Men do have a tendency to see every difficulty they encounter as an adversarial conflict, sometimes its appropriate, but more often it demonstrates a lack of sensitivity. In terms of practice in everyday life we see the battle as between the outside world and our desire, however spiritually conceived, for control over it, It's usually clear from the start who'll win hands down, and usually it wont be us. To turn everything into a battle of wills is quite futile, only causing us unnecessary suffering. However much we might want it to be otherwise, the world is how it is, and though it does change, it's not forced into changing by strength of human will alone. We, however, don't have to be how we are and should be willing to adjust our approach in response to whatever we encounter.
So its clear where the real battles are being fought, and its not out there. It's like a man who has a headache trying to make it go away by banging his head against a wall, until both he and the wall are bloodied. Its an image often used in plays to dramatise personal torment, and they're quite painful to watch. Yet we all know the emotions that this is trying to convey. It's not everyday life that is frustrating and tormenting, it is us that is frustrated and tormented.
Having said all that, everyday life, if you allow it, will 'pollute the purity of our intentions' . We may indeed have to guard ourselves against being coerced or deceived by it, but the toughest fight will be to not become passive to it. You can't always be putting up, or learning to live with it, or be ambivalent to the effects of everyday life upon you, or treat it as somehow neutral, or take a hands off laissez fare attitude, far from it. Not everything about everyday life is 'most efficacious in every way'. There is a need to make wise distinctions every moment of the day, a preference for the skilful rather than un-skilful in the way we act, speak or think. Practice in everyday life has to have 'be ethical' written into its DNA.
The Buddha thought there were three things that marred human existence, the first and primary one is a view that everything good in life, is, or should be, permanent. The reality,however, is that everything good in life is not permanent, things change,what was gained is lost, things arise that disturb our stability,we get what we don't want, this then causes the second, great frustration, anger,disillusion, dissatisfaction and despair. As this view of impermanence trickles down into the depths, our psyche tries hard to avoid the logical third consequence, that the Number One good thing - us - is not a permanent entity either. That continuous sense of our self we experience, is a falsity, a misconception, we too are a changing, shifting, transitory thing. This causes us on a sub conscious level, immense irreconcilable grief, as though a favourite pet has been stolen. Our response is to renew our efforts to find at least one thing that is permanent, we press the fulfilment of our desires into being the meaning to our life, and deny all indications and thoughts about our psychological and bodily mortality. Spiritual practice in everyday life attempts to subvert these three fallacies. Its best to start with our desires, because they're easier to spot, most quickly reveal themselves to be vacuous conceits that don't possess the meaning we attribute to them. Their sole purpose being to distract us from the meaninglessness that arises should we accidentally bump into our impermanent peril, In the light of this, the stuff of everyday life seems a very spiritually potent thing indeed. This is what we are truly battling with, learning to live more consciously with, to actively work with.
Applying an ethical framework to life decisions becomes second nature. Any positive habit will over time and repeated application become a 'conscious competence' The skill is in preventing our ethical standing from becoming unquestionable, hardening into a fixed like or dislike. This may mean we just stopped actually weighing up issues in the present moment, so our behaviour is almost predestined. So whilst there are definite benefits in holding ourselves to an ethical standard, this will cease to be a practice alive to the prescient individual character of each moment, if it ossifies into a rule, of what you shalt and shalt not do. If this happens then something is beginning to go ethically awry. Ethical practice has a flexible subtly nuanced nature, yes, it is informed by past experience, but its also responsive to present conditions and circumstances. There must always be a possibility to think, say or do things entirely differently. If ethics turns into a prejudiced opinion then it takes us away from any clear eyed objective assessment, towards a more subjective view, that's becoming entangled in our pride and self identity, As Sosan Seng-ts'an in his Verses on the Faith Mind puts it:~
"if you wish to see the truth then hold no opinions for or against anything. To set up what you like against what you dislike is the disease of the mind."
To do this means remaining alert, aware and actively engaged. To work better with, not just lifes limitations and frustrations, but also its everyday opportunities and joys. Even then, things can change and we not notice they've changed; what once was challenging a tendency in yourself, morphs into a stoical accommodation of it. Actively practising along with, turns into passively putting up with. Which isn't to say learning to live with pain for instance, can't be a practice, it can, but the emphasis has to be on remaining alert and active in your responses, adjusting your approach according to both pain, mind and emotions. You can't sign off on a practice, and it remain one.
There is a constant game of tug and war going on between worldly and spiritual desires. Quite frankly,at times it can be difficult to tell which one is pulling you, because whether they succeed or fail, both can leave you with your arse caked in the excremental mud. Maybe that's the point really; right or wrong, skilful or unskilful, positive or negative, success or failure, things do get incredibly mucky. There's some value in being confused for a short while, it places you on the cusp, so things could swing dramatically either way. Humiliation on the one hand, insight on the other. Practice in everyday life often means being prepared to get our hands, mind and heart dirty, because in the middle of the filth we may discover something of greater value ~ a jewel of insight, not just buried in the shit ~ it is the shit itself. As Sangharakshita tersely expresses it:~
"You have to really wallow in it before you know its muck"
This story demonstrates that self deception, status seeking, arrogance and conceit can be as present in a Buddhist, as they are in anyone. Its tragic, but actually all too common. However ,though we may fall for our own self- delusion, everyday life has a tendency to throw the crap back at us, like flotsam washed up on a beach. These resounding slaps to our ego, mirror our vanity back at us, providing an opportunity for real insight should we see it and then chose to take hold of it. Awareness, when clear of the obstructions we place in its way, will naturally be drawn by experience of suffering into areas where we don't normally look, to where those delusive desires and wrong views about self and permanence hide themselves.
There's a traditional Zen phrase that goes as follows:~
"No one has fallen on the ground, who has not risen without using the ground."
Battling, living and working with everyday life is sort of like that.