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How to Face Discomfort – and why it matters


It is a little-mentioned fact that mindfulness requires bravery. It takes courage to face our less appealing aspects. The feelings that make us squirm; the actions we don’t want others to witness.

 

I have learned that the most satisfying times are when I truly inhabit my life. I wish to notice the moments that make up my days. To be aware of my senses - the beauty around me, the breath in my body, my emotions, and my thoughts. And to exclude nothing, embracing both enjoyable and unpleasant experiences. I try to spot the stories I tell myself, and how I’m reacting to whatever is happening. This opens up different, more creative choices. The intention to be present in my daily life has brought great benefits.

 

Yet I find that for me, as for many of us, it is not realistic to be mindful in every single moment. I can decide to lose myself in a movie or a book because I want it to take me out of myself. I see no harm in choosing to switch off from time to time.

 

But I also switch off when I don't like my experience. For us all, the urge to avoid unpleasant feelings can be compelling. We don’t like experiencing pain, anger, or sadness. Even mild boredom or tiredness can be hard to stay with. So we resist, casting around for distraction. We might reach for the phone and start scrolling, or raid the kitchen cupboard. And the habit of avoidance can be subtle and not easy to recognise. How to respond to this tendency to resist difficult experience?

 

One approach is to explore the resistance. To pause before continuing towards distraction. To start with, we can notice our go-to sources of comfort. We are all different and seek comfort in different places. Is it food, sleep, news, alcohol, phone, games, television, sex, shopping, drugs? The list can be long (add your own favourites!). The next time you notice yourself moving towards the promise of comfort, hold back. Notice how you feel. This is the key to recognising resistance. If you are opening the fridge, it might be lunch time and you are simply hungry. But maybe it is not lunch time and you aren’t hungry. You might notice tension in the body with uncomfortable feelings and thoughts. This is what resistance feels like. Be curious. Keep the pause going a little longer. What you do next is up to you. You might still choose to go with the snack to ease the feelings. You have at least noticed. Or you could refuse the snack and learn something new about yourself. Start to see the real cause of your dissatisfaction.


This has been a difficult blog to write, as I acknowledge how often I don’t put this into practice. Even while writing, I got up to grab a sweet. Ouch. Yet seeing this, in itself, is useful.

 

Seeking our comfort zone can deliver short-term relief from discomfort. But avoidance does not resolve an issue. Rather, it tends to make it more tenacious. In the words of Carl Jung, “what we resist, persists”. In my bones, I know this to be true. There is a deeper satisfaction in being able to be present with whatever life brings – the good, the bad, and the ugly. This capacity develops equanimity and wisdom.

 

This has been a difficult blog to write, as I acknowledge how often I don’t put this into practice. Even while writing, I got up to grab a sweet. Ouch. Yet seeing this, in itself, is useful. It is a little-mentioned fact that mindfulness requires bravery. It takes courage to face our less appealing aspects. The feelings that make us squirm; the actions we don’t want others to witness.

 

But when I choose to pause and feel the resistance, I often find that the discomfort shifts. The craving passes. Being aware of resistance in this way can be fruitful. It un-sticks what has become entrenched and habitual. Every moment of choice has an effect. And choosing to confront the urge to avoid difficult experience makes us stronger.

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