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# 8 / 40 – March 2008

Ergonomics, comfort and some spiritual-religious thoughts.                      

Three spiritual-religious things to ponder on the topic of comfort.

Privative Theory

The folks who design chairs will tell you that the best definition of comfort is an absence of discomfort. When I first reflected on this my reaction was, “Really, that’s the best definition there is for comfort – not being uncomfortable?”

But sometimes that is the best way of knowing something – knowing that it isn’t something else. (This is known in philosophical circles as privative theory .)

In the spiritual-religious world, it happens quite a lot. The biggest example is the definition of evil as the absence of good, and the definition of God as the absence of evil.

Outside of theology, we often define ourselves, not by what we have and are, but by what we want and lack – how backwards is that? We ought to be more aware of what we have and are more than we are aware of what we aren’t and don’t have.

Moreover, a lot of people define themselves on the spiritual-religious spectrum based on not being, believing, or doing like others do. I know a lot of people who believe that Judaism is the “un-Christianity” – so, if Christians believe in the devil, heaven or that the messiah has come, then Jews aren’t supposed to. And I know other people who are spiritual-but-not-religious – if they think that “religious” people use the word God, these folks will use any word but.

(F.Y.I. with regard to Judaism being the un-Christianity, it might astound you to learn that none of the above assumptions are correct. Judaism, actually is replete with a long history of all of these “un-Jewish” things: a belief in the devil, heaven, and a messiah. For example, in the 1800s, 60% of world Jewry believed that Shabbitai Tzvi was the living messiah. And, today, many Lubavitch Jews believe that the late Rabbi Menachem Schneerson was and is moshiach – the messiah.)

Here is a quote attributed to Laozi and Tao Te Ching with regard to openness and the importance of not thinking so concretely about the world:

Unawareness of one’s feet is the mark of shoes that fit. Unawareness of one’s waist is the mark of a belt that fits. Unawareness of right and wrong is the mark of a mind at ease.

Comfort and attitude

A recent study on the coziness of airline seats showed a direct correlation between the friendliness of the crew and complaints about the seats. The less friendly the crew, the more complaints about the comfort of the seats; the more friendly the crew, the fewer people who noticed the seats.

It’s the warmth and kindness of the crew makes the seats more comfortable, not their size.

We all know how friendly dispositions – ours or others – melt problems whereas snarkiness causes more.

Being uncomfortable

There seems to be an unspoken and unwritten notion that we ought not feel any discomfort in our lives.

Where did we get the idea that we oughtn’t ever be uncomfortable?

Where does this notion come from?

Our compulsive, constant pursuit of comfort and avoidance of discomfort will always disappoint us as we will never be able to achieve a cessation from suffering. (If this sounds vaguely Buddhist, you would be right.)

There is no such thing as a life free of discomfort.

So, as a spiritual-religious exercise, I would advocate that we all take some time in this next week to get a little more comfortable with our discomfort.


We ought to.

We might as well get used to it.

Fighting it isn’t going to work.

Our discomfort is going to be with us for a while – no matter how cushy your chair or how nice the flight attendants are.

With love,

Rabbi Brian

A web version of this article is available here.
This article was also posted at Street Prophets where it received a few comments.

The 77% Weekly

The 77% Weekly: The Religion-Outside-The-Box Newsletter
helps people find and be with (the) God (of their understanding) 40 out of 52 weeks a year.

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Two reasons:
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2) In school 77% was a passing grade and ROTB wants to remind you that life isn’t graded, it’s pass/fail.

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