I am confused as to how much effort is required for attainment in this work. At times, the advice seems to be that we should make efforts but at other times there seems to be an emphasis on the path of non-effort.
Efforts are required but the key is to make right efforts. Each of us must work with the psychology that we have. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. But there seem to be some basic laws built into the design of human beings which are helpful to understand.
First, we are responding beings much more than we are initiating beings. The western culture harbours the notion that humans can just decide to get it together and do things out of context with their lives. If you observe yourself carefully and objectively, you may find, as I did, that this is rarely true.
It seems to me that we mostly decide to do something in response to a stimulus that comes from outside of us. We are inspired by something or moved by something and then we act. The opportunity comes first, then the response. The most productive decisions we make really amount to agreeing to participate in what is happening, whether it is washing dishes or meditation. This is why work groups have value; they create work opportunities that ask for agreement. This is a correct use of the pulling force to make right efforts.
Understanding your need to respond can help you to be more alert to opportunities to work. You may be able to put yourself in circumstances where you are likely to be called upon to respond. If your idea of work is that you should be able to decide to do something which is not already in the present moment, your efforts will probably fall flat.
Second, we must be able to discern the difference between responding and reacting. Not every stimulus is worthy of response. And in any case, most of our behaviour is actually just an automatic reaction to our surroundings and relationships, dictated by our identifications and requiring no agreement. The impulse to react can be observed and withheld. Reacting is actually the opposite of responding. It squanders the energy needed for response and it obscures opportunities to respond.
Third, we need to know how to deal with inner resistance. Again, western culture is unhelpful. Resistance is not something to be overcome through so-called will power, which actually is not will power but the pushing force. Resistance is an expression of internal conflict. Pushing usually increases the conflict, creating more resistance and loss of energy. This is not right effort.
Resistance is a reaction of the body-mind. It is something to be observed and released. Knowing where it comes from is not important although an understanding of it may arise spontaneously. The point is, do not analyze resistance psychologically but rather see and sense the specific sensations, muscular contractions and mental tapes that comprise it. Then, learn to release the observable physical components.
Resistance is a treasure-trove of energy which can be used to make right efforts if it is not wasted by the pushing force or repressed by self-censorship. Releasing does not mean rejecting or dispersing resistance; it means relaxing and absorbing the energy with the help of attention. This is where an understanding of non-effort is needed. Relaxing is more fruitful than pushing. Without resistance, it is then possible to make sustained efforts.