This week's post is from Kurt, a passage meditator living in Cleveland, Ohio. Kurt shares how he uses the eight points throughout his day to manage his energy so he can be effective and efficient in completing his tasks.
Easwaran speaks of the importance of selfless work outside of our meditation period to channel the energy (prana, or life force) released by meditation.
He teaches us that if we feel stuck in meditation, we can resist a craving, we can get closer to something or someone we’d prefer to avoid, and then we can use the released prana to go deeper.
He shows us that by calling on the mantram in countless situations, we can stop little drops of prana from leaking out in fragmented attention. Over time, we can begin to slow the sink holes of greed, anger or fear.
Little by little, I’ve been seeing the benefits of daily meditation (twice daily in recent years) and working on the 8 points through the rest of the day to focus the energy released in meditation where it can make a difference. Looking back on my 8 point practice, I see that progress comes from the accumulation of often minuscule advances in prana management – from faithfulness in going to the well daily; from plugging tiny leaks in the prana vessel of my life; from channeling the gift of emancipated prana toward selfless activity intended for the good of others.
Most recently, I have been noticing the prana released by one-pointed attention.
Repeated red pencil exercises – listing the mushrooming to-do list of activities and crossing off the non-essential ones – have kept my life down to just-manageable overextension. But sometimes – frequently actually – a new opportunity for selfless activity throws off the tenuous balance.
The red pencil exercise is getting harder. Seldom anymore is the problem worthless activities that are easy to cross off. Now the problem is an abundance of opportunity – prioritizing among competing good or the chance to non-violently oppose the bad.
Usually, the scale of this unbalance can be measured in minutes of unplanned activity that seem to throw off the balance of the day by getting in the way of my plans – a family member with a small crisis, a colleague with an urgent need. A few mantrams to let go of what I thought was my moment’s work often allows me to focus my attention on the apparent distraction. At day’s end, these “distractions” frequently end up being what made the day feel worthwhile. Just as often, I also notice they’ve made me feel speeded up – still trying to cram too many things into the day; not letting go of enough of the lesser good activities.
On a bigger scale, recently, I was put in a position to organize diverse community members in putting together a proposal to fund a new research and development initiative to reduce inequality in our city. The odds were long and the task verged on impossibility. Or at least it would take over my life for the next three months, with a very uncertain outcome. More red-penning created a little space, but not enough.
In the end, though, prana sufficient to the task was released by focusing more attention during meditation, and critically, after meditation, by spending a small amount of time choosing the most important task from the impossibly long to-do list, and then focusing all attention on that. When that task was done, I’d scan all the emails and phone calls, help as many people as possible to focus their energy on their most important task, and then dive in again with one-pointedness on the most important task for me in that moment.
In the big task of putting together the proposal, I felt like one of Jesus’ doubting disciples – given a few fishes and loaves of bread, and being asked to help make them feed the thousands. I did my little part with halting faithfulness, but was privileged to be a witness to something greater.
One of the miracles of the fishes and the loaves was that bringing together diverse people in small groups allowed them to get to know each other – their strengths, limitations, and needs. In that knowing, they shared not only a part of the limited commodity of fishes and loaves, but also a part, or perhaps all, of what little they’d brought with them. In the end, there was enough for all, and even some left over.
In my task – in our task – of putting together the proposal, each person, focusing one-pointed attention on the most important task at hand, learning about and from each other, was able to contribute what they had. And out of apparent shortage – of time, expertise, resources – abundance emerged.
People came together and the application was completed by the deadline.
I’m working to remain detached from the outcome of the proposal. Being detached isn’t hard when you’re truly ambivalent.
If the proposal is successful, more than $13 million will come into our community to support collective work to reduce the upstream causes of health inequality. But when there is a lot of money on the table, everyone is your friend. Everyone seems dedicated.
It is during the times of leanness and uncertainty that deep dedication emerges, and bonds based on shared mission develop.
So in the interim, we have been coming together, and are starting to plan what we are going to do together even if we are not funded. We’re finding out who’s personally invested. And something else is happening. More people are coming to the table – not for the possibility of money, but for the opportunity to give of themselves, to contribute to something larger than themselves.
In the months after the application went in, I found myself slipping back into less effectiveness, and wondered why. I noticed that in addition to scanning possible activities and focusing on the most important one, during this very effective time, I also had been subconsciously following Easwaran’s advice to choose first the important task that I also least wanted to do – the one on which I was most likely to procrastinate. When I started doing this again, I noticed that all the prana that had been leaking out in having the dreaded task in the back of my mind now was conserved. And when the dreaded task was done, the sense of having overcome the selfish desire of focusing first on a more pleasant task released more prana that found me looking for, and then diving into, the next selfless activity – often one that I wanted to do, but now could do with gusto since it was truly the next most important undertaking.
And I found out something else. At the end of the day, and at the start of the next day, I was less tired. More energetic. Perhaps because the nagging thought about the procrastinated task wasn’t leaking prana through the day and night.
Kurt (back row, far right) with the Cleveland satsang at a recent event.
Most days and months don’t have a big obvious opportunity to do good. But being open to each little opportunity, and focusing on that with one pointed attention, it all adds up. It adds up in relationships and in helping others. It adds up in releasing, and conserving and focusing prana. Faithful one-pointedness in the small things builds capacity that can be called on for the bigger things.