As spiritual teacher Pema Chödrön teaches us, one of the most important lessons in our spiritual journey is discovering that contentment----the ability to accept what is---lies not in the absence of discomfort, but in the acceptance of it. This way of living goes beyond tolerating discomfort to accepting it to maybe even embracing it.
Well, embracing it may feel a bit much at first, but what about starting with letting discomfort sit next to you on the couch and getting to know it a bit? Here's how that might go: "So, fear-of-being-alone, what are you about? Is there something you want me to know and understand about you? I must admit I'm afraid of you. What can I do to get you to go away? I keep shoving you off the couch, but the more I do that, the more you pester me! What's up with that?"
This way of approaching difficult emotions goes against our culture's dislike of pain and the strenuous lengths we go to avoid it: using alcohol, substances, busyness, food, shopping and the acquisition of things to cover up or distract ourselves. We focus on our external bodies and ignore our inner soul. However, I see in my clients' lives and in my own how sitting with our emotional discomfort can paradoxically lessen the impact of the pain. Sitting with what we are uncomfortable with can be a first step toward acceptance and understanding.
Recently a client sat on my office couch and cried. He cried for the first time in 12 years since his mother died from cancer. His agonized words came out haltingly, "I killed my mom because I was the one that gave the hospice nurse permission to finally increase the morphine to end her suffering. I killed her." He finally gave himself permission to sit with his grief and his guilt and stop pushing it away. We talked about alternative ways to describe his decision and he embraced this one: "I made a wrenching decision out of love to help my mom move toward peace as she left her dying body." At the end of the session, he said with surprise, "I feel lighter." Gnawing and judgmental guilt was transformed into love.
When we stop trying to escape our pain and instead move toward our pain with curiosity and compassion we can be freed up to experience the transformative healing that can result.