According to Encarta Dictionary, one definition of discomfort is the “cause of lack of comfort; something that makes somebody feel physically or mentally uncomfortable.” But, what is discomfort really? For that matter, what is comfort? I do agree that the two are related. I also think that states of comfort and discomfort are relative and act as blankets to other states of being. Similar to anger and fear, lying underneath are a variety of thoughts and feelings that may not be readily exposed, yet are the root cause. Whether we experience something as comfortable or not is based on judgments and expectations that give rise to thoughts and beliefs that create an emotional reaction perceived as pleasant or unpleasant. What I find interesting is that as I examine and observe discomfort, I realize that I rarely notice “comfort.” It’s not that I don’t experience being at ease. It’s just that when I am comfortable, I am more likely to describe my state of being as joyful, happy, peaceful, and more present. This leads me to ask: Why do I have such an avoidance of discomfort? What am I really afraid of and attempting to escape from when I respond to discomfort with aversion, grasping, and denial instead of simply observing and allowing it to pass? Why do I avoid genuine comfort by pursuing illusionary comfort? Why do I judge discomfort as being…. well, so uncomfortable?
In the face of the reality that there is no such thing as permanence, I’d think knowing that everything is always in flux would make it easier for me to simply observe and let the discomfort pass. Yet, there are aspects of my being that are reluctant to simply be and let go. There are ego states that seek to control that which is uncontrollable, and the discomfort I create due to these delusions are far more based on conditioning than any real or tangible pain. Yet, I continue to create suffering when I experience feelings of discomfort as if I am experiencing genuine pain. Maybe I am sensing pain. Certainly, any time we try to avoid, suppress, or deny our emotions, we are creating unnecessary suffering due to a denial of our authentic selves. Even when there is genuine pain, our response to deny instead of leaning into and observing will exaggerate the pain we are trying to avoid. I understand these concepts when life events bring crisis and loss. For now, I’m referring to the much subtler states that we encounter as we move throughout our daily lives. For instance, our reactions to impatience, boredom, hunger, anxiety, and normal everyday stressors.
Given the definition above, seeking “comfort” in the face of discomfort seems more like avoidance than an actual state of it’s own. In modern society, we are encouraged to form attachments to the complete and utter illusion, and delusion, that we need to seek comfort when feeling uneasy. Advertising screams messages of soothing our discomfort by seeking relief externally. In other words, we are encouraged to seek comfort as a means to end our suffering, yet we are encouraged to go about it in ways that are a direct avoidance of what we are experiencing. As we attempt to push away our lack of comfort, we can become extremely habitual in reaching outside of ourselves for relief to our suffering. Addictions are born. Under these circumstances, do we ever really experience comfort? No, I do not think we do. I think that once again, I am being shown that any attachment to how I feel, or want to feel, simply creates, yep… discomfort! Like a knee jerk reaction, we grasp for some way of massaging our suffering without realizing that we are adding to it. Even as I write this, I recognize the energy of resistance whipping up fear by encouraging a lack of faith and trust in my ability to confront and observe my own triggers and uncomfortable states.
The challenge is to take a moment, stop, breathe, just observe, and stay with the feeling. We can ask: Is what I’m experiencing genuinely painful, or am I simply too impatient and fearful to observe myself and let the uneasiness pass? For if I truly accept the reality of impermanence, and I recognize that everything is in constant flux, then I must also allow for the transitory state of moods and open to the unknown. Human life is not predictable, there is no magic set of behaviors that will guarantee us a pain free existence. I’ve never been a fan of rollercoaster rides, yet I know that life is one big ride with fast and unanticipated ups and downs. The only way I can find true peace, happiness, and “comfort” is to accept and embrace discomfort as sign post to be aware of an opportunity to learn, open, and grow into a more present, peaceful, and authentic being. It is through the power of observation without attaching judgment, that we can free ourselves to experience and empower loving kindness for ourselves and for one another.