What does it mean to lean into your discomfort?
(And how can it accelerate spiritual growth?)
When I was six years old I loved Roy Rodgers. I wanted to be a cowboy. I longed to sleep out on the range. But, I lived in New York City. In an apartment. So, in lieu of nights under the stars, my mother let me set up a tent and “camp out” on the living room.
The hardwood living room floor was uncomfortable.
But, that very uncomfortable-ness was very satisfying. Whenever I felt my bones rubbing against the hard floor, I knew I was getting closer to being a cowboy.
What does sleeping on hardwood have to do with spirituality?
Spirituality is a learning process.
And all learning includes uncomfortable moments.
Through spiritual practice, you learn how to be more open to Life. To cultivate compassion and embrace the present moment.
You learn, through spiritual practice, to embody wisdom in your thoughts, speech, and action. But, it’s a learning process. Not a magic bullet.
When you’re learning a new way of being – within yourself and in the world, it’s inevitable that you’ll be clumsy at first.
You’re out of your depths. And your nervous system is working hard to wire in the new way of thinking and acting.
Whether you’re practicing meditation or practicing the cello, you won’t be a master on day one (or month one, for that matter). a journey of awakening. And as you move into new areas of awareness and expression - you’ll likely stumble.
Stumbling doesn’t have to feel uncomfortable.<
In fact, it can be very satisfying. It’s your interpretation that counts. When I rolled over onto the hardwood floor and bruised my hipbone – I took that as a sign of progress. I was that much closer to being a cowboy.
What makes being uncomfortable satisfying?
When you recognize that the discomfort is taking you closer to your goal. When you understand that the discomfort is the signal indicating that your neurology working intensely to build new patterns of wisdom. Then, you’ll gladly lean into your discomfort.
You’ll open up to experiences of discomfort – as doorways to learning.
It’s not that you want to suffer. It’s the opposite!! You realize that trying to avoid the inevitable stumbling that comes with learning does only one thing – it prevents learning.
Suffering comes from avoiding life (at least when life isn’t presenting itself in the shape, manner, and timing that you want). Life can’t be avoided. Because you are Life. You can’t escape yourself.
Life is endlessly patient and creative in offering you learning opportunities.
Life won’t abandon you. It will keep knocking on the door of your awareness – until you open up and embrace your full creativity and joy. Spiritual practice develops your willingness and capacity to step through life’s open door without delay. Why wait?
You can start right now.
Think about a conversation or a encounter that you know you’re going to have in the next three days. Pick one that challenges you. That gets you a bit off balance, even just thinking about it.
Then, let yourself sense the emotions that start swirling in your body.
Bringing the situation to mind – really picturing it and feeling it – will activate your nervous system. Even if the intensity seems to be less than when you’re in the “real” situation, the neural pattern is the same.
Because, your neurology doesn’t distinguish between being in the situation and thinking about it.
The same neurological patterns are stimulated whether you’re having encounter or imagining it. This is good news!! You can start to lean into your discomfort.
You can walk through the inner door before you walk through the outer door.
You can begin to change your experience – your neurology – before you’re in the physical situation. You can begin to develop new and more creative responses – in the privacy of your own brain. You can transform your relationship to the situation – in consciousness.
Explore, in your creative imagination, what it would look like for you to show up in that meeting with just a bit more courage and compassion.
Consider what would be a worthwhile risk to take. In your mind’s eye picture what it would look like. What you would do. Mentally, nudge yourself just a bit. Lean into your discomfort and let your nervous system experience a new way of being in that situation.
What would it be like to bring a bit more compassion into the situation?
Allow your wisdom-heart to open more than usual and sense the other person. What are you aware of when you consider them through from the perspective of your wisdom-heart? Being compassionate doesn’t mean you pity or agree with them. It means you can be aware of their struggle, their pain, and their goodness.
Now, turn the light of your wisdom-heart onto your own mind and body.
With clarity and compassion allow the swirl of emotions to soften in the presence of your wisdom-heart. Be aware of what truly matters most to you. Allow yourself to be fully aware of these new ways of being in the situation. Breathe. Feel the courage and compassion circulating through your body.
Remember – practicing in consciousness builds actual neural pathways that support new ways of behaving and interacting.
You can do this in 60 seconds.
A few times a day. Just lean into your discomfort – in the privacy of your own mind. Allow the natural impulse of your brain – to organize at greater and greater levels of complexity and integration – to do the work. By intentionally and mindfully leaning into your discomfort, you stimulate your brain in ways that develop greater flexibility and open avenues for greater behavioral choice.
Remember, the idea is to lean into your discomfort.
Not to radically transform yourself overnight. Learning doesn’t happen that way. You build mastery incrementally. You transform your life, breath by breath. By leaning into your discomfort not by leaping over it.
I’m still not a full-fledged cowboy, after all.
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