Viriya pāramī : energy, diligence, vigour, effort
This fifth element in the list of paramis/perfections is most often translated into English as “effort”, but there is no one word that captures the meaning of viriya completely. Diligence or persistence seem to me to come closest, but those words contain an element of sprinting, or of lifting heavy weights, that I consider misleading. A quality of sustainability must be included in the sort of effort that we want to cultivate.
And what is the faculty of persistence? There is the case where a monk, a disciple of the noble ones, keeps his persistence aroused for abandoning unskillful mental qualities and taking on skillful mental qualities. He is steadfast, solid in his effort, not shirking his duties with regard to skillful mental qualities. He generates desire, endeavors, arouses persistence, upholds & exerts his intent for the sake of the non-arising of evil, unskillful qualities that have not yet arisen… for the sake of the abandoning of evil, unskillful qualities that have arisen… for the sake of the arising of skillful qualities that have not yet arisen… (and) for the maintenance, non-confusion, increase, plenitude, development, & culmination of skillful qualities that have arisen. This is called the faculty of persistence.
— SN 48.10, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
So persistence in this case starts with noticing. We notice what mindstate we are working from right now. Is it free and not agitated? Is it tuned in to causes and results? Is it focused on what is present right now in a way that doesn’t put “me and my desires” at the center of everything? In short, are we working from a wholesome mindstate? If yes, is there anything we need to do to protect this quality of mind, to sustain it?
If we discover that we’re obsessed with hostile or negative thoughts (in a particular moment), what can we do to interrupt and re-direct that flow? What can we try? Is there anything we might do, a habit we might cultivate, to protect our mind from going into that arena in the future?
There is room for creativity here. When my mind goes to a recurring unpleasant memory or judgment, as soon as I notice it (often from signals in my body), I step back to evaluate. What part of my ego is being fed by this mental activity? How does it actually feel? Is there any conceivable benefit to pursing this line of thought? If not, where might I fruitfully direct my mind now?
Sustaining a wholesome mindstate, in my experience, is trickier. Mostly, I make the effort to rest in equilibrium, knowing that it will become unbalanced at some point, but that I can always come back to a stable, contented frame of mind (eventually). Meditation does help here, by establishing balanced states of mind so that we recognize and are able to re-create them (almost) at will.