Dealing with discouragement
Self-effacement or self-sabotage?
In the course of our work, for example, we often face a situation where our superior asks us to carry out a long and complicated project or to complete tasks within a very short deadline. We may be saying to ourselves, “Don’t ask me that!, It is beyond my skills, someone else could do it better than me, There is so much at stake in this project, I risk sabotaging it!”
We can hold this same discourse in the context of our spiritual life. We think, for example, that it is impossible to realize emptiness or to obtain such spiritual realizations.
These two examples show us that we are under the influence of discouragement, and that we sabotage ourselves. If we realize that we can finally achieve the goal, with a little encouragement, we are very happy and we accept the challenges that come our way. Likewise, if we let go of the idea that we cannot realize emptiness, with a little encouragement and inspiration, we can begin to enjoy ourselves and take the first step.
Laziness in disguise
Discouragement is ubiquitous in our time, and when it finds its way into our spiritual practice, it becomes a dangerous type of laziness, called “the laziness of discouragement”.
We have enormous spiritual potential. Everything depends on our mind, our thoughts, including our sense of ourselves. Keeping the thought that our self is permanent and limited prevents us from changing and realizing our potential.
Self-effacement can be seen as endearing, sometimes even covered in humility, but more often than not it attaches strongly to a limited self that holds us back from trying or reaching for anything that might help us. themselves and others. Our inner monologue leads us to develop thoughts like “Your no good,” ” You’re too old,” “You won’t make it!” etc. These thoughts are not humility, but dislike and hurtful comments that we would not tolerate in other people. The fact that we tolerate and heed our own harmful thoughts is a shame knowing that we have precious human life, Buddha nature and that we can do anything if we go there.
Regarding the laziness of discouragement, we may think like this: Discouragement is a problem for me – there is often no line between self-effacement and self-destruction in my mind. My teacher told me that the full name for discouragement is discouragement laziness, but we don’t find ourselves lazy when we feel discouraged. This thought is legitimate. We think that devaluing ourselves is not serious and has no consequence. We don’t think that thought is a delusion. Now, this laziness of discouragement IS indeed a delusion. It may even be the most harmful delusion, in the sense that under its influence we let our lives go on unchanged and it keeps us stuck in suffering if we let it.
We can better understand the delusion of laziness if we appreciate what opposes it, namely a positive mind, which is effort.
What is effort in the spiritual sense?
The word “striving” in the spiritual sense can have a connotation of great effort! Its full name, “joyful effort“, sounds better, but it still seems to require effort. Is the word “energy” more appropriate? or the word “inspiration” or “pleasure“. I am inspired to practice, I am happy to practice, I like to practice, I love to practice – these are all manifestations of effort, much more than “I need to put in the effort,“ “ I should really practice” …
Effort can sound like an intense word, like we’re pressuring or forcing ourselves to get results. We are sometimes like this: as competitive Westerners, we can keep our competitive side in our spiritual practice. We may sit next to someone thinking, “I wonder if they’re concentrating? Oh no, they can’t meditate as long as I do!“ “Oh, their posture is so much better” etc. We tend to push a lot in our own culture, work, family, society, etc. – we force results. And we may also be pressured to falsify the results to look better.
Do you live your life as if people are looking over your shoulder and judging you? Maybe you feel guilty when you don’t think you measure up as a mother, father, employee, spouse, and even as spiritual practitioners? If so, then we feel that we have to force and put in more effort (or better falsify!), but guilt is not a substitute for joy, and is not effort.
If we can avoid the extremes of self-mockery and hypocrisy, and have a cheerful, confident, enthusiastic, and relaxed approach to our meditation practices, we are sure to change many things for the better.
What is “virtue”?
Effort is defined in Buddhism as “a mind that delights in virtue” .
Virtue means the causes of happiness. Again, we don’t always think of this meaning when we hear the word virtue. We think more of something that is virtuous.
Thus, effort delights in the causes of happiness. That doesn’t sound like much effort as we know it! But we can see that if we had a mind that enjoyed cultivating the causes of happiness, we would end up being very happy, because we would be joyfully creating joy! With effort, our meditation becomes a pleasure, like a child playing his favourite video game. The objective is therefore to take pleasure in our practice without it requiring any particular effort.
We may not be there yet, but it’s also good to know what effort really is: no forcing, no pressure, no straining, no grasping for results. We shouldn’t feel miserable when we try to practice hard now, but the results are too far away, and even years or future lifetimes won’t be enough to get there. At that point we draw an impassable gulf between us and our goal – which inevitably leads us to failure.
The solution is not to compare and judge what others are doing or fantasize about what they think of us. We should not belittle ourselves or believe everything our own inner narrative tells us about who we are. Effort is about being in the moment, appreciating the virtue or causes of happiness, identifying with being a happy person – in other words, enjoying being positive, kind, wise, happy and free.
A word of advice: for starters, if you have to, you can pretend that you enjoy your virtuous activities – or rather imagine that you are. For example, if at first you do very long prayers, prostrations or fasts, and you don’t always automatically enjoy these spiritual practices, you may think “I really appreciate that! ” until you believe it. These are just thoughts, but can really work.