The International Writers Magazine: Too
much for comfort
Eric D. Lehman
Without the weight given by a wound consciously realized, the man leads
a provisional life.
- Robert Bly
People constantly ask why I hike long distances. "To prevent myself
from becoming too comfortable" is one of my answers. Inevitably,
with confused or angry expressions they ask: "Whats wrong with
comfort?" When an otherwise stoic friend said something similar recently,
I realized how deeply the connection between comfort and happiness has
grown in Western culture, a connection that grows more solid and unchallenged
In the past, when life was much more difficult for humans, comfort was
a more positive goal. After struggling against cave lions for aurochs
meat and dragging it back to the den, the pursuit of physical and psychological
relaxation seemed a worthy one. But now, when lazy people conveniently
buy their comfort from convenience stores, the pursuit of comfort has
become a deadly force, sucking us into mediocrity and stagnation. "If
only you just tell me you believe, you will be chosen and go to heaven."
I was told by an evangelist. How tempting! "You can work from home
for only a few hours a day!" I was told by a job recruiter. How easy!
These people seem to want life delivered to their door. And what is wrong
with that? Everything.
"We must hold to what is difficult," writes Rainer Maria Rilke.
And if he could see how easy life has become for most Westerners in the
century since he has made that remark, he would repeat it with more force
and more passion. "Grab difficulty by the throat and strangle it!"
Henry David Thoreau saw the perils of comfort a century before Rilke in
the idle habits of his fellow Concordians. He built his own cabin in the
woods as an antidote. What world would he see now, with leisure a way
of life? Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness does not mean giving
up inconvenience whenever possible.
Why? Why is difficulty so necessary? Why cant we laze in the pillowed
rowboat of modern life, gorging on sumptuous delicacies unknown to the
most powerful of ancient kings, and cuddling up to our weakness? What
is wrong with some well-earned comfort? Nothing, if it is earned through
struggle and effort. And of course there are still places where the struggle
for survival is very real. I do not begrudge those who struggle for existence
the comfort that awaits at the end. But it is that struggle that makes
us humans instead of slugs. Evolution occurs when a species is challenged
by its environment. If we had not confronted cold weather or had to preserve
food, we would have never learned how to build a fire. From a spiritual
point of view, our burdens make us better people. The Buddha had to give
up his comfortable palace life to find greater happiness and peace. He
had to confront difficulty to find a way to surpass it. Our minds and
bodies seek challenges and we must provide them, or become corrupted and
is often a subtle, unconscious rebellion against this creed of convenience.
Mountain climbers usually cannot tell you in words why they climb.
Weekend warriors helplessly defend their adventures against the
laziness of the herd. But their bodies know, aching for time off
And our bodies are
not the only things threatened by laziness. Lazy thoughts, like "things
must happen for a reason," gratify many, but some remain unsatisfied.
Some start their own new-age religions and fantastical philosophies,
to challenge lazy ones that seem to swallow the entire culture whole.
When asked why they went to such elaborate lengths to rebel against
the norm, they often cannot give a satisfactory answer, unconscious
of their need, and the smug, comfortable folks smile and shake their
The need for difficulty is so hard-wired into our systems that when
life presents no problems, we create our own, small and silly ones.
Spoiled rich children moan about the horrors of bad skin and classwork.
Intelligent people with nowhere to focus their talent spend their time
complaining about the quality of films or music. Strong people with
nothing to build waste their time destroying. And idle people with nothing
to fear create fears. But these so-called difficulties are merely convenient
distractions from the true work of development. What Thoreau called
"the luxury that enervates and destroys nations" is destroying
ours, as the mass of humanity continues to take the easy jobs, the easy
beliefs, the easy values, the easy life. Comfortable people make wonderful
Aside from stopping our personal and cultural growth, by taking the
path of comfort we doom ourselves to provisional happiness. As the philosopher
Friedrich Nietzsche emphatically states: "If you refuse to let
your own suffering lie upon you even for an hour and if you constantly
try to prevent and forestall all possible distress way ahead of time;
if you experience suffering and displeasure as evil, hateful, worthy
of annihilation, and as a defect of existence, then it is clear that
[you harbor in your heart]
the religion of comfortableness. How
little you know of human happiness, you comfortable
happiness and unhappiness are sisters and even twins that either grow
up together or, as in you case, remain small together." I see friends
finding their uppermost happiness in the incidental pleasures of watching
television, finding the best alcoholic beverage, or repeating clichéd
truisms. These happinesses are fine in their own way, but as the maximum
practice of joy are small and unworthy of my friends, of any of us.
And I think that deep down, those angry people who ask me what is wrong
with comfort are afraid that somehow I have found a greater happiness
that they dont understand.
I am certainly as guilty as anyone of taking advantage of convenience.
But I try to earn the greater happiness, what Aristotle called eudaimonia,
again and again attempting to throw off the comfort I have been born
into. I plan to die standing up, with nothing left unchallenged, the
happiest man alive. And you? Will your happinesses remain small and
comfortable, full of idle pleasures and received knowledge? Beware the
perils of comfort, my friends, and earn the life you deserve.
© Erid D Lehman Feb 3rd 2005
Eric is an English professor at the University of Bridgeport
and has traveled extensively throughout the world. He has been
previously published by various web journals, such as August Cutter,
Niederngasse, Simply Haiku, and of course Hackwriters.
the Lake District
Eric D Lehman
From Broughton to Keswick
Eric D Lehman in the USA
A moment of Weakness
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