Leaning Into Discomfort

The thing about becoming increasingly “conscious” is that it means you’re actually opening up to the full spectrum of life — not just what Mooji calls the “chocolate flavored moments”. In my experience, awakening has meant being more (not less) acutely plugged into emotional, mental and physical discomfort.

Right now, for example, my feet are throbbing.  They’re swollen, tired and begging for a(nother) massage.  My eyes are aching with fatigue.  I have a slight headache  My energy field feels a bit sluggish.

Lately (all semester, really) I’ve been all up in my stressful feelings.  I mean, stress has just really presented itself in all of its neurotic glory.  I’ve been very aware of the physiological signs — insomnia, elevated heart-rate, shortness of breath, a sense of restlessness, body aches.  I’ve been aware of low-level signs of fear and anxiety.

Even more importantly, I’ve noticed an increasing alertness around my own resistance to physical, emotional and mental discomfort.  With time, I’ve cultivated the ability to distinguish between the subtle difference between the actual discomfort itself and the second layer of suffering the ego generally produces — a knee-jerk, perhaps even biologically-driven resistance to feeling bad.

In the past, I could only recognize this second layer of suffering retrospectively. These days, I routinely catch myself in the moment — noticing my own resistance and succumbing to it almost immediately.

Eckhart Tolle has a great quote about this.  He says, to paraphrase — when you notice yourself unhappiness within yourself, experiment with saying (and meaning): “I don’t mind feeling unhappy.”  In other words, accept it.

Tolle explains that accepting unhappiness, sadness, anger, disturbing feelings and discomfort doesn’t mean that we resign ourselves to staying there.  Instead, it actually opens up a space for us to relax more deeply into the present moment.  The double burden of feeling bad and feeling bad about feeling bad is lifted. Grounded in the present — or, more accurately, in our Presence — new possibilities, feelings, choices and actions become possible.

These days, I say an awful lot of thank-yous . . . and not just for the things that the ego selectively views as “blessings”.  Thank you for the foot ache, for the nerve-wracking stress, for getting soaked in the rain the other night, for the disagreement, for the unmet expectations, for the fear and the sleep deprivation.  Thank you for the self-doubt, the self-loathing, the self-pity and the self-aggrandizement.  Thank you for the cold wind snapping at my face, the mean look that stranger gave me, the racist cab driver and the misunderstanding that left me feeling bereft.

Thank you for the thing that happened that I didn’t want to happen, and for the thing that did not happen that I wanted to happen.

Thank you, because gratitude is the only sane option in a universe in which whatever happened has already happened.

Making peace with my shadows and expressing gratitude in the midst of suffering means coming to terms with the fact that I am made of All This — the chocolate flavored moments and the shitty moments, too.  And as I lean in to discomfort, I’m progressively letting go of the fear of fear — our primordial aversion to the unknown.

Right there in the maelstrom of regret, sadness, stress, fear, jealousy, shame or anger, I remind myself to relax.  It’s okay to feel what I feel.  Breathing in, I feel my feelings. Breathing out, I know my true Self – my Higher Self – is beyond all feeling.

In a flash, I experience the transcendental reality of Consciousness that remains completely untouched by any thought or feeling — even as it makes all thoughts and feelings possible  Slipping ever more deeply into my own discomfort, I invite negative energy to find what Adyashanti calls “resolution” — the blessing of my acceptance, the full embrace of my compassion, the permission to be as it is, at home in the safety of my Self.

Now, the irony is that when you lean into discomfort, you generally feel better. The difference now, though, is that you don’t try to hold onto the warm and fuzzies. You no longer believe in the silly idea that life should always feel comfortable.  You know, as the Buddhists say, that this existence is full of suffering.  But you also learn, through practice, to assert (perhaps on faith, at first, but later, through genuine recognition) a sense of gratitude for the growing pains — knowing that the fruit of being stretched and challenged is a deepening realization of your true nature. You know that comfort, just like discomfort, is fleeting.  We can’t keep anything.  And that’s perfectly, perfectly, perfectly okay.

Self Care

This, after a long day of teaching, writing and errands.

20140422-224508.jpg

I managed to get in 8 hours of rest, started my day with meditation, a smoothie (peach, superfood greens and chia) and Mooji. Met my minimum daily writing goal (30 minutes), picked up groceries, did the laundry, made delicious tapas for dinner and prepped for a talk I’m giving tomorrow. Grateful for my TAs, whose dedication and competence allow me manage my time effectively. Thanks to their help and collaboration, I was able to make progress on my research between teaching and office hours — a monumental feat.

There were things I didn’t cross off my to do list. Many things. But the day is done. Sleep, now. Merciful sleep.

