure checked (at a public machine that did it for free), and it was extremely high which is rare for me.  I had been stressing myself out meditating with an intense striving attitude.



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