It’s not rare to find ourselves frustrated in front of the nth failure when trying to be present, to observe ourselves, to perform a meditative practice, etc. It would be quite right to say that this sense/feeling of failure stares after us in almost everything we do to develop ourselves as a constant, always ready to remind us of our limits.
I remember a particular experience when this sensation of weakness was very settled in my mind and heart and I met my mentor to ask him for an exercise or insight to “strengthen my will”.
As expected, he didn’t give me what I expected, maybe a “magic recipe” that could resolve the problem in which I was stuck.
He simply said: “What you want is not what you need. Indeed, what you call will is not will. You need determination, and this skill can be built only through a particular ‘effort’.” I knew that when he said “effort” this didn’t mean lifting weights or any act of mortification. “Effort” was just what every great teacher meant, a thing that is too often misunderstood: action.
After having said that, he simply lowered his head and continued with his job as if nothing had happened. This meant that our conversation was ended. His attitude provoked in me, as always, a sense of being misunderstood, of being lost alone with my problems, of being underestimated and God knows what other kinds of sensations and feelings. Briefly, I felt defeated.
The realization of what he meant came later, on the same day, when, annoyed by the behavior of my mentor, I decided to sit cross- legged and not move any part of my body, to ignore my thoughts, feeling and emotions before reaching some concrete result.
It happened when I abandoned every hope and faced each moment of practice with the aim of reaching some tangible result – a proof. I was really ready to die before renouncing my decision.
Then, as I said above, it happened. During the practice, ignoring the pain of my body, the self- pity, the urge to move an arm or a leg, to allow my thoughts to express themselves in the usual associative way, that I noticed that something was happening. I don’t wish to enter into an analysis of what happened, describing the various stages of this experience; I’ll just say that my will was strengthening, becoming more efficient and concrete from moment to moment, breath after breath.
At once, my body surrendered, my emotions and feelings stopped and my mind became clear, empty of all content. In this moment of total silence, I finally realized how much the words of my mentor were true.
I reached the determination through an effort. The results came through an effort, not a will. And, this same determination that now I could consider a state of consciousness, an inner disposition, came after these efforts. The result of this practice was just the creation of this determination, the state of being in which I found myself at once, developed through an intentional effort.
When I spoke to my mentor about this experience, he simply smiled and said to me: “A determined person is not one that begins an action, but one who doesn’t interrupt it, and this quality can be created only after the complete accomplishment of an action, an intentional action.”
This was my first intentional, determined effort.