That brings me to the topic of resolve. I strongly recommend developing the freedom to choose what happens in your life, which comes from discipline. While people often think of discipline as being contrary to freedom, I equate the two in many ways. Discipline and resolve allow us to make choices about what we do, and allow us to stay strong in the face of difficulties. Thus, I recommend that when you set aside a period for a specific training, you resolve that for that period you will work on the specific training you have set out to work on, and that you will work on it wholeheartedly.
Without discipline, without formal resolve, you may easily find yourself in something resembling the following scenario. You sit down on the cushion with the vague intention to do some insight practice, and begin trying to investigate, but soon you find yourself thinking about how you really should be paying your bills. Then your knee begins to hurt, so you tune in to the low-level jhanic bliss that you have managed to cultivate the ability to access, and then you feel sensations of hunger in your belly, so you get up and fix yourself a sandwich. You then think to yourself, “Hey, what am I doing here eating this sandwich? Wasn’t I doing insight practice?”
You are not free. You are floundering. Without discipline, without resolve, you are unlikely to get past some of the difficult hurdles that stand between you and success in any of these trainings.
I have found it extremely valuable, particularly when sitting down to do formal meditation, to state to myself at the beginning of the session exactly what I am doing, what I hope to attain by it, and why attaining that is a good idea. I do this formally and clearly, either aloud or silently to myself. Having done practice with and without such resolutions, I have come to the definite conclusion that they can make a huge difference in my practice. One of my favorite resolutions goes something like this:
I resolve that for this hour I will consistently investigate the sensations that make up reality to attain to liberating insights for the benefit of myself and all beings.
Resolutions like this add a great deal of intentionality to practice. They galvanize energy and seem to work at some more subliminal or subconscious level to help keep us on track. I have also found that I can use resolutions in my daily life to good effect. For instance, when I was studying for a medical school exam, I would resolve, “For this hour, I will study this hematology syllabus so that I may increase my knowledge and skill as an aspiring doctor and thus be less likely to kill patients and more likely to help them live.”
At times resolutions might seem overly formal or perhaps even goofy, and they sometimes seem this way to me, but I have come to appreciate them anyway. If I make resolutions that do not ring true, I can feel it when I say them, and this helps me understand my own path and heart. If I am lost and wondering why I am doing what I am doing, resolutions help me to consciously reconnect with what is important in life. They also seem to activate deeper parts of our brains that can help our practice in ways that are hard to explain or quantify. I suggest that you try making resolutions in your own life, at least so that you can see if they are useful for you. I am a big fan of formal resolutions, but you should do the experiment yourself and experience directly what a difference they can make.
I would like to thank Joseph Goldstein for his soft-spoken instruction to dedicate my practice to the welfare and awakening of all beings, as something in the way he said it landed nicely. I think it has made a significant difference.