People usually understand effort as doing something, as holding to a task and keeping up something. Receptivity is different than effort, though it requires a certain kind of effort. Being receptive is about surrendering to what comes up. It has to do with letting things in your experience come up and inform what you're going through.
If you are receptive during the day you might find that you're thinking about all sorts of things. Your mind is wandering and you're going all over the place. In the same way, in meditation, when your mind is open and receptive to whatever comes up you may have feelings or memories come up that you don't particularly want; you may find that you're aware of certain things in your body that normally you'd block out.
With receptivity we often encounter resistance to our experience. We start to notice at first that we're not quite comfortable with what we're doing or with what's happening inside of us. Our discomfort with experience gets very strong and we want to do something about it.
So along with receptivity and resistance to what's going on there comes the question of tolerance. What is your level of tolerance, your real ability to tolerate yourself and to tolerate these different kinds of experiences? Whenever you reach points in meditation when you want to do something about discomfort you'll have a choice to make: Whether to continue to allow things to be as they are and to stay with the experience or to do something about it.
If it's a physical experience, pain or something that can be corrected by moving your posture, then you can do that. Don't worry about that. When it's more emotional, though, that's a different story. You might begin to wonder, "Do I really need to do something about this anxiety that's come up, or this sadness or this fear or this rage? Or can I sit with it?"
After you decide to sit with something you may notice that it gets stronger and stronger and you may feel, "That's it, I'm going to do something." You might decide to shift your attention away from that, to bring your attention to your body, or breath or sounds or to being kind to yourself around the rage. You might decide to generate something around the experience to make it more soothing and comfortable for you.
But if you do that I suggest you only do that for a little while and that you don't let it go on for the whole sitting or even for several minutes. Do it for enough time that it allows you to tolerate the experience or the experience shifts and changes for you. Then go back to staying with whatever comes up.
In this way, being receptive will help you build more tolerance towards uncomfortable experiences. The idea is not to get rid of these experiences. The idea is actually to see what they're like, to go through them, to see if your relationship with these experiences changes. See if you can start to have experiences where you're having more anxiety. You may find there are places where you're able to look at it, or you're able to disengage from it in a certain way - not intentionally, but that your mind is capable of doing that.
That's another thing about the receptive process: It's not about what you can do by intention, what you can do by telling yourself now I'm going to do this or now I'm going to do that. It's more about what your mind does naturally. We do adapt ourselves to working with particular types of experience. And you can trust that process, that it's a human process, that it's not something that is all that mysterious.
Along these lines, when your mind is going all over the place, perhaps for several minutes, and if you reach a point where you can no longer tolerate it, on occasion what can do is perhaps to say, "I'll just bring my attention to my body, I'll just be aware of sounds, I'll just do that for a few seconds," and then let your attention go back to where it wants to go.
In that way, you're not developing ill will towards your thoughts. You're not deciding that you're always going to banish your thoughts. You're not in some kind of adversarial relationship with your thinking. Instead you may find that you're able to have a more balanced approach to your thinking.
You know your thinking goes on. It has a certain momentum, a certain force to it and that it's all right. It's all right to think in meditation, it's all right to have that kind of process go on. But over time, you may find, as you let it go on, you will start to be able to notice things about your thinking.
This is part of receptivity. At first it may be a bit painful and uncomfortable to find yourself so submerged in your thinking process. Then you might find after a while that you're no longer as submerged as you were before. You're just being patient with it and tolerant of it as you've started to shift your relationship to your thinking. This does require a certain degree of patience, perseverance and trust in the fact that your mind will eventually settle down or you will eventually start to get some perspective. You start to see what it is that you do.
Sometimes even when you're having a lot of thinking, you may find that there are moments where you pop up out of it and you notice, "Oh, I've been thinking about this." That's just enough at times, just for you to have little glimmers of what you've been going through in the thought process. You don't need to have the thinking go away.
You may also find that when your thinking dies down naturally, it doesn't seem to come back in the same way. Being receptive in this manner, you might find that when your thinking dies down, you're more or less aware of bodily sensations or feelings or sounds or your breath, whatever it is that starts to come into your awareness. That experience is what you're experiencing now. You don't need then to go back to a particular theme or something you were working on. You don't then need to look at your thoughts or feelings that you were just having. You can just let yourself continue and go on from there.
What this will help you with is to develop greater flexibility. As people we tend be rigid. Our minds want things to be a certain way and to stay a certain way. So even when there's a shift to something that's a bit more pleasant, we may want to go back to what we had before. Maybe the themes or the things you were thinking about went into an experience that wasn't all that pleasant, except that it actually felt quite juicy. So of course you want to go back there. You might notice what that pull is to go back into something that really you've already passed through.
At the end, when you write down the meditation sitting, you find you can go back, you can pick up a bit of what happened. In that kind of recollection, you're not only picking up what happened, but you're also picking up where you went to after that and then after that and then after that. So you're getting a different picture of what that experience is than you would inside the sitting if you'd tried to continually bring your attention back to what you were thinking about or working with before.
Recollection also serves the ability to drop things and move on. And it serves this type of flexibility.