Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Exertion vs. Effort

Exertion in the Presence of Disharmony

My life has been a long episode of "trying my hardest to achieve", no matter what the circumstances. Vacation? How do I get the most out of it? Relaxing massage? How do I harvest the optimum relaxation from the experience? Sleep? What kind of active dreaming, subconscious clearing, or astral projection work can be done tonight? 

You name it, I have developed a knack for turning any activity into a exercise in maximum extraction. I have such a habit of constantly "working" on something that there has been an unconscious part of myself that will actively create effort even when there is none. 

I realized this recently when I was driving to Firefly Willows. There was no hurry. The drive takes maybe five minutes. There was almost no traffic. And yet, I realized that there was this great force, this "pressure" that I felt that I was pushing against. I could feel it as if a big, inflated shape was pressing against me as I sat in the car. 

And I had constructed it out of nothing.


Because it was something I could push against. I quickly dismissed it…and felt so strange that I lost an aspect of my equilibrium. There was nothing to push forward against, and it felt like I was falling (forward).

It was really odd.

I've struggled with the notions of "just being" and "just receiving" as a way of living because, although they're recommended by many mystical authorities, there is a part of me - the athlete/warrior part - that enjoys exertion. Heavy lifting. The application of force through the vehicle of the self. I'd have called this "making an effort" just a few days ago, but I think I just learned something this morning.

I do like to exert myself. It feels good. I've developed a capacity that I enjoy using, and feel strong when I do. But I noticed that I used the word "exertion" and "exert" as the thing I would miss, not "effort".

The question then had to be asked, "Are exertion and effort the same thing?" 

The dictionary was not helpful. There was something subtle to be felt here, a difference that I could not ignore. Exertion is something I do. Effort is something I do in the presence of...what? Resistance? 

On a Newtonian physics level, there is no exertion without effort, because there has to be something to "push" against

And still, I'm sure there's a profound difference. We don't live in a strictly Newtonian world (and certainly our spirits don't…). I know that I'm willing to exert myself. But I'm increasingly suspicious of effort. It seems dark, and heavy. It seems like, on a very deep level, there's something more to be examined. Does God exert him/herself? Or does God apply effort? Possibly the former. I doubt the latter.

Some thoughts:
When I play a sport like basketball, I'm experiencing resistance from the other players. But we have a mutual goal - the exploration and enjoyment of the game. So that's effort, but at another level its cooperative exertion.

When I'm climbing a mountain, I'm exerting myself. The resistance I experience is the force of gravity. maybe that makes it an effort, but it doesn't feel like one, because I welcome the force of gravity as, in essence, I welcome the other basketball players - without them, something would be missing.

So if I don't think of these things as "effort" (and resistance), then what DOES fall into the category of effort? (Is resistance always bad?)

Ugly things. Difficult things. Things like working a job I don't love, or driving in a traffic jam. Things like taking corporate money out of politics and stopping the rape of the environment. Anywhere that the exertion comes up against a darkness. 

So, OK, that's a judgement. Slippery ground for metaphysics, I confess. 

Maybe it's better to say that Effort is Exertion in the presence of Disharmony?

I think it's a continuum. Exertion flows into effort in the presence of an unenlightened player. And that player may well be myself.

I admit I'm still puzzled, because those word evoke very different feelings inside me.  Can you share your perspectives on Exertion vs. Effort?


  1. You're thinking too hard, as usual. Exertion is the active form. Effort is the mental. When you physically do something, you're exerting yourself. When you think of the steps you have to take to do that exercise, you're putting forth the effort. You can't exert yourself without effort taking place first.

    And that's the perspective from someone who rarely exerts herself but always makes an effort.

  2. Huh. Interesting perspective! Thanks, JT. I like the notion that the effort is the mental "steps" one takes. It puts the whole notion into an interesting frame. Could be why I like the exertion, but increasingly dislike the effort.