Rhythms of practice

From the second of Ken's talks on the Eightfold Path...

Rhythms (from 8FP02 01:07:35.01 - 01:11:30.01)

(download into iTunes)
Very much connected with effort is our capacity. And we build capacity by exerting ourselves and stretching ourselves in our exertion, and then resting. If we just push all the time we wear things out, we wear out, and we break down. And that doesn't matter whether it's physical, emotional, or mental, or spiritual.

I was listening to a report, on I think it was NPR. It was actually BBC World News, about the Colonel who heads the bomb disposal unit in the British Army who's retiring or quitting his job. And he said that in earlier times people could do this because they weren't meeting that many bombs to dispose of. But now they would be disarming or disposing of fifteen to thirty devices a day! And every one of these is a life-threatening situation.

He says when people do this, they can only do this for a certain period of time, and then they need a break. [Laughter] And apparently it takes six to eight years to train somebody with a sufficient level of experience that they can do this work. Can you imagine having to bring that quality of attention to something of that frequency when your life is on the line over and over again? So where it's really costly, they recognize the importance of taking a break.

And I found this in my own practice certainly. You can push, but at a certain point something sets in, and if you push now you break something in you, and that is not helpful at all. It's never helpful. That's when you step back and you learn to work with the rhythms of practice.

And the last point I will make on effort, in terms of capacity--I came across this in a book I was reading--there are four dimensions to capacity. One is strength: how much effort you can actually make. Second is endurance: how long can you make the effort. Then there's flexibility: how many different ways can you make the effort; how many different situations. Because some people can be very very good here and just hopeless over there. And the fourth is resilience: how quickly do you recover.

And all of these are best trained by stretching yourself and then resting. Stretching yourself, and sometimes the periods of stretching may be several days or something like that or several hours. Depending--that you'll work out. But it's that rhythm of pushing and then stepping back, pushing and then stepping back that builds your capacity and builds your ability to make greater and greater efforts.

So again, you can feel in all of that, or see in all of that how much to bring attention into the experience of making an effort. And see, you know, is energy flowing into this naturally and joyfully? Then it's good.