Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lean Into Discomfort

When things are tough for me, I sometimes turn to Pema Chodron's passage "No Escape" in the book Comfortable with Uncertainty:
The central question of a warrior's training is not how we avoid uncertainty and fear but how we relate to discomfort. How do we practice with difficulty, with our emotions, with the unpredictable encounter of an ordinary day? For those of us with a hunger to know the truth, painful emotions are like flags going up to say, "You're stuck!" We regard disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, jealousy, and fear as moments that show us where we're holding back, how we're shutting down. Such uncomfortable feelings are messages that tell us to perk up and lean into a situation when we'd rather cave in and back away.
When the flag goes up, we have an opportunity: we can stay with our painful emotion instead of spinning out. Staying is how we get the hang of gently catching ourselves when we're about to let resentment harden into blame, righteousness, or alienation. It's also how we keep from smoothing things over by talking ourselves into a feeling of relief or inspiration. This is easier said than done.
Ordinarily we are swept away by habitual momentum. We don't interrupt our patterns even slightly. With practice, however, we learn to stay with a broken heart, with a nameless fear, with the desire for revenge. Sticking with uncertainty is how we learn to relax in the midst of chaos, how we learn to be cool when the ground beneath us suddenly disappears. We can bring ourselves path to the spiritual path countless times every day simply by exercising our willingness to rest in the uncertainty of the present moment--over and over again.

That's pretty powerful for me. "Easier said than done" is right. Of course, I find the whole thing very hard, but this is the part that I often miss:
"It's also how we keep from smoothing things over by talking ourselves into a feeling of relief or inspiration."

I usually look for a way to smooth things over, to find the silver lining. I think what Pema is saying here is that we gloss things over when we look for the positive side of things in order to feel good. It's like bridging the wholeness of being in that moment with a tidy little moral-of-the-story: sealing up an infinite truth with a quaint, little bow - all glossy and pretty -- though it lacks in depth. Depth is where the real value is, so it's worthwhile to stay with our painful situations.

I dedicate this post to Joyce Smith. I hope that you have an incredibly happy birthday and a joyous year!

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