I was at a yoga workshop last night – a beautiful concoction of sound, stretches, postures and praise for what the body and mind can do. The instructor gave us definitions for discomfort and pain. Discomfort is when the mind says to the body you can’t do that any more and tries to over-ride the brain, teasing and tricking and fooling you into thinking you can’t be stretched any more. Pain is something else, a symptom of some underlying condition, an intense assault requiring immediate withdrawal.
The invitation from discomfort is to hang with it and get to know it, push through and see what there is on the other side of that discomfort. Easing in, breathing in to the discomfort may be a seduction, a not realising the discomfort is the herald for pain and indeed may well be an early warning signal. So often I have hung in with the discomfort only to become accustomed to it, and not understood it as the beginnings of something more dangerous and toxic. There is a process of discernment required to notice whether it is discomfort or pain and in that process we ask ourselves about the nature of our experience: is it transitory? is it consequential? does it have a trigger? is my mind playing games? We collect evidence and notice patterns. Eventually we make a declaration to our selves.
Discomfort deserves attention and breathing into it might be one way of giving it attention, ignoring it another …. but if there is an underlying problem in the discomfort that requires more immediate attention … then discover it before it becomes toxic. You may need to inoculate yourself, withdraw, move or eliminate it from your environment before you are in real, and hard to release from, pain.
Niggling feelings, nagging doubts, gnawing thoughts … enticing us to go deeper into discovery of what discomfort has to teach us.
Promising to tomorrow to pay attention to discomfort, may open up new horizons. There are plenty of things I am uncomfortable about – the voters and voting system in the US delivering to the world Trump, the shareholders of companies ignoring evidence that leads to destroying lives and landscapes, my national government continuing to treat asylum seeks as illegal, child protection agencies unwilling and unable to unfetter themselves from the shackles of poor design and practice, the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians in mortality and well-being indicators … the list goes on. And then I turn my attention to myself and there are plenty of discomforts there – eating and sleeping patterns, kindness (or lack of it), ability to serve and be served … and this list goes on too.
Breathing into the feeling of discomfort might be part of the promise to tomorrow to understand the source and meaning, but it certainly isn’t going to mean staying in that place. Discomfort shows you are on the path to growth and discovery, that your antennae is getting tuned in and is turning symptoms into data for discernment and decision-making. It is an invitation to be honest with yourself.