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Friday, September 23, 2016

Why I Like Being Uncomfortable

Yeah, no I don’t.  I don’t “like” being uncomfortable any more than you do.  If “discomfort” had Facebook page, I would only hit the “sad” and “angry” buttons for its posts.  Oh, and maybe the occasional “wow” when discomfort had really abused the privilege of being uncomfortable.  So what am I trying to say here?

I’m saying that unfortunately the expression “step outside of your comfort zone” is sound advice; actually, not only sound, but wise.  It’s something we should all be striving to do all of the time, damn the luck!  But most of us face the prospect of being uncomfortable with the same level of enthusiasm we have for getting out of a warm bed on a cold day.  That is to say, low-to-none.
We may think that “stepping outside of our comfort zones” involves some kind of physical or financial risk—trying a daredevil activity or “spending money to make money”.  While these are legit ways to stretch your parameters if they are available to you, the really important work of being uncomfortable is much more personal and intimate.  And much braver, too—the truth is often not only inconvenient, but horribly uncomfortable.

We all understand theoretically that the ultimate goal of stepping into discomfort is an expanded consciousness about what is comfortable.  We have so many arenas in life where fear is running the show; yes, we often have fears about money and personal safety, but we also have fears about emotional intimacy and self-advocacy.  In fact, standing up for ourselves is the thing that probably makes the majority of us the most uncomfortable of all; asking for help is another “uncomfortable” position for many, many people.
Emotional intimacy has always been a huge can of worms; now it has been made so much worse by the false intimacy the internet presents.  To feel secure in vulnerability in your closest relationships is a challenge; we all fear being mocked, misunderstood or betrayed by the people we have opened ourselves up to.  Now, in this era of what I will call “safe oversharing”, we see people all alone with their devices dumping their anger, frustration and loneliness onto their unsuspecting followers/”friends” for attention; if the sort of attention they receive is not to their liking?  Block/Mute/Unfollow/Unfriend!  This is false intimacy because it is actually just an exercise in control.

We cannot conduct healthy, thriving relationships from “a safe distance”; the screens that seem to bring us closer together are actually shutting us off from the deeper treasures of real bonding.  We are using them as shields to deflect this gnawing anxiety we have about both being alone and being together.  The paradox of the 21st century. 
The University of Virginia did a study a few years back that concluded, in part, that most people would rather receive an electrical shock than be alone with their thoughts.  Yes, you read that right.  So this obviously begs the question:  what are we thinking about that is making us so damned uncomfortable?  It seems to me that that if we would rather face a painful shock than our inner selves, there is a serious problem afoot.

Now, I have a confession that I believe that many of my fellow artists and writers will relate to:   I am more comfortable being alone with my thoughts than perhaps anywhere else in the world.  Being alone with my thoughts is my “happy place”.  My thoughts are my friends; it’s the damned outside world that is interfering with my comfort zone.
That is why I started putting my thoughts out into the world.  Scariest thing I have done in my life, too.  The fear of rejection; but for me, more importantly, the fear of ridicule.  The fear of being told my thoughts are “wrong”.  And yes, it happened.  Everything I feared.

You know what?  It was terrible at first, bordering on excruciating.  And I won’t pretend there are never occasions anymore when it is not.  But ultimately, do you know what challenging my comfort zone brought me?  More bravery.  A lot, lot, lot more, in truth. And more comfort!  An expanded sense of what is comfortable.
Look, like most people, I frequently find life exhausting.  I often find people I love challenging.  Sometimes everything, including “fun” and “love”, feels like “too much effort”.  Does that sound even a bit familiar to you? 

Now we face our chicken-and-egg:  the reason we are so exhausted is because we hate the idea of being uncomfortable SO MUCH that virtually anything is preferable.  And how are we “avoiding” discomfort?  Yes, we soothe ourselves with that false intimacy of the internet, but way too many of us are walking on eggshells and in other ways being inauthentic with the people in our lives because we believe it will be “easier” than being honest and open.
So how’s that working?

We need to pull our heads out of our smartphones and get real with ourselves about happiness.  Frequently (usually) there is some barrier between us and what we think will make us happy, but we aren’t willing to challenge that barrier because we’re a) exhausted, b) it would be difficult and c) too much effort; RIGHT?  So we settle in our comfort zones and call that happiness.
But there is a greater happiness on the other side of the barrier—somewhere over the rainbow—a greater happiness in expanding our comfort zones so much that we actually welcome discomfort as a messenger and friend.  Our discomfort tells us that there is more here than meets the eye and we should dig in.  When we are willing to be uncomfortable, we are willing to GROW.

