“I dread winter because it is the season of comfort.” – Jean Nicholas Arthur Rimbaud
When I first read A Season in Hell, this final poem, and this line in particular, confused me. I had to give an interpretation of it, in French, no less. And at the time, this line stumped me. I had no idea what to make of it.
But I think now I understand.
I’ve been talking with a few different people lately about the idea of being comfortable.
Unfortunately – I’m sure I’ll be very unpopular for saying this – I think comfort and growth are antithetical.
There’s a quote that’s been floating around on Facebook recently that goes something like this: a comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing grows there.
Now I’m not advocating the return of hair shirts or anything like that. There’s nothing wrong with being comfortable in this life, per se.
The problem, I think, is when we make being comfortable our highest value: when we’re afraid to be uncomfortable. Or when we avoid it at all costs.
A little discomfort is a good thing. It means you’re trying things that are outside the circle of your comfort zone.
A comfort zone is kind of like a rubber band. You can keep stretching it, and eventually it gets bigger. (On the other hand, if you don’t stretch it at all, it seems to contract.)
If you feel a little uncomfortable it means you’re growing.
Now, of course, it’s a matter of degree. Try doing things that are miles outside your comfort zone, and you’ll be in a world of distress that will provoke massive internal paralysis and resistance (otherwise known as cognitive dissonance).
Stretch the rubber band too far and it breaks or snaps back – ouch.
But keep pushing the boundaries. Little by little. It’s just one way to keep life interesting, and fun, and you never know what you might learn.
“I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed.” – Rihanna
Maybe it’s a stretch to look for wisdom in pop culture, but I think one is as likely to find it there as anywhere else. So, whether you want to take it from Rihanna and Eminem, or the Buddhists, the message is the same: it’s important to be comfortable with all the parts of yourself.
There a strong tendency in spiritual community to focus on the positive. While that’s not a bad thing in itself, the difficulty arises when we push away the darker aspects of ourselves. Or when we try to avoid dealing with perceived negative emotions, like anger.
Really being at peace with yourself means being able to embrace your own shadows and darker tendencies. To acknowledge them and allow them to co-exist with the other parts of you. Rather than hunt them down and attempt to eradicate them (or cover them over in positive thinking).
What you resist persists. And what you can be with transforms. (So say the Buddhists.)
Sometimes the amount of energy I spend avoiding things is monumental, compared to the amount of energy it would take to face them head on.
What’s tricky about this is that the monsters really do seem, well, bigger and more monstrous than they actually are, when we can’t seem them clearly. They are all the more scary, when they reside in the shadows. But when we shine the light on them, well, that’s when it starts to get interesting.
It’s like a snowball: It’s rolling downhill and as it does, it seems to get bigger and bigger. When it catches up with you, you think it’s going to run you over, and just completely demolish you. But instead it just breaks over you, and dissolves.
“When your demons come, offer them a piece of cake.” – Sara Eckel
“Karma plays the long game.” – Sara Eckel
A lot of times people in spiritual practice become preoccupied by the idea of karma, and misunderstand it to mean that everyone who behaves selfishly will get their comeuppance in some fashion, while all the wronged parties are watching.
Not so with karma. Because the concept of karma assumes reincarnation and a soul’s lessons over lifetimes, it just means that everything comes out in the wash. In other words, no one gets away with anything, ever.
But this simply means that if we don’t learn a lesson the first time it’s presented, it will continue to be presented to us in various forms until we pass the test.
And, if we can’t understand other people’s perspectives, or viewpoints, we may find opportunities to do so firsthand, in the scheme of things.
But karma’s not really a reward-punishment system, in the strictest sense.
Karma’s just part of the process of earth school. Except that unlike conventional schooling, there’s no scheduled timeframe to complete the lessons.
You’re done when you’re done.
In the meantime, you’re just here to learn.
My friends know that nothing enrages me like shoveling snow.
Yes, you read that right. It’s entirely irrational.
Recently I told one of my friends how I had to shovel a snow drift at the end of my driveway. Even though it took only a few minutes, I got so angry, I found myself saying at least a few choice words aloud as I did it. I could feel my whole body tensing in anger. “You have got to be f****** kidding me.”
She told me, “You should write about this in your blog.”
My response? “Why? So people will know how crazy I really am?”
She said, “No one really thinks you ever get angry. I’ve never seen you get angry.”
She’s not the first person to suggest that they’d like to see me get angry.
People routinely tell me that they think I must lead a charm-filled, stress-free life.
I assure you that this is both true and not true.
I choose to believe that my life is the way it is for a reason. That the reason is both me, and not me (in other words, it’s bigger than me). Nothing in my life looks the way I planned it. And yet, it’s both more and less than I expected.
Sometimes we tend to label emotions as good or bad. Anger isn’t a bad emotion. It can be harmful when expressed in certain ways, though.
One of my long-time male friends used to sometimes break furniture when the wrong team won the football game.
I always wanted to ask him, “What are you really angry about?”
He lives alone, so I guess if he’s breaking his own furniture maybe he’s not hurting anything (though I suppose it’s also an expensive habit).
As for me, I feel like an inanimate outlet for anger (like, say, a force of nature), while seemingly childish, is basically harmless. As long as I know what I’m really angry about.
I suppose it’s the adult version of a temper tantrum.
It also proves I’m human. (In case there was any doubt.)
“The problem is not in the wanting; the problem is what happens when you don’t get what you want.” – Ciprian Iancu
Dealing with disappointment is a challenge for many of us. In our culture, we’re trained to think we can get whatever we want, and moreover that we “should” get it. Even that we’re entitled to it. Unfortunately, this type of thinking leaves us blaming ourselves (or looking for someone else to blame) when things in life don’t turn out the way we want.
The reality is that so many things are out of our control.
