The little things that we do day in and day out carry power. Like persistent drops of water over time can carve through stone, our mindless habits and patterns become deeply ingrained. Mindfulness training involves the gradual development of new, more skillful habits including beneficial thoughts, feelings and actions. A mindfulness practice can help us harness the power of persistence to develop more constructive ways of being in the world:
- Through greater awareness we see our habits and patterns more clearly and we discover that some of them cause suffering for ourselves and others, while others bring a sense of wellbeing.
- Through intentionality and choicefulness, we learn to replace harmful habits with more skillful ones, cultivating wisdom and discernment.
- Through dedication and devotion to practice, we notice we are living our lives with greater ease and more opportunities for joy are making themselves available to us.
Persistence takes a measure of confidence. Think about the times in your life when you felt most confident. They were probably not the times when you imagined you were getting away with something. Instead, courage tends to be most present when our actions are in alignment with our highest values. We don’t have to hide because we feel good about how we are showing up in the world. And this way of being is self-perpetuating – while confidence helps us do what’s right, doing what’s right also builds confidence. This self-perpetuating sense of courage is what allows us to trail-blaze a new path and persist toward an uncertain destination.
The extensive work of clearing away the obstacles along our chosen path, removing ourselves from and (eventually) learning to avoid snags and pitfalls, takes effort and patience. Because it’s a long journey, we have to learn how to balance our energies, discovering a sustainable middle ground somewhere between too intense and too lax.
Our mindfulness practice builds focus and concentration for the journey, keeping us calm and steady along the way. As we observe with greater curiosity and interest the causes and conditions linking intentions, actions and outcomes, we begin to discern what is useful and what’s not. Naturally, our unhelpful habits begin to drop away – we’re better able to let go of them because we see them clearly.
At first this process may feel like rolling a boulder uphill, but eventually we will crest the peak. The beneficial mind states we’ve been cultivating will begin to crowd out old, unhelpful ways of thinking and start to arise spontaneously with less and less effort on our part. Of course life will inevitably throw us curveballs, but the power of persistence will have made us more resilient, allowing us to recover more quickly and get back to the internal work that ripples out into the world, benefiting others.
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
-William Stafford, The Way It Is