We are like houseplants, most of us, in a pot we have outgrown; but the stress, hassle and FEAR of repotting stops us in our tracks.  You need room to breathe and expand and ironically that room can be found inside yourself.  Step away from your devices every day and check in with how you are feeling.  Don’t sedate discomfort with another game, another text or another glass of wine; ask it what it is trying to tell you and be willing to learn.
Oh, the places you’ll go!



 

 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

WHY REGRETS ARE FOR FOOLS

Years ago I wrote a story in which the elderly matriarch, an unapologetic control freak with sass to spare, told her husband, “Regrets are for fools”.  In context, there was irony in that statement; I guess I was too young at the time to realize the bald truth of such a line.  Regrets ARE for fools, and not because we don’t all do things we wish we hadn’t.  Regrets are for fools because they steal from the past to rob our present of peace.

Whenever we are facing challenges—or even if we just have an isolated negative experience—it is human nature to start flipping through the card catalogue in our minds looking for a helpful point of reference.  Have I, or anyone else I know, ever been through something similar?  What remedies, if any, were involved?  How long did the challenges or negative consequences linger?  We do this to help ourselves put things in perspective, which is healthy; what is NOT healthy is when this exploration of the past begins to devolve into woulda-coulda-shoulda.
I recently had a car accident that was an “accident” in the purest sense of the word because if any one thing in my day had gone slightly differently, it never would have happened.  The unfortunate precision of a split second in the wrong place at the wrong time precipitating chaotic results.  A crazy-making event to be sure, as my fervent (and pointless) wishes that I could go back in time and do it differently were waking me up at night.

I had a dear friend for many years who made a standard joke about these sorts of situations; she would always say that “short of becoming Superman and turning the world backwards on its axis, there is nothing you can do about it”, which both true and funny.  It’s also a great way to stop that looped conversation in your head about how you definitely should NOT have gone for ice cream on the way home by recapping the insanity of such regret.   We all wish we could be Superman, of course; but in these contained situations he is a good reminder that as humans we do not have the power to save Lois Lane from the earthquake.
This analogy becomes a little harder to both swallow and apply when we are dealing with big-picture life-path regrets—from the pursuit of a dream that never came true, to “failed” relationships, to lost jobs---now we are no longer looking at an isolated situation that could have been “fixed” by a different decision.  Now we are looking at a whole mountain of regrets and missed red flags and self-immolation for wasting our time, love and energy.

Most of us have had the experience of watching a loved one “go astray” in life—the anguish of seeing them chase a situation or relationship that to us has the most obvious neon, blinking DON’T WALK sign hanging over it.  But more often than not the situation is more subtle and nuanced than that…For many years I said that I had never been surprised by a divorce; not that I necessarily saw the relationships as “doomed”, but rather that I recognized the fractures that had the potential to rupture.  Yes, I said that many times over until it actually happened:  I was surprised by a divorce.  So surprised, in fact, that I grieved it as if it were my own.
But it taught me something very valuable:  no matter how smart, sensitive, honest and in tune we are, we can only operate on the information that we currently have.  Another friend of mine who went through an entirely less surprising divorce said something very wise about it…we are all doing the best that we can with the information that we have in the present.  For every “red flag” we may have overlooked (or deliberately ignored), there were a million other pieces of the puzzle that were influencing us in some way.  And given the entirety of the picture, we made the best decision we were capable of; hence—regrets are for fools.

As a woman now firmly ensconced in middle age—life more than halfway through, quite officially over-the-hill---I am facing some fairly big decisions about how I frame those roads I travelled that seemed to lead nowhere and the companions I have lost and am losing along the way.  Of course the easiest, most human response is to call myself a fool for chasing the unattainable, loving some who did not recognize my value and trusting those who could not respect that sacred bond.  And I have been a fool on occasion, with no doubt.  While people who genuinely care for me tried to point out the giant, blinking DON’T WALK SIGN above my head.
But much more often than that I have been brave.  Brave to try things I wasn’t sure would work, brave to go places that were not familiar to me, brave to love people who were wounded and unable to reciprocate.  Brave to say “I can do better” and “That was my fault”;  brave to admit, “I gave it my best” and “I did what I thought was right.”  Brave to face myself every day and say, “Today we will have another go at this thing called life”, in spite of heartache, exhaustion, loss and grief.  In spite of insecurity and fear.

My Father used to say, “Every day is a good day” and this is the epic truth.  The day you fail is a good day; the day you lose is a good day; the day your heart breaks is a good day.  Because you are still here and doing the best you can with the information you have.  Every day we have a new shot at this thing called life.  Don’t let regret rob you of another second of it. 
When I had that accident I thought—if I had done one thing differently this horrible event would never have been—but with life, just the opposite is true.  If you had done one thing differently you might have lost your most valuable experiences, your most important lessons, your most profound relationships.  So love all of it and all of you with no regrets.