All extraordinary accomplishments are due to Vigor.
Vigor is somewhat like the energy of mental states. It reinforces mental phenomena and does not allow them to collapse. When a starving person eats even a small handful of peanuts, he does not fall down due to the vital energy coming from eating the small amount of peanuts. Vigor is similar to such vital energy. It is unique in that it arises in an emergency situation or in any situation where we feel a sense of urgency.
Vigor is responsible for taking forceful and vital action. If one’s life is threatened, one experiences a burst of energy that helps one cope. This burst of energy is vigor.
Vigor is ethically variable in its quality. It becomes wholesome or unwholesome depending upon what other elements arise with it. If vigor arises along with anger or hatred, as in the case of a soldier fighting a strong and overpowering enemy in the battlefield, it is not wholesome. If it arises along with compassion as in the case of a Red Cross volunteer working in a war zone or in case of a firefighter combating a blaze, it is wholesome. Wholesome vigor always leads to a non-failing and non-ending state of mind that is critical in pursuing and doing extraordinary stuff.
Wholesome vigor is necessary to avoid and overcome temptation. For example, it is indispensable in overcoming addiction. It is also indispensable in developing healthy habits. Without a sense of urgency to avoid cancer, a smoker would not quit smoking. Without a sense of urgency to prevent diabetes, an obese person would not stop overeating. A sense of urgency is the key to arousing vigor.
If we look at our physical and mental imperfections as a disease, or if we contemplate our impending death, we can arouse vigor out of a sense of urgency to purify the embodiment.
Vigor can prevent us from going back to the rat race or status quo. It can reinforce spiritual endeavors. It can also eradicate mental sluggishness that would prevent us from taking powerful action. The restraining power of vigor coupled with mindfulness ultimately does not allow bad habits and sensual desires to endure. For example, when we have a desire to get intoxicated, to cheat, to lie, to overpower others with violence, or to satisfy lust, wholesome vigor prevents these desires from persisting and facilitates us in abandoning them. Because sensual desires are so powerful, we often need a burst of super-energy (like vigor) to oppose them.
Many spiritual (and especially religious) practitioners follow ascetic practices, such as celibacy, fasting, and extreme physical workouts, and many live isolated in forests, monasteries, and seminaries with minimal means all in order to learn to overcome their sensual desires. If they could arouse vigor at will (by arousing a sense of urgency for mental purification), then they wouldn’t have to follow these practices. From this perspective, arousing vigor at will could be considered the highest ascetic practice for developing virtues, because vigor (when united with mindfulness and so on) can successfully nullify sensual desires.
SOUL RESEARCH INSTITUTE NEWSLETTER, JUNE 2010
EVENTS AT S.R.I.
Summer Meditation Gatherings,
*Mary Jo CLeaveland will lead Sunday gatherings during summer. She will conduct Gentle Yoga and Pranayams in addition to weekly meditations. Timings as usual (see below). Come and go anytime as you like. NO FEES. JUST PRACTICE.
In my opinion, the practice of arousing wholesome vigor (its restraining power) is the most evolved ascetic practice there is, and it is best suited for a contemporary meditator.
Vigor is a great mental power. However, it must be combined with wholesome mental elements. Vigor can arise out of fear. The fight-or-flight response is unwholesome vigor because it is rooted in greed for survival, hatred for the pain of dying or injury, and delusion about the true nature of self. Wholesome vigor, on the other hand, is that which arises out of the fear of imperfection and ethical/karmic accountability (bad actions generating bad results).
Fear is not intrinsically bad. If it weakens or paralyzes us, it is bad. If it awakens us to the reality of our weaknesses and imperfections, and arouses a sense of urgency to get rid of them, it is good. A person who becomes fearful of negative effects of lust, anger, and so on, and therefore begins his spiritual journey, will experience a sense of urgency that arouses wholesome vigor. Because of this vigor, objects of lust won’t attract him. He will develop strength to shy away. Because of vigor, he will be able to refrain from anger. Vigor will provide him enough power to pursue the difficult path of mental purification.
Vigor is like “mental energy” that generates power for restraining vices and for reinforcing and upholding virtues. It should be understood as the basis of all achievement. Vigor is responsible for all extraordinary human attainments.
If vigor arises with greed, it becomes overpowering, passionate, agitating, and so on. But if it arises along with the elements of mindfulness and concentration, its power is kept in balance. That’s when it becomes a real mental power.
The use of any power is a matter of skill. One should use mindfulness and concentration to balance the power of vigor. Otherwise vigor can result in passion and agitation. Similarly, one should use vigor to balance the calm of mindfulness and concentration, thereby avoiding too much calm, which can result in idleness. In this way, one should skillfully combine mindfulness/ concentration and vigor into spiritual feet so one can walk steadily on the path of mental purification and perfection.