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Being Uncomfortable

by Jill Sockman

I love the word for discomfort in Sanskrit. I especially love that as I am preparing to write about it, my neighbors across the street have turned up their outdoor sound system from “PARTY” to “CLUB” and are totally rocking it out as I attempt to focus my little mind to write. How entirely appropriate.

Dukha. It’s like onomatopoeia – where a word phonetically imitates the sound it describes, for example “meow” or “ping”- only for feelings. Dukha is what dukha sounds like – a feeling of unsatisfactoriness about how things are. Life, in the moment, not going your way.

Intellectually, I know that it is not possible to avoid discomfort. I understand that things will not always be the way I want them to be. I recognize that we are all flawed humans, navigating life as best we can, occasionally bumping up against each other in unpleasant or downright hurtful ways. My ideas will not be universally embraced. My best-laid plans will not always work out. Not everyone will like me, support me, approve of me, or even be nice to me. I get all that, at least in my head. And yet, I still occasionally find myself in the madness of trying to manage an unmanageable situation in the impossible hope of being less uncomfortable. I find myself trying to fix things that are not fixable; perseverating on situations that ultimately have nothing to do with me; spinning to make sense of a falling apart, a coming undone, an unpleasantry, a Way. In other words, trying to get rid of discomfort. Because while perhaps it is unavoidable, it’s just so…dukha.

Preparing for teaching on the yoga of psychology this past weekend, I caught myself in one of these spin cycles. I was in full mental gymnastics mode around what I could do to make myself feel better about an exchange that decidedly did not go how I would have preferred. I experienced a moment of profound gratitude (and mild annoyance) for all the teachings I have been the recipient of – for the gift to get to share them with others, and for how they seem to show up at just the right time for me, personally, as I heard the inner voice say:

“She’s giving you discomfort. So, be uncomfortable.”

ARGH! But I don’t WANT to be uncomfortable.

“There is something here for you to learn.”

Insert eye rolling emoji here. But the voice is never wrong.

So this is why we practice. This is why we contort ourselves into odd-looking poses, and hold our breath in pranayama practice, and sit and sit and sit in meditation. We practice doing things that create discomfort partly for the tapas of doing so, and partly to strengthen our ability to stay and feel, without the story, when it just doesn’t feel great to do so. If we can learn to stay and be in self-imposed discomfort, we have so much more hope of doing the same when life does whatever life is going to do.

It was a reminder for me, and now perhaps a reminder for you. Maybe it’s not always on us to make lemonade when life gives us lemons. Maybe we occasionally need to take a seat and bite into a lemon slice. We need to make the face that happens when you bite a lemon slice and remember what sour tastes like. Because it’s one of the flavors that makes up the human experience. Impossible to avoid. Alternatively, as a clever card I once read says, “When life gives you lemons, Be-yon-cé.”

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by Jill Sockman

Last month, Kristina and I took 20 people to Peru on one of the most amazing retreats I’ve ever had the privilege to lead. Everyone unplugged – whether a little or a lot – and it was amazing to watch what happened as they did. Even all these yogis who know well the value of space with nothing in it got a glimpse of how much busyness was missing in our remote location. We watched insights and inspirations arise, we witnessed openings and breakthroughs that were nothing short of life-changing. We talked about the power of the pause, the gift and offering that is the breath, and the choice that we have in every moment of every day to remember the sacredness of life, of nature, of connecting in real ways to the people around us.

This week it’s my turn to unplug (obviously in that more-or-less kind of way since I am here writing to you.) I’ve watched my stress level plummet and my happiness factor soar as I hike through meadows painted with wildflowers, fly fish for rainbow trout in a crystal-clear stream, sit and stare into the mountains and up at the sky. I’ve reveled in this somewhat forced lack of connectivity as I have no cell service, and unless I’m taking a meal where there’s wi-fi, no internet either. It’s amazing.

Since as far as I know, we can’t live on vacation, it begs the question how do I take this home with me? How can I capture what I watched 20 people do in the sacred valley of Peru and what I have lightly touched myself in these few days in the mountains? Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

1.) Stop being so busy. You’re a miracle and wonderful and amazing and also not that important. Whatever is so urgently calling you out of a moment of peace, can it wait for an hour or until tomorrow? Probably.

2.) Unplug. For real. Remember when we didn’t have cell phones? When you came home to check a machine for a red blinking light? Can you build some unplugged time into every day or every week? Perhaps no phone/computer before 8am or after 6pm. Or no phones at the table or in restaurants. We live in a time when we fill up every second we can, and we’re generally not filling those seconds with stillness and grace. Connect real time to the moment and the people around you, not the blue screen, and do it on the regular.

3.) Honor your boundaries. When it comes to boundaries with other people, I’m pretty good. But honoring my own limitations? Not so much. If there’s more to do, I’ll keep plowing on, doing, working, achieving, ticking every last thing off the list (as if that is possible) even when I am on beyond exhausted. When I returned from Peru, I made a commitment to try to better honor where I am in the moment. When that internal voice says “I just can’t answer one more e-mail” or “I just can’t schedule one more meeting,” I am going to do my best to stop. To not do. To realize that the constant pushing, forcing, driving is NOT kindness to self and I need to make a real effort in that arena.

4.) Turn towards your shadow. One of the reasons we stay so busy is to avoid boredom, discomfort, and the low-level anxiety of being a flawed human being with unmet desires, unhealed wounds, unresolved conflicts. The shadow is so often feared, but the fact is that it is a very real and ultimately unavoidable part of us. And to know and understand that shadow is to be more whole.

5.) Gratitude. I think this is always on these lists I make. And it’s because it’s the balm of the soul, the cure for what ails us on every level. Focus on all that you have, in every moment, with a grateful heart. It makes everything better, every time.

I hope that you’ve taken a break this summer, and if you haven’t yet that you make it happen this month. Whether a week, a weekend or an afternoon, we all need to recharge our batteries and do the things that feed our souls. When you find yourself back at home, consider what you can do to maintain that recharged, filled up state. For when we are full, we have so much more to give, we are so much more available to love, we are so much more able to connect. And that is why we’re here.