It can be helpful to consider spiritual practice as a generative process, generative in the sense that when we are sufficiently prepared, when the basic elements are rightly established, the process takes over and does itself. It becomes less predictable and we need to be ready to step back. To always be thinking that it is up to us to do the awakening can create unnecessary problems on the journey. The flowering of spiritual practice is the experience of letting go, and letting go happens; we don’t do it.
In the initial stages of practice we do need to put effort into building the basic structures. This means working hard on cultivating such qualities as integrity, steadiness of mind and discernment. Integrity equips us with a sense of self-confidence. Without it we readily fall prey to the hindrance of self-doubt. Self-confidence functions like a container within which we can feel safe, at ease and not afraid of being overwhelmed.
When right effort is put into disciplining attention it produces a steadiness of heart and mind, and by skilfully exercising wise reflection, discernment develops. These are the basic elements of the path – self-confidence, steadiness and discernment, referred to in the Pali language as sīla, samādhi and pañña.
At this initial stage there is a degree of predictability in our work. If we get up in the morning and meditate as we have determined we would, we can expect certain benefits; when we manage to keep our precepts there are predictable results. And here it does feel as if we are the ones doing the practice.
However, this journey is definitely not a lineal, logical progression. If we continue making consistent, careful effort, it is likely we will reach a point where it feels not so much that we are doing the practice, but that the practice is doing us.
At this point we would have already learnt how to make a different sort of effort.
This reflection by Ajahn Munindo is from the book, Servant of Reality, (pdf) pp. 29-30.