You cannot get to peace through war.
You cannot get to serenity through struggle.
The only path to ease is the one of relentlessly renewed compassion and peace.
I visited a friend in Montreal a number of years ago – wicked smart (as we say in Boston) and one of the most educated and discerning people I’ve ever known. We began talking about the necessity of rigor and skepticism as well as the value of challenging ourselves and others to go beyond where we have before. I agreed with him, and recalled teachers who have asked valuable questions, challenging my assumptions and limits. But the tightness in our conversation, the harshness, gave me pause. I asked him, “But what about ease? Do you see any value in things being easy or easeful?” “I mistrust ease,” he said. I couldn’t believe my ears and even asked him to repeat himself. It made sense given our orientation to accomplishment and excellence, but suddenly I was struck with a deep sadness, that so many people, not just he, would mistrust the very experience we hope for ourselves and all others on the planet. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the beginning of my exploration into the nature of peace and our relationship with it. If we as a species, as a planet, were to have any hope of building real and lasting peace, we would need to become comfortable with it, to trust it as the place we were meant to live. Rigorous and critical exploration of peacebuilding lives only in our cognitive and analytical minds. We may draw up blueprints and design social theories that describe best practices or imagine better futures, but if we arrive in our designs without the ability to feel at ease, to trust peace, we will tear down or corrode the very structures we so carefully designed, continuing to look for that space of satisfaction and arrival. What’s more, if we are always aiming to build a better mousetrap, we’ll only continue our identities as mousetrap-builders. We make plans for disaster but not many for delight. Our peacebuilding plans are usually aimed at controlling violence instead of fostering peace. We have millions of people and billions of dollars committed to fighting wars, but how much have we committed to funding and staffing our vision of a post-war society? What are we really aiming for? An inner cultivation of peace then is necessary so that we can be at home in the peace we are building. It is also necessary to foster the inner, imaginative path, inspiring intuitive design that serves instead of enforces the peace we seek. We cannot think ourselves into a utopia any more than we can bully ourselves into relaxing.
The only path to ease… is ease. The only path to peace… is peace. We have duped ourselves into thinking that by striving harder, sacrificing more, working longer hours, digging our heels in more firmly, or amp’ing up our firepower, we can somehow get those sticky widgets that stand between us and peace to step down or back away. But there is no fight that will make the world all magically behave. There is no war that’s going to end all wars. The blocks to peace can only be eradicated, meaning truly pulled out by the roots instead of weed- whacking at the heads, through a process of kind education and erosion.
Many of us have heard the saying, “resistance causes persistence,” and we see this play out in so many aspects of our lives. We are at war with our bodies, at war with time, in conflict in many of our relationships, and striving to accumulate money, love, status, and social relevance. But no matter how we fight, and no matter how many gains we make through our efforts, they are never ultimately satisfying. They don’t deliver us to the feeling of ease and peace we’d hoped for, but rather to the next gap, and the next. And we often become the guardians of what we have gained, always on the lookout to maintain or prevent the loss of what we have won. An experience of ease is not the letting go of these material things. It is the experience of letting go of our feelings of having to fight to retain them and to get more. This is not habitual for most of us. That means that letting go into an easeful path and becoming comfortable with it as a common experience takes time, even lifetimes. I promise you it’s worth it.
We need to remember that we’ve been saddled with the narrative of the merits of striving, fighting, and sacrificing, and it’s not a story that most of us would willingly choose for ourselves, given the choice of feeling ever-incomplete or at ease with how things are in this moment. We need to let ourselves off the hook for a choice we never got to make. For the most part, this story has been handed down through generation after generation of cultural and familial indoctrination into a hierarchy of worth conflated with productivity. And it’s a very compelling and dramatic story! Our economy is largely based on competition instead of collaboration and emphasizes the endless striving for more. While tracking growth and change over time can be useful, we are largely focused on the “not enough” aspect of our growth. There’s often a feeling of never arriving, not being complete, or never having enough that fuels the fighting for more. When we do have moments of feeling whole that are conditioned on accomplishment or accrual, like chewed gum, they quickly lose their flavor of satisfaction. Getting more of something is not necessarily a bad thing, but tying how we feel to the condition of getting more actually doubles down on that awful, transactional, consumeristic feeling of never having enough. This is not by accident. Our bodies were designed that way – to feel wonderful when we feel completeness and to feel pretty rotten when we feel deficiency. This is brilliant design no matter who you think created our species. Because who in their right mind would choose to feel lack in their body and heart? No one. So whatever designer crafted and animated us with this somatic compass, we have been lovingly oriented to feel wonderful when we are unconditionally at ease and to feel rotten when we are attached, aversive, or deluded and conditioning our happiness on outcomes. Why are we designed this way? Because our natural state before being touched by conditioning is to be at ease.
And although the current in the direction of competition, comparison, and consumerism may be more visible and have more momentum, our compass always points in the direction of ease. It’s magnetic pull is actually stronger and more deeply rooted than separation and individualism. This is the good news.
Before I talk about our natural powerhouse momentum of ease, a word about inequity. In many ways, the previous two paragraphs should have asterisks after every single sentence. I’ll speak more about this in future writings, but I want to emphasize that by advocating for practices of ease instead of striving, I am in no way saying that we should give our blessing and accept part-and-parcel our many, many broken systems on the planet, blindly complacent to the very real damage they cause. That would be some Grade A asshollery. I am also not saying that people who feel lack or scarcity are somehow to blame for bad choices. Racism, poverty, violence, and a host of other social plagues we still face are not the fault of those who have been victimized. Very real work, equally somatic in nature as the allowing I am describing in this book, must be brought to the fore in ending these interconnected systems. It is not passive allowing I am describing, but receptive allowing. Our receptivity in cultivating ease allows us to develop not only deep compassion for injustice, but to also see our part and to take easeful, inspired action towards justice.
The experiences the feeling of scarcity and striving are not to be dismissed, and they are not causeless. But by being with circumstances just as they are, committed to the future without being attached to the manifestation of that future, we allow the path forward to dismantle these horribly unjust systems to show itself to us. Finding peace and ease in the body, given the world just as it is and given ourselves just as we are, allows the house of cards to fall. The methods of easeful receiving we’ll explore in this book will yield paths to justice that are not only easeful themselves but also creative, pleasureful (gasp!), and honoring of our human, natural rhythms. There is some tolerance for paradox required here, as in any spiritual maturation: So many things on the planet are in no way enough, but we must relate to them with full-hearted enoughness in order to uncover the blueprints of what could be. When we let the momentum of “not enough” subside, by pausing, coming to stillness, observing the suchness of how it is just now, and allowing for some measure of softening or compassion to be present (even if it’s only the tiniest sliver of a fingernail), we can tap into the ever-available, often invisible current of enoughness and ease.