3 Lessons We Can Learn from Overcommitment

MeThis semester, I’m learning quite a lot about over-commitment. Over the past month or so, I gave three talks across the country while trying to find time to teach, run the Race, Ethnicity and Inequality workshop at SBU, mentor undergrads and graduate students, fulfill treasurer duties for SREM, handle service obligations, write peer reviews and make progress on several papers and the book project. Oh, and then there’s also the writing group I’m part of, and, gosh, everything else. Finances. Self-care. Family. Social life. Romance. Unexpected crises. SLEEP. Or rather, insomnia. I got very, very little sleep during the entire months of February and March. When I started feeling the ill effects on my health, I realized it was time to take a step back and recommit to my well-being.

I’ve had to make tough, embarrassing decisions about cutting back on various obligations and deadlines that simply do not fit within my time-space continuum. But in so doing, I’m keeping notes and taking stock of what works, what doesn’t and making a conscious decision to strategically lower my standards.

Aside from complete and total exhaustion, one of the main reasons I haven’t written much here lately is the staggering sense of shame I feel about falling behind on several writing deadlines. On the upside, I’ve already written far more than I have in any other teaching semester since I started my job, thanks to the practices and support system I established by participating in the Faculty Success Program. But I haven’t done all that I hoped and dreamed. And you know what? Despite the very uncomfortable feelings that have come up this semester, I’m learning that this failure to meet my unrealistically high expectations is a really, really good thing. Here are three reasons why:

1) Over-commitment can help us learn how to make better choices. One of the best things about the discomfort I’ve felt these past two months is that I’m learning just how much is too much. Sometimes we don’t know our limits until we push ourselves a bit too far. If we commit to a daily practice of conscious awareness, then we are acutely tuned into unpleasantness as it presents itself in our body, mind and energy field. I’ve been very, very, very aware of the physiological effects of stress and fatigue that have manifested over the past couple of months. It’s to the point where I don’t even try to lie or hide it whatsoever. When folks ask me how I am, if I’m feeling shitty, I say so. I don’t even have the energy to front.

This acute awareness of my limitations is teaching me how to set more realistic goals the next time I do my semester planning.

2) Taking on too much can help us get clear on our priorities. As the semester progressed and I felt myself falling behind in variously stressful ways, I watched my self-care practice crumble and felt lost about how to get back on track. Thankfully, several support systems helped me assess and adjust. My girlfriend and I try to hold ourselves accountable for taking care of ourselves — something that’s not always easy to do in the midst of the urge to merge. Mom checks in to make sure I’m taking vitamins (I’m not) and exercising (getting better). My weekly writing buddy and I have an intentional practice of checking in about our self-care (or lack thereof) and trying to troubleshoot solutions for what physically and emotionally ails us. I also have a really great therapist that I started seeing again, after letting our appointments slide for several months.

All in all, I think it’s pretty fucking awesome that I caught myself mid-way through an extraordinarily stressful semester and made a conscious decision to prioritize my well-being.

This has meant, concretely:

- getting 8 hours of sleep every night no matter what (instead of the 4-5 I was barely squeezing in)

- making a commitment to either take a walk or go to the gym daily (after a 6 week hiatus)

- setting aside time to get my finances in order

- stepping up my spiritual practice (more on that in my next post)

- shifting back to a veganish lifestyle

- nourishing my creativity

- trying to respect some kind of boundaries with work (e.g. not letting myself work all night; not letting myself work all weekend)

3) Overcommitment can expand our capacity to love and forgive ourselves. I’ve had all kinds of shame come up this spring: Shame over not meeting all of my writing goals. Shame over missing and extending deadlines. Shame for having made the decisions that resulted in the consequences I’m now experiencing. But, thank God, as all of these shitty feelings emerged, I remained quite grounded in the bedrock of my spiritual practice — an on-going, conscious awareness of not only my thoughts, feelings and sense of beingness, but also a deep inner-knowing that none of this was or is a mistake. Life has unveiled to me again and again the fundamental truth that even when situations feel like a clusterfuck of a mistake — it’s still not a mistake. All of this is an intentional, divine unfolding.

I was, evidently, meant to attend all of those conferences and have those invigorating, exciting interactions with scholar-friends and colleagues. I was supposed to push myself past my comfort zone in order to better know myself, my boundaries and my priorities. I was supposed to aim a bit too high, and in so doing, write more during a teaching-semester than I ever have in the past. I was supposed to feel all of these uncomfortable feelings in order to transcend them.

I made a conscious decision to forgive myself for getting into this pickle and to extend love and acceptance to all that I am feeling and learning through the process. And so, I’m blogging tonight, despite the fact that my professional plate is piled too high, because I realize that writing and connecting with you is also part of my self-care. And for goddess sake, it’s Friday night. The Work will get done — or it won’t — but right now? I’m going to finish this whisky, get my eight hours and love myself something fierce.