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The Allure of Easy
No biggie... except it's killing our freedom
I’ve been threatening to reduce my time on digital devices for a year.
Finally, inspired by, , and others, I started leaving my phone in another room an hour before bedtime, and in the morning, ignoring it in favor of heading immediately to the tiny little lollipop-shaped beach in my town.
There, the ocean breeze counters the Florida summer furnace, blowing away some heat as well as the tiny biting gnats, allowing me to meditate without sweating buckets or stopping every 45 seconds to smush a gnat and apologize.
Afterwards, I do a little yoga facing the water, and then gratefully lower myself into the 11 inches of ocean depth available at this beach. I’m telling you, it’s tiny.
I can feel the difference this new morning routine is making. How could connecting with myself, Source, and nature before I join the world outside that sphere not improve my day, my life?
Sadly, it took me a whole year to do something I knew was good for me. Why? Because my name is Mary and I’m addicted to ease.
In other words, I’m human.
To me, the word “ease” encapsulates two defining traits of human beings — seeking efficiency in all things, and seeking pleasure/avoiding pain.
Both of those traits are logical responses to our existence here on Earth. Yet our obsession with both is not only destroying us as individuals and as a society, it’s accelerating our loss of freedom.
“When is discomfort really a comfort and when is comfort really a discomfort?”
Yoga instructor and spiritual teacher Todd Norian poses that question in his book that I co-authored, Tantra Yoga. He answers it first by describing the importance of accepting discomfort when doing hatha yoga, since it lets you know you are moving toward growth. He says,
“Discomfort is a comfort, then, when you do something good for your health that is difficult in the beginning.”
Conversely, couch-surfing and consuming pints of ice cream 24/7 is comfortable, but “eventually it will turn into real, health-threatening discomfort if not balanced with getting outside and exercising.”
The trick, he acknowledges, is discernment. After living for seven years at the ashram called Kripalu (which later became a retreat center), he found himself questioning whether his comfort was actually inhibiting his growth.
In his words,
“Although for years I had loved the predictability and safety of the ashram’s emphasis on surrender, the mindless obedience no longer served me. I was chafing under its tight leash, internally questioning its validity and its presuppositions – even questioning the guru himself…
As it turns out, he was right to question the guru. Underneath the veneer of enlightened wisdom Amrit Desai projected, was a highly unethical individual engaged in morally deficient activities.
While enforcing celibacy for all his devotees and claiming to adhere to it himself, the guru was busy getting busy with some of his disciples, most of whom were married. Once this became public knowledge, the ashram imploded, sending emotional shrapnel everywhere.
Desai, and by extension the community he built, had been focused solely on cultivating the “easy” emotions: joy, happiness, love. There was no discussion of — or outlet for — the “difficult” ones: anger, jealousy, fear.
Kripalu thus became a community of “light chasers,” a term Todd borrows from the title of Debbie Ford’s book, The Dark Side of the Light Chasers. He describes Kripalu back then as an organization that papered over its dysfunction with happy faces and sunshine.
Is that not a pattern we see repeated, over and over? Not just in organizations, but in individuals, too?
I call it the allure of easy.
I met someone recently who stated that she pays no attention to what’s going on in the world, because she’s happier that way. She’s more creative that way.
I can relate. At various times in my life I’ve lived within that philosophy. Sometimes life is just too hard to add in awareness of things we can’t directly control. But as a permanent way of life, it’s a comfort we can’t afford anymore.
A fellow Substacker and kindred spirit, Kathleen Devanney recently published the truly beautiful, hopeful article above, about the decomposition and re-composition of the world around us. It elicited lively comments.
One of her readers brought up the unwillingness of many to question narratives, to dig deeper into accepted “truths,” or to look beyond the face-value world presented to us by huge, powerful organizations. She then asked a question I’ve come across too many times to count: “What I can't fathom is why so many won't look? Especially as it is all unweaving in front of our eyes.”
I can’t answer for others, but I know why I didn’t look. I liked the ease of it.
I could be more carefree. I had more time to spend doing fun things. I didn’t have to feel bad or take actions that would cause myself excess work, create discomfort, or feel pain.
Like the Kripalu residents who refused to believe that Desai could be capable of such malfeasance because it was literally unthinkable, I chose to ignore anything that hinted of darkness to preserve my own equanimity. In my defense, I hauled out the Nietzschean adage, “if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you,” when really, I wasn’t gazing at all.
My guess is that my own addiction to ease mirrors that of most of the western world. In terms of material necessities, so many of us have had it so damn easy for so damn long that ease is all we’ve really ever known.
