I am up in the middle of the night and feeling so desperately uncomfortable. The bedroom has gone unbearably hot and humid since the electricity went out. It is this awful combination of a stifling and suffocating physical experience smashing right up against an oppressive inner dialogue that just won’t quit.
At one point, “I’m so uncomfortable!!!” bursts out of me. Tears come. And like a good thunderstorm clearing out the heavy, muggy, “oppressive” weather, something breaks. Something clears. Just that simple. And in that moment, beyond the physical and emotional suffering, I recognize that my biggest pain stems from the belief that I do not think this should be happening. I do not want to feel the way I am feeling. I cannot stand the fact that I cannot get it to be otherwise. And I cannot stop my mind from anticipating how my nighttime struggle is going to ruin the next day for me.
One of the things that we can absolutely be guaranteed of as human beings is that discomfort is part of the experience of being alive. Regularly. Daily. Sometimes even moment by moment there is a good chance that something just won’t feel right. Maybe it will be sensations of hunger or thirst. The need to eliminate. Temperature changes. Emotional ups and downs. Fatigue. Physical or mental pain. Tension. On and on it goes. All throughout the day. Every day.
It seems only natural to want to get away from what doesn’t feel good. To push hard either into effort or denial to try and make what is bothering us, stop. Likely for as long as we have been around and conscious, we have tried to come up with ways to alleviate the experiences too uncomfortable for us to be with. And while there has absolutely been an upside to this in our attempts to bring more ease to the experience of being alive (think indoor plumbing, heated homes, transportation, grocery stores, etc), it is not without its costs to try and re-make whatever it is that is bothering us.
Why not just try and get out of it somehow? What would be wrong with that? What’s the problem with trying to get away from what brings us misery? In a nutshell, the problem is, we often do not have the slightest idea of what it is that is actually causing us to suffer. No sense of the very root of our struggle. Instead, we focus on wherever our tendency to blame goes. It is the equivalent of shaking an angry fist at the weather as opposed to pumping out your basement. It is energy, focus, and attention misplaced, and misused.
If the weather would just be cooler. If the power would come back on. If my husband would stop snoring. If my mind would settle down. If I’d stop being such a baby and just get over it. If I could just rise above it. If those utility people would make us a priority instead of last in line.
I am not suggesting here a kind of martyrdom or masochism. Instead, what I am suggesting is that being with life, all of life, including the things we do not want, is a skill set best developed. More to the point, it is an absolute reality best accepted and honored. For no matter how crafty, skilled, rich, resourceful, or creative we might be, there is no getting rid of everything that makes us upset, uneasy, or uncomfortable.
The best instructions I ever heard on this one are: “Make all of the adjustments you know to make. Do all of the things you can do. And then, surrender.”
This is so very easy to say and often so very seemingly impossible to do. We think doing what we can do means being in control; having it our way. And we think that surrender means defeat, weakness, or giving up. It is none of this. Doing what you can do requires making an accurate assessment of both the reality that stands before you, and your skill set. But because so many of us deny what the existing reality is, and either underestimate or overestimate our sense of agency in the world, we are left unprepared to be with life as it shows up in the ways that do not validate the versions we have created.
As for surrender, that would require not only admitting our limits, but appealing to, and leaning into, something more than just our own individual wants.
What if instead of trying to create the world as we need it to be, we made the commitment to develop a skill set that included a clear sense of what was happening, coupled with our actual ability to meet it, and an understanding that there are larger forces at play than our own individual will?
The best way that I know how to do this is when in the midst of the discomfort, learn to notice your agitation. Then, practice asking yourself; What is really bothering me about this moment? What is it that I really cannot tolerate? Finally, ask for help. Open to a larger version than your own personal story of how the world should turn.
The only way to be with Life, including discomfort, is to actually be with it. This cannot just be thought about. It must be experienced. It must become a commitment, a kind of daily practice, to notice yourself when things are not going the way you want them to. It is about opening to a larger perspective that includes seeing that without discomfort, there would be no incentive to grow. And that if reality went the way we wanted it to go, we would not only shortchange ourselves, we would create a perfect storm for the exact wrong things to come our way.