Right Effort is the effort to think, speak and act skilfully. It is traditionally described as the effort to prevent and overcome negative states of mind and to cultivate and maintain positive states of mind. So it is primarily concerned with mental, rather than physical effort.
So what does this mean in practice? When we are doing seated meditation it is pretty obvious that right effort is the effort required to keep our mind in the present moment, letting go of thought as it arises and paying attention to our inner landscape in a completely non-judgemental way.
As we go about our daily lives, however, we generally need to adopt a broader awareness. Sometimes it will be appropriate to bring a very focussed concentration to a task, but much of the time I think our awareness is more free-flowing. How then to apply right effort?
I’ve thought about this a lot recently and we discussed it at our Wednesday Sangha Evening. Last Saturday I attended the Regional Sangha Day in Leeds and joined a discussion on How can we be more present? which really ties in with right effort, and decided to continue this topic the following day on the day retreat here at the Hermitage. So with thanks to all who contributed their thoughts, the way that I am currently thinking of right effort is:
Right Effort is the effort to be present to oneself.
By which I mean that we have sufficient awareness of ourselves to be able to sense and respond to that inner prompting that nudges us to lend a hand, offer a kind word, stop what we were about to do, alter our course and all those other fine adjustments we make if we go through our day with an open mind and heart and an attitude of listening, both within and without.
The opposite to this would be the person who is determined to stick to their plan, to do things their own way, who is tuned out to any input from whatever source. This may take a lot of effort but it is certainly not right effort.