That brings me to the topic of resolve. I strongly recommend developing the freedom to choose what happens in your life that 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 one to make choices about what we do and stay strong in the face of difficulties. Thus, I recommend that when you set aside a period of time for a particular 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 whole-heartedly.
Without discipline, without formal resolve, you may easily find yourself in something resembling the following situation. You sit down on the cushion with the vague intention to do some insight practices, 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 into the low-level jhanaic bliss that you have managed to cultivate the ability to find, and then you feel hungry, 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. Instead, you are floundering. Without discipline, without resolve, you are unlikely to be able 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 out loud or silently to myself. Having done practice with and without them, I have come to the definite conclusion that formal resolutions can make a huge difference in my practice. One of my favorite resolutions goes something like, “I resolve that for this hour I will consistently investigate the sensations that make up reality so as to attain to liberating insights for the benefit of myself and all beings.”
Resolutions such as this one add a great deal of focus and consciousness to my practice. They galvanize my energy, make plain my intentions, and also seem to work at some more subliminal or subconscious level to help keep me on track. I have also found that I can use resolutions in my daily life to good effect. For instance, when studying for a medical school exam, I might resolve, “For this hour, I will study this hematology syllabus so that I will increase my knowledge and skill as an aspiring doctor and thus be less likely to kill patients and more likely to help them.”
Such 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, these sorts of resolutions help me to consciously reconnect with what is important in life. I suggest that you try making these sorts of 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 see for yourself.