Are You Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable?
Updated: Oct 4, 2019
“Get comfortable in emptiness, it's where you connect with your inner existence.”
― Matthew Donnelly
We talk quite a bit in Somatic Experiencing about the idea of 'tolerating sensation.' What this really means essentially is that, in the moment of experiencing difficult sensation or feeling arising in the body, we make a decision to stay with the discomfort. We decide that, rather than pushing those feelings away, absenting ourselves, or contracting around them as we have done so many times before, we are going to do something that might feel a little counter-intuitive at first: we are going to make space for them...we are going to invite them to pull up a seat at the table.
This isn't necessarily a fashionable notion, either in mainstream culture, or in an alternative world full of '10 Ways to Feel Instantly Happier' lists and 'life hacks'. So much of what we strive for on a daily basis is to feel more comfortable. We find ourselves in a world of increasing choice where, if something displeases us, we can reject it and move on to the next thing. If we have a headache, we take a painkiller. If we are bored, we find something on our smartphones to distract us. Somewhere, we have developed the expectation that life should be easy, and as a result there can be a profound aversion to feeling discomfort within us.
The downside of this habit is that, if we are always seeking to be comfortable in our lives, we are forced to operate within an increasingly narrow set of parameters. Every time we turn away from a difficult choice, push away unsettling emotion or experience, the muscle in us that is able to bear discomfort atrophies a little more; the world we are able to inhabit gets a little smaller. Anyone who has ever decided to get fit will be familiar with this concept. If, every time we swam or went for a run, we backed off the moment we felt ourselves straying outside our comfort zone we would never make any progress. We become fitter by being willing to hang out for a while in the zone where our lungs, our heart, our muscles are having to work a little harder than they're used to. We do this knowing that, next time we push ourselves, we will be able to last a little longer before that moment arrives.
The paradox here is that the more willing we are to be uncomfortable, the more comfortable we are likely to become. If we can shift our perception a little so that we have an expectation of our experience including some discomfort - of this being a natural, even desirable state of affairs - then we are taking care of the notion that something is wrong if we finding ourselves straying outside our comfort zone. Rather, we can view the discomfiture that sometimes accompanies our excursions into unfamiliar territory as necessary growth pains, as a sign that we are expanding what is possible for us.
When we're working in a Somatic Experiencing session, and we make the counter-intuitive movement deeper into uncomfortable sensation, we can find that this allows the inherent spaciousness contained in our bodies and our experience to emerge. Through getting up-close and personal with the areas we find uncomfortable, and giving them our compassionate attention, we begin to notice that what may have appeared stuck or immovable in us actually has movement in it. We might also notice that this place of contraction isn't as dense as we previously thought. It's as if we begin to sense the space between the atoms of our experience.
As we allow the light of our attention to shine into areas of ourselves that may have lain dark and neglected for some time, we may discover that sensations we had previously thought were unbearable are actually tolerable. Often it is the idea of how it would be to spend time with those difficult places within us that has been stopping us going there. The moment-to-moment experience of hanging out with ourselves in the raw, tender places can actually be a relief. If we are willing to let ourselves be uncomfortable - even for a little while - then life begins to open up.
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