Ethical Effortlessness

by Christopher Lovejoy on July 21, 2011

Now there’s a mouthful.

How can effort-less-ness be ethical?

In the same way that mind-ful-ness can be effort-ful – and yet still feel effortless.

This paradox lies at the heart of effortlessness as ethical.

Let’s explore and examine further.

The Taproot of Effortlessness

I’m willing to believe that if I told a typical Westerner that I could live a good life of satisfaction and fulfillment with no goals or plans, and few expectations, the question would invariably arise: how?

And not just “how?”, but “how?” – the kind of “how?” that is inflected with incredulity.

How indeed.

Quick answer: by following the principles that inform the life of Winnie the Pooh in The Tao of Pooh.

Mindful answer: by giving careful consideration to the ethics of effortlessness.

Consider these pithy words, reputed to be translated from the writings of ancient Greek philosopher Aristippus of Cyrene in his support of immediate gratification:

Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die

Simple and to the point, yes?

Though mindful of social obligation, Aristippus nevertheless viewed pleasure as the only good and maximize pleasure, minimize pain as the only worthy rule of conduct in everyday life.

The followers of Aristippus also thought that physical, even momentary, pleasures are more intense and choice-worthy than any other kind of pleasure, be it emotional, intellectual, or spiritual.

This statement brings to mind aristocracies down through the ages, at the height of their debauchery, eating and drinking, merry-making and game-playing, hugging, kissing, caressing, and copulating.

With abandon, with effortless ease, with relentless regularity.

All of which kind of gives effortlessness a bad name, no?

Enter Epicurus.

Like Aristippus, Epicurus also held out pleasure as the only good, but did so with greater prudence, with an emphasis on peace of mind, freedom from fear, absence of pain.

Epicurus enjoyed a good meal as much as, if not more than, the next epicure, but he was particularly mindful of the painful effects of overindulgence – from any physical pleasure.

For Epicurus, an imperturbable state of emotional calm (serenity anyone?) was the best, highest, and most responsible expression of pleasure for a human being. As a consequence, his followers shunned overindulgence in transient sensuous, sensual, sexual pleasures in favor of more refined pleasures.

They took their time and they made time for what they desired and enjoyed.

They upheld “minimize harm to others” and prized genuine friendship for good reason. Those who practiced a chaste or celibate lifestyle found a friendly reception in Epicurus.

The Virtue of Temperance

The virtue of temperance is considered old-fashioned, but in my encounters with life, whenever I’ve practiced it, I’ve found that it makes effortlessness easier to realize in my experience.

Temperance paves the way for calm reflection and responsive action.

This virtue helps you to take ownership of yourself, fosters trust and respect for yourself and others, and makes cultivating genuine friendship much more likely (“be a friend to have a friend”).

It guides you to appreciate what it means to be at peace; to enjoy the warm, stimulating company of others; and to engage in worthwhile and meaningful activities.

You need not give up any of the pleasures, desires, or passions that make life worth living, whether they be sensuous, romantic, erotic, sensual, or sexual; you merely need to temper them.

And when do you temper them? In the moment when your heart is no longer in them.

And how do you temper them? By being mindful of your experience of them.

Questioning The Wisdom of Plato

You might be thinking, this sounds all well and good, but what about effort?

What about working hard and making the effort to get or keep what you need or want?

Plato is quoted as saying:

Without effort, you cannot be prosperous. Though the land be good, you cannot have an abundant crop without cultivation

Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

Who doesn’t want to be prosperous on their own terms? Who doesn’t want an abundant crop?

However you decide to define your crop, I readily concede that cultivation is required to have an abundant yield, but the implication in Plato’s words is that cultivation requires effort.

But does it?

I did a quick Q and A at the start of this post: How can effort-less-ness be ethical? In the same way that mind-ful-ness can be effort-ful – and yet still feel effortless.

I add: this paradox lies at the heart of effortlessness as ethical.

When you’re in the flow, your behavior can very easily appear to others that you’re exerting yourself mightily, when, in reality, you’re having the time of your life, absorbed in a space of timelessness.

You’re putting out a lot of energy, you’re pouring your passion into what you love to do, you’re riding high on a wave of vitality that carries you in pleasurable, desirable directions. Effortlessly.

Your activities and actions are aligned harmoniously with your mindfulness.

I’ve been writing this post with no goal and no plan in mind, with few expectations of where this might lead me or how it might end. Even now, I follow my bliss, my passion.

I follow my intuitive guidance through my claircognizance, letting whatever comes up for me to inform me and inspire me – naturally, easily, spontaneously. Effortlessly.

The beautiful thing about it is that I get to yield most if not all of my control to every aspect of the flow – as long as I remain mindful of what I’m doing and how I’m doing it.

In my experience, cultivation follows a mindful consideration and expression of my urges and impulses in harmony with what my experience of reality presents to me, moment by moment.

The result, more often than not, is effort-less-ness.

Some Final Thoughts

If you’re on the ball here, you’ll be wondering:

This sounds good for certain activities (like writing a blog post) or courses of action (like researching, writing, and publishing), but could what you’re proposing here apply to my life as a whole?

Could it extend into negotiating and navigating the peaks and valleys of everyday life?

These are fair questions.

I suppose that it could if you set your intention to make it so, and I’m willing to believe you have enough material in this post to start making this intention worthy of your attention.

You’re also probably aware of how fast information and opportunities are growing in this world at this time. As you can well imagine, this evolutionary cultural acceleration does not mix well with laborious effort.

Imagine a bell curve. Those on the extreme left prize effortlessness while those on the extreme right prize effort. You have the freedom to imagine where you’d like to be on this curve.

You might have a curve for life: “where life is concerned, I’m here (pointing)”.

You might have a curve for work: “where work is concerned, I’m here (pointing)”.

You might have a curve for play: “where play is concerned, I’m here (pointing)”.

Start here: “In this moment, where life/work/play is concerned, I’m here (pointing)”. When you’re ready, continue here: “Today, where life/work/play is concerned, I’m here (pointing).”

End here: “I am happy to report that I am here (pointing to the extreme left)”.

If you decide to occupy the extreme left of the bell curve, you’ll need some confidence born of effortless practice. In my experience, such books as The Path of Least Resistance; Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience; and The Sedona Method are good places to start building this confidence.

Are you willing to see just how far and wide and deep you can go with effort-less-ness?

If not, why not? If so, stick around. I’ll have much more to say about it.

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