I was completely unprepared at 23 when my mother died. My version of reality could not even remotely accept this event — this was not how life was supposed to be. I embarked on 6-year unconscious crusade to avoid pain by distracting myself with relationships and food, eventually finding and marrying the love of my life before I lost all respect for myself — a miracle, in retrospect.
I look around now and see that same behavior writ global. We are a traumatized and traumatizing society, now equipped somehow with even more labor-saving devices that create more and more efficiency, more ease… which make time for more amusement, more distraction.
Hungry? Eat out. In a hurry? Fast food. Got math homework? Ask Siri. Need to read a book? Use Cliff Notes, or Spark Notes, or tell ChatGPT to read it for you and summarize. Want to lose weight? Ozempic. Want to gain weight? Steroids. Horny? PornHub. Need more light in the room? SmartHome. Need absolutely anything? Amazon. Have a kid and need some quiet? Smartphone. Bored? Sad? Depressed? Anxious? Angry? Netflix-Disney-Hulu-ESPN-YouTube.
Ah yes, that one. I just finished watching the disturbing Netflix series Painkiller and have many thoughts on it, but I’ll save them for another essay. I’ve already written about pain here (a poem) and here (a pretty extensive essay), so I’ll just throw out the names of painkillers, some of which are highly addictive, to round out the Allure of Easy’s Greatest Hits: OxyContin, Fentanyl, Vicodin.
Despite M. Scott Peck’s notorious admonition, “Life is hard,” we cling to the belief that “no, life is supposed to be easy,” and continue chasing the light.
A decade ago, one of my kids’ high school teachers — a thoughtful, smart woman — admitted that she won’t read any evidence that 9/11 didn’t happen the way we were told it did. She said, “If I found out that was true, I couldn’t bear living in the U.S. anymore. And I like it here, so…”
I’ll fill in the trailing-off sentence: “…so I’m going to avert my eyes, because I don’t want to be inconvenienced.” Whatever you might think of Al Gore and the notion of climate change, you have to admit: “an inconvenient truth” was one helluva good title.
I think most truth is inconvenient. That’s why children dabble in lying, at least until (hopefully) someone calls them out on it. Who wants to deal with hard consequences?
But averting one’s eyes and effectively letting others take on the challenges of the world is like existing in a permanent state of childhood. Ah, to be a kid again — I’m sure Mom and Dad are keeping me safe. I’ll just pour another bowl of Fruit Loops and laugh along with Scooby.
In the meantime, Rome crumbles.
It’s a comfort to chase the light and ignore the dark; it’s easier to believe that everything is fine and that people at the helm are all acting in our best interests. It allows us to go about our busy lives, blissfully ignorant.
Remember Todd’s quote?
“…for years I had loved the predictability and safety of the ashram’s emphasis on surrender…”
The ashram told him when to get up, what to eat, how to behave, what was right and true, and what was wrong and bad. His job was to follow the rules and not question the rule-makers.
He calls it “mindless obedience.” Signing his sovereignty over to the guru simplified his life.
A perfect segue to the loss of our freedoms.
Aldous Huxley, speaking at California Medical School in 1961, almost 30 years after the publication of Brave New World, said:
“There will be, in the next generation or so, a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them, but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing, or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods. And this seems to be the final revolution.”
Here he is again, predicting how the ruling classes will preserve their power by gaining “consent of the ruled:”
“They will do it by bypassing the rational side of man and appealing to his subconscious and his deeper emotions and his physiology even. And so making him actually love his slavery. I think this is the danger, that actually people may be in some ways happy under the new regime. But they will be happy in situations where they ought not to be happy. That's why I think it's so extremely important here and now to start thinking about these problems not to let ourselves be taken by surprise by the new advances in technology.”
Our pursuit of ease is allowing our chains to be forged, link by link, smartphone by smartphone. And I’m just as guilty of addiction as the next person; remember, it took me a year to make any kind of significant break. My Pixel4A just makes life so much easier.
All of it does. Google is spying on everyone but oh, GoogleMaps makes driving so streamlined! Amazon is destroying mom-and-pop businesses, but oh, the selection of their vitamins and supplements is nonpareil! YouTube is taking down videos of anyone who claims they cured their cancer using non-traditional (read: non-pharmaceutical) means, but oh, passive income from a big channel is dreamy!
