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The Opium of Comfort – (why you should do more of what you hate)

If you genuinely enjoy planking, there’s probably something wrong with you.

Perhaps you enjoy the result of planking: the abdominal muscle definition, the increase in core strength, the sense of satisfaction that comes from outlasting the ticking of the clock and the feeling of somatic discomfort… but if you genuinely enjoy the process of laying face down while you squeeze yourself red like a tube of toothpaste, you’re an absolute fucking weirdo. And maybe a masochist. I’m not sure what else to tell you. The important thing here is separating the process from the result: regardless of whether you enjoy planking, you probably should be doing something like it anyway. You should have the ability to force yourself into situations that are physically and mentally uncomfortable for the sake of their intrinsic utility, for the sake of the result. If you don’t have that ability, and are unable to make peace with the process, there will never be a better time than today to learn how.

Plants have a way of encouraging other organisms into carrying out behaviour that assists them by making those activities pleasurable – berries, laden with seeds, are temptingly sweet, and full of easy, quick energy: consequently animals are attracted to them and, in passing them through their digestive system, beget more berry bushes. The animals’ appetites are satiated, the plants propagate, everybody is happy. Paradoxically, when the human mind engages with itself, what initially seems attractive is often a choice that leads ultimately to comfort rather than growth. The most attractive things to the human mind, the things that release the most endorphins, tend by and large to be low risk and, by consequence low reward – the things that bring man the rarest spoils tend to be far higher risk, whatever they might be. The things worth having tend to cost more, sometimes in the sense of potentiality than of actual price paid. Picture, for example, a party of hunter gatherers stalking an aurochs: there is the very real possibility that one or more individuals will be gored to death, or stalked by some scavenger after the deed due to the attractive quality of thousands of pounds of meat. Rabbits are certainly easier prey. But rabbits don’t feed tribes, and rabbit hunters don’t win honour, glory, or respect; rabbit hunting doesn’t beget camaraderie or sharpen skills for war.

19th century inport fisherman in Newfoundland, pulling cod traps – they definitely would have done their planks.

I’m not a puritan: I am not advocating for abstinence or self-denial. The “berries” of life can, and should, be tasted. I am not, nor have I ever claimed to be, any sort of ascetic. I have fully explored the grimiest depths of my own Dionysian potential, and continue to do so in regular indulgences in order to live what I believe to be a full, well-rounded life informed by multiple perspectives and experiences both orderly and chaotic. What I will advocate for, however, is that we learn to take our lumps: we throw ourselves, wholeheartedly and with stiff upper lips, into our planks, that we set off in the wet morning with spears slung over our shoulders to hunt aurochs with our boys. This behaviour, this championing of result over the necessary-but-enervating process is the key to living a fulfilling, healthy life – one that begets not only the material prize of the aurochs’ meat, but also the more mysterious properties that come with self-actualisation through discipline, and the honour and respect of self-overcoming, both within and from those around oneself. 

Have you ever partied every single day? I have. It’s unbelievably uninteresting and, without sufficient meaning, even in a self-referential sense (revelry-for-the-sake-of-revelry), it quickly becomes boring, tedious, and part of the same meaningless ennuie of flickering fluorescent lights and AM radio that probably lead you to read my article on this website. People speak of the Kali Yuga but forget that, as in most arenas of life, there is a great challenge and a little challenge, a microcosm within the macrocosm. Without the drudgery and the grueling self-denial of hard work, of sacrifice, the Apollonian plank state, there can truly be no restful, respiteful, Dionysian nonplank state

Without the aurochs hunt, there can be no feast – without the grueling process there can be no result – there is no shame in chasing the spoils of war, there is no need to martyr oneself by pretending that you are immune to sex or weed or good food or collapsing on the floor after a sweaty HIIT session, there is no reason to pretend that you’ve not gone back to school because you’re enamoured with the idea of making more money, but most importantly, even more important than understanding process and result in a vacuum, is understanding their intrinsic relationship with one another, understanding that they are at parity, understanding that they need one another to exist, and finally learning to love the process regardless of its inherent drudgery. 

When the process is respected for its own sake, when the max effort squat is respected just for the opportunity to reap the beneficial qualities of self-discipline, when the aurochs hunt is appreciated for the opportunity to be daring, anything earned beyond this paradigm, any future PR or celebratory feast, comes as gratuity, is really no more than a bonus.

Do your planks. Eat right. Get that six pack that we all know you want and you don’t have to pretend not to. But learn to love plankhood intrinsically. The respite of collapse after the fact and the eventual physical changes will be, in the end, as berries off a bush.

Now go plank.

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