Last Sunday night I gave a talk about Huike, the second Chinese Zen ancestor, who stood in the snow trying to get Bodhidharma to pay attention to him, and finally cut off his own arm to prove his sincerity. Whenever we talk about this story, we always give a warning, something akin to "don't try this at home." Cutting off an arm may have been appropriate centuries ago in another culture, but today we strongly warn against such an act.
So I suggested, during our dharma dialogue, that Huike was a bit "over the top:" demonstrating a form of effort that was too extreme. After everyone had left, David gently disagreed with my comment, and suggested that Huike was doing just what he needed to do -- that his action was appropriate for him, and for him alone. We agreed that each one of us has to find the right amount of effort to make in our meditation practice. No effort at all may be exactly what is called for, especially if we're used to trying hard to accomplish something in our zazen.
In each moment we discover this right amount of effort. Our present situation, and our own condition, is constantly changing, and our task is to respond in some way to these situations and conditions so that our practice stays alive. These days there is never an appropriate excuse for bodily harm, but that doesn't mean that we can't throw ourselves into our practice with every cell in our bodies. And at the other extreme, we may sometimes find that we simply need to throw ourselves into the loving arms of the Great Way, and make no effort at all. Everything depends on conditions. Everything depends on everything else.