Of course, it’s our inalienable right to pursue happiness, but how often are we also complying in service of convenience? What the government puts us through in airports is a violation of our rights — specifically, the fourth Amendment. Pouring out liquids, taking off our shoes, submitting to backscatter machines (don’t worry, they’re totally safe!) are not just absurd acts, they’re egregiously invasive.
Recently, my eldest son challenged me on my use of TSA Pre-Check, suggesting that I was caving on my principles in favor of convenience.
I opened my mouth to protest, then shut it almost immediately. “He’s right,” I thought, “I am.”
I’ve opted out of the backscatter as long as it has existed, based purely on distrust of large machines that “see” into my body, so when I found out I could avoid it and get through security faster, I grudgingly forked over the $85.
So let’s add this to Google-Amazon-YouTube paragraph: I think paying for TSA Pre-Check to avoid an unconstitutional pat-down is wrong, but oh, the joy of skimming past the hordes!
When we comply in service of convenience, we’re not only ignoring the slow collapse of our rights, we’re hastening it. Our rights to privacy, health choices, free speech, fair elections, and habeas corpus have all tipped into free fall while we’re saying, in essence:
“Give me television and hamburgers, but don’t bother me with the responsibilities of liberty.” (Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited)
If Huxley believed that characterization was perilously close to coming true in 1961, by god, what would he think now?
“…a question that perhaps you’ve never considered before is: what pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for? Because that seems to be a greater determinant of how our lives turn out.”
Since pain is a necessary aspect of human existence, why not choose the struggle you want in your life, rather than sitting back and letting the struggle choose you? Because there will be struggle. Remember, comfort always becomes a discomfort, eventually.
He also says this:
“The quality of your life is not determined by the quality of your positive experiences, but the quality of your negative experiences. To get good at dealing with negative experiences is to get good at life.”
Kierkegaard had a similar view of the pursuit of ease, saying “I conceived it as my task to create difficulties everywhere.” Like Manson, he believed that an easy life suggests that we are only exploring a small facet of reality. (Thanks tofor that nugget!)
Both Manson and Kierkegaard are obviously speaking about the individual, but as usual, what applies singularly also applies collectively. How have we, as a nation, dealt with negative experiences like indigenous genocide, slavery, natural disasters, presidential assassinations, or wars? Have we faced them head-on, searched for truth, admitted our mistakes? Rarely.
Our history is rife with ignoring, lying, and blaming. We’ve brushed aside and covered up our misdeeds, because it’s so much more convenient to do so. And we’ve done it at the expense of national health — and I don’t mean physical health. Look under the gleaming Turtle Waxed hood of this country and you’ll find a rusted-out engine that’s barely running.
But the vast majority are content not to look. Academy of Ideas envisions a possible (I think likely) outcome of that factious choice:
“If the current trends continue, humanity may soon be divided into two groups. There will be those who welcome their pleasurable servitude, and those who choose to resist it for the sake of retaining not just their liberty, but their humanity.” (Academy of Ideas, 2018)
In which group do you see yourself?
Having experienced hard times in my own life, I’m not here to say that everyone has the bandwidth to pay attention to what’s transpiring in the world. Or that we somehow have to turn our lives over to dealing with it.
I’m simply asking those who’ve been chasing the light — even though they suspect, down deep, that there is darkness they’ve been ignoring — to carve out some space to ask questions, to muster the open-heartedness to risk discomfort.
I’m asking because what’s at stake here is freedom.
As Kathleen said in her essay,
“The drive behind this growing - world-wide - questioning, is motivated by a desire for what’s true, even if it’s not comfortable. Who sacrifices comfort for truth? Free people do that. Free people who insist on being free, even if it means breaking ‘reality’ into a billion pieces.”
What I love about her statement is that it encompasses all searches for all kinds of truth: great big spiritual truths that human beings have sought for millennia; factual truths papered over in human organizations; and even quietly devastating personal truths, evading self-recognition.
All truths comprise reality of one sort or another, and if we’re not willing to resist the allure of easy, to sacrifice comfort for truth, we remain imprisoned in a faux reality. As Goethe said, “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”
No one can tell you how much comfort to sacrifice for your principles; I struggle daily with finding the right balance. Hell, I still have to forcibly restrain myself from grabbing my phone every single morning.
Perhaps you’re already living in full ideological alignment; if so, my hat is off! If not, know that you’re not alone, and perhaps this essay will spark new — or renewed — intentions.
Look. Truth is a big word, and freedom is, too. The good news is we can all start small, in our own lives, by looking into our own hearts and asking, “What is true? Am I free?” then listening carefully, with all the compassion in the universe, to the answer.
From there, the choice is yours.