Diligent Effortlessness

Ajahn Amaro

Diligent Effortlessness

Tsoknyi Rimpoche, a Tibetan Lama I first met back in 1992, has a very neat phrase to describe this approach to mind training: ‘undistracted non-meditation’. ‘Non-meditation’ is an expression of not doing any ‘thing’. We tend to make meditation into a task or some ‘thing’ that ‘I’ am doing. Instead we let go of the doing-ness and the thing-ness. That said, it is not a matter of letting the mind drift all over the place. There is an undistracted quality, a focused quality, but there is not a ‘me’ doing some ‘thing’ trying to get a result, to become focused or wise.

A Canadian meditation teacher called Khema Ananda, who in 1975 established the Arrow River Community Center (now a branch monastery called Arrow River Forest Hermitage) developed a similar phrase, ‘diligent effortlessness’. There’s a diligence, a keenness, but there is not a pushing. ‘Undistracted non-meditation’, ‘diligent effortlessness’ – these are phrases we can use to point to this precious, liberating quality.

I would suggest that all of us know this attitude but it is not a muscle that we regularly use. It is not a resource that we tend to call upon. In our meditation we can develop a sense of that quality. As we meditate, we find that balancing point where there is activity, there is effort being made, there is orientation being given, but there is no pushing; where there is a caring, an attending, but without a compulsion to fix or to help or to change.

This may sound great in principle, but the problem is that we really love becoming. In fact, most of the consumer culture and our careers, our relationships, our lives, are based on becoming. You’re promoted and you proudly strut around saying: ‘Look at me! I’m somebody!’ We name-drop. We get a real charge out of it. We love that stuff. Becoming has a huge amount of cultural and societal weight behind it. We love being excited, being interested and especially being interesting.

This reflection by Ajahn Amaro is from the book, Don’t Push—Just Use the Weight of Your Own Body (Compassion), Chapter: DILIGENT EFFORTLESSNESS.