I stood before Kathy, frozen, as big fat tears welled in my eyes. She asked me the tough questions in her gentle, loving and non-judgemental way. I was “emoting,” as she says. All the complex emotions I often contain were intensified and spilling out of me.
“I’m stuck,” I choked.
“Okay,” she said. “Then let’s just sit with what you’re feeling.”
“I can do that?” I asked, seeking reassurance and permission to not take action; to not do anything. To stay stuck, where it was sorrowful but safe.
“Yes. Sometimes we need to simply lean into the uncomfortable.”
Kathy and I had this conversation two weeks ago. After having become a bit stagnant, the Universe saw fit to give me a good shake. It got my attention.
The New Moon was the very next day. Each new moon I write down a set of intentions for the cycle. Among those intentions I scribbled: Lean into the uncomfortable.
There’s something about the word ‘lean’ that is safe. In yoga we are constantly leaning into the uncomfortable, knowing full well we can pull back when the discomfort becomes too great. It is a way of challenging ourselves, yet listening to our bodies. Until Kathy suggested I lean into my emotional discomfort, I didn’t connect the two. I am often frozen in place, terrified to step into the unknown, the uncertain. I despise the discomfort. It has been my way to run from it, numb it, or viciously attack it. Like so many others, I, too have numbed my discomfort with drugs, alcohol, sex and food. I have hid from it with sleep. I have attacked it by making others feel as uncomfortable as I did.
But now, equipped with new vocabulary I intended to begin to “lean” ever so gently into that which makes me feel uncomfortable. I started small, experiencing my hunger and sitting with it, rather than rushing to satiate it. Every time I felt uncomfortable for whatever reason, I reminded myself to lean into it. I was like a child dipping a toe into water to test the temperature.
This was a start.
Earlier this week, I suffered tremendous emotional discomfort. From the moment I woke up until the moment I fell asleep I felt it. My first instinct was to call out of work, drink Nyquil and sleep the day away. In times of discomfort we so often resort back to our old patterns of behavior. But after all this work I was able to identify it as that; a pattern. So instead I said to myself, “This is uncomfortable. But we’re gonna lean into it. We’re gonna show up for life anyway.”
And so I went to work.
Throughout the day my thoughts waged war on themselves. In a desperate attempt to quiet them, I focused on my work. I knew the night would be torturous without a distraction and I couldn’t allow it to be food. So in an act of Herculean emotional effort, I signed up for a yoga class after work and promised myself I’d go. During yoga, I continued to ease into the uncomfortable, pushing my body deeper into poses, combating the thoughts that wrestled around in my mind. One of the thoughts was fear over what I would do after yoga…
I know this may seem vague, since I haven’t gone into why I was so upset. But the truth is that it’s irrelevant. If it’s not one struggle, it’s another. Life is full of them. And I need to learn how to lean into them without resorting to destructive and avoidance behaviors.
After yoga, my urge was to crawl into bed. The leaning I was doing was far from restful, and I was exhausted. But instead, I had a good cry in an effort to release some of what I was feeling – another way of experiencing my discomfort. Afterward, I took a hot shower since I knew it would do me good. I dressed comfortably and put on thick, warm socks, a healthy way of easing some discomfort. And since I have learned that life doesn’t stop when we have a hard day (as much as we wish it would), I started making the turkey chili for my work holiday pot luck.
For me, skipping the occasional meal is not an act of destruction, but one of self-care. So I did not eat dinner. I feared that once food entered my mouth, I’d ramsack my kitchen hunting for more like a shark on the scent of blood. I couldn’t risk doing this in an effort to numb my discomfort. And so I allowed myself to feel it. And in order to feel it, I couldn’t eat.
At last, I could go to sleep. I leaned into my discomfort for an entire day without resorting to old patterns of destructive behavior. As upset and exhausted as I was, I couldn’t help feeling an inkling of pride. I had dipped my toe into unfamiliar waters, and survived to tell the tale.
Unfortunately, the discomfort has not passed since. It has shifted. Once again this morning I debated calling out of work. And once again I made the decision to show up for life, fearful that staying home would enable me to wallow in my discomfort and exacerbate a lingering anxiety. I am proud of my choice and grateful for my decision.
It wasn’t until I wrote this post that I’ve realized how much most people lean into the uncomfortable on a daily basis. It amazes me, since my pattern has always been to give in or numb. Every day people with broken hearts, sadness, anger, and tremendous worries get up and show up and continue on with their lives despite their tremendous discomfort. I find it brave and I am in awe of their strength to do this.
I’m working on my leaning muscles so that I may be stronger and better at facing my problems and fears, rather than avoiding them. I will continue leaning into the uncomfortable. And when I’m ready, I will walk. But for now, it is enough simply to lean into the discomfort.