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.”