Thich Nhat Hanh explains that Nourishing Effort is effort that is initiated with interest and joy. "If your practice does not bring you joy, you are not practicing correctly." Practices that cause pain to your physical body are also not Nourishing Effort. The person who diligently and intently meditates but is focused on the action itself instead of its purpose is not on the path towards enlightenment. She is just sitting quietly on a rock.
It is here where the teachings begin to blend with the Taoism that I have long included in my own spiritual path. TNH quotes the Buddha who says, "Maintain your health. Be joyful. Do not force yourself to do things you cannot do." This makes sense, as it was after Buddha gave up on the harsh and painful path of asceticism that he was able to find his road to enlightenment. Nourishing Effort also relates to the Seven Factors of Awakening. TNH goes into these in detail later in this book, but the list includes: mindfulness, investigating phenomena, diligence, joy, ease, concentration, and letting go.
But if Nourishing Effort is about intent, how do we find out what our correct intent should be? If we are supposed to follow the practices that bring us joy, how can we figure out which ones those are? TNH provides us with clear direction here:
Twenty-four hours are a treasure chest of jewels. If we waste these hours, we waste our life. The practice is to smile as soon as we wake up, recognizing this day as an opportunity for practicing. It is up to us not to waste it. When we look at all beings with eyes of love and compassion, we feel wonderful. With the energy of mindfulness, washing the dishes, sweeping the floor, or practicing sitting or walking meditations are all the more precious.He goes on to say that suffering can also be a motivation for practice as so many of these practices bring relief to sadness, anger, anxiety, and grief. Moving yourself into the present moment is a powerful tool to free yourself from worries about the future or sadness about what you may feel has been lost to you.
*This post is a piece of a larger discussion that begins with the post: Lessons from the Heart of the Buddha's Teachings.*