Stretching My Comfort Zone

You may have noticed – or not – that I started a new category: Adventures in Buddhism. First, I want to emphasize that my writing regarding this subject is not about Buddhist teachings. I am neither qualified nor motivated to do that. The truth is that even though I am no stranger to personal growth, pursuing expanded awareness within the context of Buddhism is relatively new for me. Hence, the subject of this post is comfort zones. Or, more accurately, discomfort.

Discomfort, dis-ease, dissatisfaction, anxiety, discontent, conflict, suffering, and restlessness of the mind are all examples of what is referred to in Pali as dukkha. I mention this because the cessation of dukkha is at the heart of Buddhist practice. This also means that recognizing dukkha and the causes of dukkha are a necessary part of the process. For me, this is the driving force behind a lifetime of personal growth, so it explains a large part of my choice to explore a Buddhist path.

So, what happened as I began to attend classes and group meditations at a Buddhist Center? It’s probably a bit obvious by now, but dukkha, dukkha, and yes, more dukkha. Ok, so it wasn’t that bad, but I have to be honest, my ego self triggered an almost panic, pain, and deep seated reaction to being the new person in an established community.

Let me be clear, the center is warm, inviting, and welcoming. I am not questioning the integrity or intention of the people teaching, the monks, or the members. In truth, it is because there seems to be so much integrity to this community that triggered my dukkha. In other words, I have no excuses for the cause of my suffering but myself. I cannot easily divert my focus onto external factors, so I am left with my own internal processes.

Initially, the root of my dukkha seemed obvious. Typical fears that mask the underlying lack of self-worth, having nothing of value to contribute, and so on jabbered away as I attempted to settle in and relax. It was then that I realized that our egos can be like over protective parents. Its goal is to spare us from pain and harm, but in reality it has the opposite effect.

Another aspect that is pushing me out of my comfort zone is surrendering to the role of student. My immediate reaction is: Of course that’s not an issue for me. I’ve been a student for most of my life, and I am not a control freak or attached to a need to know more than others…. Or, am I? Sometimes, as a fellow student pointed out, we desire to be seen as “wise.” That’s an ego attachment and underneath it are the familiar self-worth fears. Also, as a gracious teacher shared, another consideration regarding the role of student can be trust issues that get triggered along with fears like:  “What if he asks me to do something that I don’t want to?” I can definitely relate to that one! In other words, what if they want me to stretch my comfort zone? Can I do it? Is it really in my best interest? Am I willing to trust enough to surrender to the role of student?

When I say surrender, I am not referring to following, giving up responsibility to another, or blind submission. I am asking myself, my ego self, to let go. By letting go, I am able to open my heart and mind, take healthy risks, and reach beyond the familiar. I know that my ego may take the passenger’s seat and still reach over and grab the wheel from time to time. I may even lose control and go off road for a bit, but it’s not about control. Genuine change asks us to explore new regions and embrace the unknown. I am aware that dukkha will be a fellow traveler. I can allow it to stress me out and view it as hostile, or I can observe, keep digging, and releasing. I can foster faith that ultimately suffering does not have to be my companion all the time, everywhere.

My hope is always to heal, grow, expand my awareness, and to be more present in my body, life, and with others. When seeking more peace, loving kindness, acceptance, and compassion, I recognize that dukkha will be part of the process. If dukkha was fun and comfortable, then I doubt I’d be motivated to diminish it. So, I try to accept my suffering as an opportunity to heal. I recognize that stretching my comfort zone is a necessary part of the process. Resisting dukkha – as the Borg in Star Trek say – is futile.

 

© Sallie Odenthal 2012

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