RtO: The Do Easy Method

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Each week, author and poet Y.S. Fing looks at the state of baseball, the movements of the game, the ebb and flow and soul of America’s pastime in Roaming the Outfield. This week: “The Do Easy Method”
 

William S. Burroughs is not well known as a philosopher. Nor, if he were known as one, would he have been thought of as having a positive philosophy. But a fine friend once sent me a copy of Burroughs tossed-off short essay which I call The Do Easy Method. In it, he appears to be outlining the central notions of what could be a religion. We know that Bill was interested in L. Ron Hubbard, and Hubbard is mentioned once in the piece. In any case, it’s a fine 20th century American vernacular introduction to the ideas we’ve been talking about–Zen konomama and Siddhartha’s ultimate reality. The first lines sum it up, “DE is a way of doing. It is a way of doing everything you do.”

Isn’t that a nice definition of discipline? …’a way of doing everything you do.’ Burroughs then demonstrates the myriad mundane scenes one may apply DE to, ‘…moving furniture, washing dishes, making tea, sorting papers…dust pan… zipper… tube of toothpaste… match in wastebasket…’ A list like this would never end, and it seems absurd to be that obsessively intent on the performance of so many endless small tasks. The practice and the goal are: no spilling, no wasted motion, no emotional engagement, only steady awareness of your interactions with your surroundings.

William S. Burroughs
William S. Burroughs

Burroughs anticipated rejection, “Now someone will say … But if I have to think about every move I make …” And he responded, “You only have to think and break down movement into a series of still pictures to be studied and corrected because you have not found the easy way. Once you find the easy way you don’t have to think about it and it will almost do itself.” How many baseball fans know this to be the truth?

Once a team, here the Washington Nationals, are capable of relaxing into their offensive work, they will begin that run which will assure appearance and strong competition in the playoffs. But they aren’t there right now. Each player has been struggling with weighty expectations at every futile at-bat–striking out, failing to advance runners (Sin!), grounding into double plays, bad base-running–a panoply of mental mistakes available to the paltry offense of a pressing baseball team.

And no one person can correct this. Baseball is a team game and, although it may be that one person helps tip the balance in their favor, each of those batters must find the easy way for themselves. TV announcer F.P. Santangelo said the players were thinking too much about ‘results’ and not enough about ‘process.’ I think that’s what Burroughs is saying: pay attention to how to get a hit, not what happens after that. Loosen up on the bat, level swing, watch the ball hit the bat, and the hits will take care of themselves.

It’s shocking to see a fully-loaded and capable offense barely scoring three runs per ballgame, for weeks on end. However, even in early 2012–te gloriosus tempore–the Nationals were similarly offensively tight, wrenching, gaining no progress. These Nats aren’t far from the easy way, but the negative vibe of being inconsistent, and losing much more than they should, is making it harder to relax. It’s natural to clench up from nerves.

To break free of the grip of nerves, Burroughs, like Siddhartha and the Zen masters, focuses on mundanities, “Everyday tasks become painful and boring because you think of them as Work, something solid and heavy to be fumbled with and stumbled over. Overcome this block and you will find that DE can be applied to everything you do… The easier you do it, the less you have to do.” This is not a call for slackness or carelessness. The care and the ease go hand-in-hand, but it’s all in the action, and none in the thought.

When the scoreboard gets stuck on zeroes, it's easy to press at the plate.
When the scoreboard gets stuck on zeroes, it’s easy to press at the plate.

An earlier essay was entitled ‘Keep the Line Moving.’ That’s where the Nats, or any team, want to be offensively–one man getting a hit followed by another getting a hit, in succession, repeatedly. No five-run homers. No miracles. Just a string of five or six hits, three or four times per game.

Now in early July series wins are coming. At the halfway point of the season the club is 41-40. In order to fulfill their potential, they have to start coming from behind, and to score runs after the sixth inning. Only one walk-off win? That is a team feeling pressure and needing to breathe deeply–saying ‘everyday task, everyday task’–instead of being overcome by tension. Burroughs calls this inner tension the ‘IT.’ He says, “You will disconnect IT as you advance in the discipline of DE. DE brings you into direct conflict with the IT in present time where you can control your moves.” It strikes me a little like martial arts: mental discipline in the guise of strict physical discipline. And of course, like many other sports, or disciplines.

Baseball is just one way to identify mistakes and self-correct them habitually. Burroughs suggests a way that the same virtues of playing baseball can be utilized in living everyday life. You treat every day as a test so that when the real test comes along, no tension can overcome your composure for the task at hand. “Take the inverse skill of the IT back into your own hands. These skills belong to you. Make them yours.”

That is a positive philosophy based on constructive attention to one’s own behavior. When the going gets tough, focus on the basics of keeping control over each moment as it confronts you. Take a look at the Cardinals and the Red Sox, both more than 15 games over .500. The difference lies in the process, not in the results.

  

Y.S Fing loves baseball the way that his parents wish he loved Catholicism.