The path of least resistance gets a lot of flak these days. People speak ill of “cutting corners” and “slacking”. Now, mind you, these same people often spend dozens of hours each week engaged in behaviors that, 200 years ago, would have been viewed as insane. We’re glued to distractions, overworked, and generally dissatisfied a lot of the time— because we’re told we have to be.
The modern world has brought about a certain cult of suffering. Maybe it’s rooted in Christianity or can be traced back to various tragedies throughout Western history, but cultural narratives are always telling us that when we suffer, it’s good for us. They tell us that when we resist suffering, thus creating more suffering, this is good for us too. Perseverance at all costs!
Look where it’s led us.
Suffering is constructive when it leads us away from the stimuli that cause it, but this usually isn’t the case at all. Most of us suffer unnecessarily. We indulge in behaviors that we know cause harm to ourselves and others because we’ve been trained to think we’re supposed to. God knows how many lives Nietzsche squandered when he proclaimed, “That which does not kill me makes me stronger.” Not necessarily. There are plenty of remarkably weak people walking around simply by their own volition.
Now, this would be fine, supposedly, if we weren’t draining the world’s resources and constantly at war with one another— but we are.
There’s a shift that can occur on a grand scale, sure, but it all starts with you. It begins with how you approach resistance in your daily life. Do you find yourself resisting everything out of sheer pride or a false sense of necessity? Sometimes we resist our suffering and it creates even more suffering. We resist happiness for fear of its loss. The anxious mind resists everything.
When we take the real path of least resistance, we relax. We realize that the more we fight the real, the stronger its force becomes. If we push against a current that is inevitably stronger than we are, we’re not going to make it back to the beach. And so everyone’s running around drowning in negativity because it’s so difficult to ride with the current when you’re told that you’re supposed to swim against it.
Zen isn’t all about rebellion. It’s certainly not about rebellion against yourself. It’s about being honest with yourself and following the path that the random events of life lead you through. Shit will happen, beauty will happy, a bunch of stuff will happen— but if we pause whenever we can to simply recognize the neutrality of events rather than resisting them or wholeheartedly obsessing over them, we find a peace.
This peace prevents people from acting out in ridiculous ways. It prevents us from squandering our sense of self. It prevents a lot of violence, both against the self and others. Swimming against the proverbial tide just for the sake of learning from your failure is not necessarily a valuable way to go through life. It’s certainly not something we should be systematically instilling in our children and young adults.
The next time you find yourself resisting anything, including suffering, try to let it carry to somewhere new. Embrace the changes it thrusts upon you. Let life wash over you instead of desperately trying to grab onto the waves. It’s ok.