It is good to explore the difference between exerting effort and applying oneself to something. The clarity that comes from that understanding can help us lead a peaceful life. One can then move on to sensing the deeper aspects of living on this planet.

We often feel elevated when we see a person handle something effortlessly. That feeling is associated with our intuitively sensing the beauty of effortless living. There is a deep longing to discover the way it can happen. If people depend on a system, religious or otherwise, they may succeed to some extent; however, the emotional attachment to the system would come in the way of effortless living. Not developing a shield against life is necessary to sense what lies behind and beyond our conventional responses. Then, we would begin to understand many hidden aspects of life, one of which is discovering the difference between exerting effort and applying oneself to the issues of daily life. Parents who educate their children with that understanding would go a long way to help them meet life with equanimity and emotional wellbeing. When those children grow up, they will not go anywhere near thinking of committing suicide as a solution to any problem. They would know the intrinsic impropriety behind that abominable act.

The Difference
On the face of it, exerting effort may appear to be the same as applying oneself to something. However, the states of mind behind the two are not the same. Effort implies certain attachment to the result; that is, the process becomes merely a means to an end rather than being a joyous involvement. This is where applying oneself to something differs. Here, attention to the process is given the importance it deserves even though the result has its own place and value. In other words, there is the joy of application to the process per se, while being confident that if the process is right the result too will be right. Exerting effort is generally geared to deriving satisfaction from the result rather than from enjoying the process. So here, the process is merely tolerated and, if the result is not satisfying, there would be the inevitable disappointment. In contrast, when there is the joy of application, the attachment to the result would not be that binding on us. There would be certain laid back attitude about the result because we would know that we applied ourselves well.

An Example from Mathematics!
Let us look here at an example in mathematics. During the early years of mathematics at school, children are taught simplification of fractions. They soon see that this is to be done through finding the common factors between the numerator (Nr) and the denominator (Dr). However, a student who sees the teacher cancelling the common zeroes between Nr and Dr may get the wrong signal that we can cancel any common number between the two. One such student tried 16/64. Cancelling the 6s in the Nr and the Dr, he got 1/4 which is the right answer! He then tried one more, 19/95 and got 1/5. Again, a right answer! He was convinced of the wrong thing. We all know that such a student will soon be in trouble. A good student knows why the above process is wrong and that division by a common factor is the right means to the end. The moral of the story is: While a wrong process can sometimes produce a right result, a right process will never lead to a wrong result.

The love of the process is part of applying oneself to something whereas the process becomes secondary in exerting effort. We are familiar with the two avenues of happiness in life: Joy and Satisfaction. The difference between them comes from the fact that joy is during the event while satisfaction is after the event. In other words, joy is related to the process and satisfaction to the result. The habitual response of the ego is more for chasing satisfaction rather than for respecting the process for what it is. People generally get caught up in the drive of the ego and so the joy of application recedes to the background. Those who realize the difference between the two apply themselves to understanding life rather than merely use it to one’s ego satisfaction. Such a change in one’s disposition to life augments an in-depth mental peace. It becomes easy for them to lead a well-ordered and holistic life and help others do the same.

The Relationship to Near Death Experiences
Messages from near death experiences throw some light on the issue of applying oneself to leading a holistic life. They all emphasize the need to get involved to live passionately without giving importance to ego-satisfaction. The love of being in contact with someone or something – be it an animal or an inanimate thing – takes on almost all the importance of living. By the same token, the process becomes more important than the end while dealing with various issues.

The Near Death Experience Research Foundation ( published an episode (No. 3700) from Michael Joseph who had the experience when he was crushed badly by a huge rock that fell on him. The following question from NDERF and Michael’s answer to it are taken from it:

What could a national organization with an interest in near death experience do that would be of interest to you?

“Learn the nature of true consciousness and find a way to trigger an NDE without the subject having to die. I can't think of a more important mission for any human being and I would want to be a part of such a mission or organization.”

From this it is clear that trying to understand the wider consciousness, instead of being caught up in the little cocoon of the mind, has something to do with leading a holistic life. Applying ourselves in that direction would be obviously a wise thing to do; then, all other healthy things are likely to fall in place.

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Author's Bio: 

Gopalakrishnan T. Chandrasekaran was born in Madras (now Chennai), India. He received his doctoral degree in Coastal Engineering from the North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, USA in 1978; served on the research and teaching faculty of the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, India, the North Carolina State University and the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research, Kuwait.

Aside from his professional involvements, he was interested in the philosophic issues of life for the last forty years or so. This led him to the messages of Ramana Maharishi, Lao Tzu, J Krishnamurthy, UG Krishnamurthy, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Eckhart Tolle, Marcus Aurelius and similar Masters. His book entitled “In Quest of the Deeper Self” is the outcome of his reflections on those and his wish to share the outcome with others.

Gopalakrishnan is a member of the International Association for Near Death Studies, Durham, NC, USA. He lives in Kodaikanal, a hill town in the southern part of India, with his wife Banumathy who also received her doctoral degree from the North Carolina State University, in Organic Chemistry. Now they are both retired and currently involved in developing a fruit farm at a village 20 km from their residence. They have a daughter and son who are both married and settled.