Comfort at all costs. This ought to be the motto of civilized society. For instance, air conditioning is often considered a must, even though it is akin to a cool prison. Step out of the confines of the room on even a moderately hot day, and you are blasted with a level of heat that you have not trained yourself to tolerate. My neighbor calls the hot weather “ungodly,” as he moves from his air-conditioned apartment to his rapidly cooled car to relieve the savage assault. Summer is thus spent mostly in a small, cool, space with the droning air conditioner as background noise. Meanwhile, the electric bill soars and the planet overheats.

The push to stay indoors, to go from house to car to building and back due to the demands of a job, intolerance of weather–hot (above 75), cold (below 65), rain (dreary), dark (scary), cloudy and damp (depressing), humid (sweaty), windy (bad for skin and hair), sunny (dangerous), buggy (completely intolerable)–demand we should be shielded from it. There are not many days in the year, or times in a day, when we can live happily outside the comfortable prisons we create for ourselves.

It is not that I think comfort is bad; I just don’t want to be a slave to it. There is a price to be paid for being so well protected. Much of the beauty, art, exhilaration, and joy happen outside the comfort bubble. Embracing the conditions of the environment is like going for a swim in a lake. Once you get past the initial resistance to getting wet, you always feel better for having done it: The mind is clearer, the spirit fresher, the body invigorated. It is anything but ungodly.

Society trains children, through schooling, to be inside. There, they must focus their minds on subjects that may, or may not, hold any interest they must behave. This training is done so that we, as a nation, can win the competition for those future, coveted jobs that everyone supposedly wants. In this peculiar way, we learn discipline. We can sit for long hours in a cubicle, stare at computer screens, go to meetings without falling asleep, endure tedious work rules, keep to a rigid schedule of eating and sleeping, leave our children to be raised by strangers, and postpone joy in order to stay at the worksite.  The most disciplined yogi would marvel at this ability if it weren’t devoted to the dubious goals of pleasing the boss, buying more comfort, and acquiring more unnecessary things. Through this tedious life, we essentially rob from our spirit in order to pamper our flesh. People are not as soft and as fragile as some might think. We don’t have to hide from nature. By letting go of the comfort-driven world we have become accustomed to, we can reduce our dependence on all its attachments, and the expense and the necessity to make money to pay for them. Life can then be more balanced with nature, more adventurous, challenging, fun, uplifting, healthier, and freer.

Comfort has never been laid out as the goal by any legitimate spiritual path. When we overfeed and underutilize our bodies, spoil it to the point where it is soft and unfit to meet the hard demands of life, when we overload our minds with noise from the media, gossip about trivial things, and pay no attention to the saints and philosophers that have come before us, we weaken our spirit. A healthy dose of awareness, introspection, and courage is necessary to invent an alternative path to what is now considered normal. Non-conformity is difficult, but has its own rewards. To those that choose it, I wish you good luck.

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