I recently watched The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and this quote stood out to me: “The measure of success is how you deal with disappointments.” There’s a lot of wisdom in that sentence.
So often we think of success in terms of achievement: we get what we want, we’re successful (and conversely, when we don’t get what we want, well, then we’re just a failure).
But looking at life in binary terms like that just doesn’t work.
On some level, yes, it’s good to take charge. To set goals and work diligently to achieve them is admirable. But, if we become so focused on achievement that we fall apart when we fail to achieve a victory according to our own narrow definition, well, that is a problem indeed.
Likewise, if we can only be happy when our lives, and the people in them, conform to our expectations, we may find ourselves drowning in unhappiness.
Sometimes, for reasons beyond our control, we just don’t get what we want, despite our best efforts.
And then what?
How do we cope with the disappointment? Do we allow it to make us bitter? Do we stop trying anything altogether, asking “What’s the use?” while shrugging our shoulders?
Or do we view it as an opportunity to change directions, to refocus? As a new beginning?
In any life, there are going to be disappointments. And bad days. And certainly there will be a “worst” day. But, it doesn’t matter so much what happens on the bad days, or even on the worst day.
What matters most is what you do on the day after. And the day after that.
“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” – Alexander Graham Bell
It’s true. We humans are funny creatures.
Every ending is also a beginning. And yet…
Sometimes it’s hard to move forward. Of course, sometimes it helps to realize that by refusing to move forward we are choosing to be dragged kicking and screaming.
Change is inevitable. But how much we suffer the changes of life has to do with the degree to which we hold on, to which we try to avoid and deny the inevitable.
That people we love will grow old, and die. That we ourselves will.
That everything is precious.
And sometimes we don’t have as much time as we’d like to think we have, to do the things we want to do.
And I suppose we could let the fear of death, and the gravity of the whole situation immobilize us.
And that itself is a choice.
But if we can use it, if we can embrace the gravity and the fear in a transformational sense, if it can become a catalyst for making the most of the time that we have, then….well, then we might create something really beautiful.
A recent issue of Oprah Magazine features an article by Laura Hilger entitled “The Yoga Prescription.” The message is something that I’ve been telling people for a while: that yoga is not just about stretching. The idea of yoga as medicine, or therapy, is a new one for a lot of people.
I came to my yoga practice as therapy, unlike most people, who begin yoga as a fitness-related practice. I wanted to find some calm amidst the chaos inside my head. I never really considered myself athletic, and I certainly didn’t think I was flexible.
People now tell me how fit and flexible I am on a regular basis. I’m not entirely sure it’s true, but these things are all relative. Almost anyone who commits to a regular yoga practice will gain muscle tone and increase flexibility. For me, those are secondary to yoga’s primary emotional benefit: feeling good.
You just can’t put a price on feeling good.
And when it comes down to it, how many safe and legal ways are there to feel good anyway? It’s a short list, for sure. If you add to that the physical benefits, yoga is a winning combination.
One of my spiritual teachers is fond of saying that meditation (which is part of the practice of yoga) gives you the same high as sex and drugs, only it’s sustainable. It’s a high you never come down from.
Find out for yourself.
“I am crowded inside.” – Pradeep Venugopal
We are, all of us, crowded inside. Echoes from the past. Experiences of the present. Dreams of the future. And the tape loop of all of our thoughts and fears. Myriad possibilities, co-existing.
And sometimes, a cacophony of competing voices.
The challenge is to resist the urge to smother some of the voices. And rather to create a space for different and sometimes even opposing ideas to co-exist. Life is messy, and our desires sometimes contradictory.
No, I’m not talking about some kind of Orwellian doublespeak.
But rather I’m pointing out that all of us have conflicting needs, and sometimes the space between who we’d like to be and who we really are is wide. To accept that this is the case, and simply be with it, while challenging, moves us in the direction of self-acceptance and growth.
Knowing ourselves means becoming acquainted with our own voices, especially the ones that tell us things that we don’t want to hear, or things we’d rather not admit to ourselves.
We have inside of us our own wisdom and power, if we are patient enough to learn to access it.
What if you already know the answers to the questions you are asking?
And if you connect to your own wisdom, and your own power, what happens next?
I recently heard author Dan Buettner speak on the topic of longevity. He made two key points. One is that at least 20% of people don’t have 3 close friends: the lack of close friends is a significant health risk. The other is about the importance of having a sense of purpose in life: people with a sense of purpose live longer. It seems like isolation (sometimes increased by technology) and lack of purpose together constitute a lethal combination.
One of the things that surprises me when I talk to people is how many of them don’t have a strong sense of why they’re here, or what they want to accomplish. I wonder if retirement might be related to losing a sense a purpose: Buettner said the year you retire is the year you’re most likely to die, probably because so many of us rely on our jobs for a sense of identity and purpose.
No matter what your age, identifying (and living) your purpose is crucial to achieving a deeper sense of satisfaction in your life. Buettner spent a lot of time studying various groups around the world in places where people are living 100+ years. He noticed that they all had various things in common. I could list them here, but it’s more to the point to say that several major differences have to do with community and social structure. In other words, the centenarians in these populations had a sense of being useful. They had a purpose.
Buettner says that identifying your talent or skill area, and then finding an outlet for it, is what leads to a sense of purpose in life. I think a lot of people know where they excel, but the challenge can be finding an outlet for it. It often requires creative thinking. One of my favorite books for identifying and living your purpose is Mira Kirshenbaum’s The Gift of a Year. She says, “Knowing what you want and translating it into something doable is a better route to happiness than denying what you really want because it seems impossible in its purest form.” In other words, make your desires doable by taking one small step that brings you closer to what you want.
One of the most amazing trips you’ll ever take is the journey of self-discovery. Inquire within.