We hear this often enough. These days it probably sounds like good advice.
Yet behind it is a troubling assumption. One that touches on how we keep running in circles, returning to the same traps again and again.
We confuse ease with relaxation.
What does it mean to be relaxed?
The term appears to point to a condition of readiness, of centered-ness, and the implication that we are ready to meet whatever challenge is at hand. It’s not difficult to imagine that most creatures spend much of their time in this state. No sense in maintaining perpetual panic; the Lioness will attack when she’s hungry. Until then…?
Within a relaxed state we are prepared for eventualities, our strengths at hand.
What does any of this have to do with ease?
Yes, that is my question. We keep returning to this general assumption that a state of ease is most preferred. That ease is a sign of, “having it made.”
This seems connected, and is perhaps a driver, or at least a motivator, behind the project of civilization. It appears from this perspective, at the edges of this our current horizon, to have a lot to do with why civilization has been so deadly and destructive.
Let’s not forget that in the language of abuse there is a constant play with the truth. Truths about the abuser, his intentions, his actions and their consequences, are not not said. They are simply reversed. They are thrown at the abuser’s victims and intended to place them/us on the defensive, to muddle and confuse our reactions and miss-direct attention at victims instead of perpetrators. The language of civilization is full of these reversals.
While we can find value in using this language, discussing abusers and victims, it’s important to recognize that this separation itself is a part of the habits of thought that underlie all our difficulties. In some sense it might be less fraught to speak of voices and demons and angels of our better-natures… see what is happening as a conversation, internally and externally carried out among these various flavors and essences than to continue to implicitly support a language of division. Everyone, abuser and victim, suffers under these habits of thought that give rise to these categories and maintain the state of suffering we all find ourselves in. When we speak of “winners and losers” we are still buying a deception. In this there are no winners. We all lose.
So, if we can glance at the dynamic at work, quickly and out of the corner of the eye, we get a glimpse of a larger picture. We glimpse the ways in which assumptions support and maintain the habits of thought that imprison us while keeping us from having the presence and capacities to move past them.
This returns us to the question of ease. We are exhausted. The maintenance of perpetual panic, combined with the illusions of identity and cause & effect, wear us down. They prevent us from being able to do anything more than react when we must and lead us to avoid considering them at all costs when we can.
This is the driver behind this insatiable desire for ease. Civilization’s great benefit, that we can step out of necessity and contingency, is actually a sign of its toxic burden. We crave ease because we suffer civilization’s depredations. We seek an escape. What’s hidden is that what exhausts us is our belief in civilization, our belief that its ease is a refuge instead of seeing it for what it is, a symptom of our torment.
This confusion blocks our way out of our impasse. Without seeing this connection we hold our selves in a death spiral, always seeking to escape by driving ourselves deeper into that which brings us to desire to escape.
We cannot think our way out of these habits. This is the other side of the claw. So long as we believe we can, must, can only, change through a mechanical process of considering, deciding, resolving, planning, and carrying out a plan through an act of will; we close off any possibility of change. We are tired of this grind. We are filled with its futility, but it still holds us tight.
Let’s come back to relaxing. When we empty our selves of imperatives that have done nothing but grind us down with the depths of their futility we make connection with the space in which we can see, and by seeing act.
The trouble comes when we deliberately, or merely through force of habit, continue to hold onto our beliefs in mechanical action even as we attempt to free ourselves of them. We compel our selves to try to meditate, to try to relax.
Even here in our exasperation, what appears to be a point of impasse is actually an opportunity to break through. When we allow the gap between our expectations of ease and the actuality of relaxation to show itself we release our selves of the compulsion. We experience the dissolution of a bind. We now know what this feels like. We can recognize it when it happens again.
Relaxation has more in common with a discipline than it does with ease.
Not discipline within the toxic simulacra civilization has imposed on the term, but discipline in the sense of abandoning one’s self to a practice. Not a cause, not a belief, not a power. A practice.
Relaxation is the feeling one is enveloped in while addressing a practice. There is an interplay between what appears external to us and what appears to be internal. There is a dissolving of this, and every other, separation as we – in the sense of an observing Ego – witness an ego-less fulfillment and satisfaction as we see and act from within a whole – the whole, the entirety, the completeness of the moment as it unfolds. As what is implicit becomes tacit.
Within such a moment the notion of ease has lost all its appeal. It is seen for what it is: as nonsense, a distraction, a symptom of disquiet. The energy, the will, to enact this moment arises spontaneously out of the discipline and attention with which we address it. There is no ledger of scarcity to be negotiated. There is a suffusing sufficiency.
Once we have tasted this there is no further need to fight, to chase after ease.
We meet the moment and dissolve into it.