Q: I am a 74 year old Zen student working my way through 'Nothing Personal' and 'That is That'. My question has to do with how much effort to apply, and where to put my attention. You seem to suggest using minimal effort, which is much more comfortable than my current highly focused attempts at attending to breath. But as you also say, seeking the path of comfort is not particularly the best path.
A: I would suggest trying it every which way and seeing what works. You can try very focused, directed approaches to meditation. Then there is the "ass on the chair" approach where you just sit there for the allotted time. And there are the in between approaches where for instance you attempt to follow the breath without actually changing how you breath at all. You may find that one or more of them works best for you and also that what works best may change over time.
As you suggest, it is even an open ended question as to what it means to say that something "works". The definition of that can also evolve and change over time. At times, what works may be what allows you to relax and soften and open. Other times, what works may be what painfully brings up the most intense awareness of your mind's patterns and limitations, so that they can be truly seen for what they are. This also points to the value of trying different approaches over time to take advantage of the different results that can be experienced.
Often we think of the spiritual path as a narrow arduous overgrown path that is hard to discern, let alone follow. It actually is a miles wide meadow stretching from the highest peaks to the lowest valleys that you are free to wander in as the spirit moves you. You can enjoy every twist and turn of your own unique journey through this meadow as the destination always includes where you are right now.
I hope this is helpful.