I think the tension between the difficult and the easy, between that which we can do only with struggle, and that we we can do with ease, is an important dimension to consider for how we design our lives.
We have a natural tendency to seek out the easiest path to accomplish what we need to. If we do an exercise, our body will naturally find a way to do it with the least amount of energy. Our brain has been shown to use shortcuts and approximations to conserve energy. This works well in many situations but, unfortunately, this strategy is often not in our best interest.
The easy way to do an exercise is often the wrong way; following an incorrect form which might diminish the effectiveness of the exercise or even injure us. Our energy-conserving (and thus lazy to think) brain entices us to uncountable bad decisions.
Every athlete knows that in order to make real progress one needs to feel real pain; not to go the path of least resistance but the path where most resistance can be expected. Weight machines are the ironclad embodiment of this principle; they are designed to make it difficult for us to push, pull, press and twist and allow us to gradually increase the difficulty as we progress; ensuring we are very unlikely to ever make the use of the machine in a comfortable way.
But our lives are not athletic competitions. Although I believe we should strive to become better versions of ourselves, we cannot struggle indefinitely. To reach wisdom and enlightenment, we need to achieve balance within us as well as balance between us and the world. Struggle can help us achieve balance but it is a poor instrument to sustain it.
In ease is where arguably our greatest strength lies. If we struggle through a competition, we are probably not doing as well as we could. True champions train with struggle but win with ease.
The same we should aspire to achieve as well. We should seek out struggle in pursuits important to us; but seek this struggle as a way to attain ease, not as a purpose in itself.
Once we have attained ease, we can savour it and use it to find balance and wisdom. However, we shouldn’t expect that once we have attained ease and some moments of enlightenment that all our struggles have passed. It is only natural that struggle returns to us; and when it does we should not shy away from it but embrace it – since it will be the stepping stone towards finding new levels of ease and insight.
I don’t know if it is possible to attain permanent ease and enlightenment as Buddhist teachings suggest. I am doubtful since our inner world and the world around us are chaotic – which makes it difficult to sustain a particular state. If it is possible to reach constant ease, I think it is probably only possible after many cycles of struggle and ease.
Struggle and ease are not two alternatives from which we can choose one or the other. Struggle is the enabler of true ease and our lives can only be rich if we have both, struggle and ease; just like music is bland and boring to listen to if there is no disharmony, our life is bland if we do not struggle from time to time. Just like athletes need to push the limits of their comfort, we need to seek some degree of struggle to achieve true ease and balance in our lives.
We must not follow our natural instinct to strive for comfort and avoid struggle. If there is the potential for struggle in something which is important to us, we should see it as a blessing and engage it eagerly. That way it can be the path which brings us ever so slightly closer to enlightenment.
Featured Image: Perseus Digital Library