Sunday, June 24, 2012

Comfort and Discomfort

Sunday Service Discussion Notes for June 17 and June 24, 2012

For two weeks we centered our discussion around the subject of Comfort and Discomfort.

It is sometimes said that life does not begin until we are uncomfortable. "Beyond this point there be dragons," as the maps of the old would caution about sailing into uncharted territory.

What makes us uncomfortable? For some of us it is envy - we see others around us who have things that we would like to have, or are living in a way that we wish we could enjoy ourselves. Many of us are made uncomfortable when other people try to make us believe like they do; we do not enjoy when others attempt to foist their agenda upon us. Some of us are uncomfortable if we perceive that others may not like us. A common thread here is that many of the things that bring discomfort come from other people, or more to the point, our reactions to, and interpretations of, the actions of these people. We can bring discomfort upon ourselves through how we choose to respond to the world at large. Shakespeare wrote, in Hamlet,  "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." We can build with our thoughts and feelings our own internal prison, much like Hamlet had done with how he felt about Denmark.

Why do these things make us uncomfortable? Fear was cited as a leading factor. We may be afraid that people will not like us, or will not approve of us. Perhaps we see a bit of ourselves in the people who make us most uncomfortable. Deepak Chopra said: "The people you react to most strongly, whether with love or hate, are projections of your inner world. What you most hate is what you most deny in yourself."

One suggestion to aid us in our evolution was to "Become comfortable with discomfort." To become comfortable is to say, "It is what it is." To accept reality at face value and not strain against the flow of things.

We tend to think of comfort as a positive thing, and discomfort as a negative. However, we noted that comfort is not positive if it is in complacency. Too much comfort may cause stagnation, can dull our senses and blind us to realities that may be obvious to everyone else. Maintaining the status quo does not do much to motivate us to grow.

Sometimes we need to choose between two paths - the comfortable and the uncomfortable. We agreed that we need to choose the path that will give us growth, and perhaps even benefit others. Our facilitator, Lara, shared a story about how she had to make a choice about the health insurance that was provided by her employer. On one hand there was the ever-present worry of, "What do I do if I really get sick or injured? How will I pay for the care I need?" and on the other hand there was the daunting expense of the insurance premiums that would be deducted from her pay. After chewing on this decision for quite some time, she came to the conclusion that she would simply not be able to afford the insurance and would have to do without, stating that she would do her best to take very good care of herself physically so that she could avoid getting sick. Her employer (and good friend) was very distraught upon hearing this and felt strongly that Lara needed to have health insurance. After some time had passed, she discovered that her employer is now announcing that they will be covering 100% of their staff's insurance. Her friend was so affected on a personal level that she moved to push through this change at her place of business. Not only did Lara's decision eventually result in a turn-around that allowed her to have insurance, but all of the other employees at her company are now also afforded this opportunity as well. As we can see, her choice to take an uncomfortable path (doing without insurance) resulted in a positive outcome for both herself and others.

We discussed the idea of approaching discomfort with courage instead of fear. We can create for ourselves a comfortable bubble, but then we can break through it into discomfort. As we conquer the new, uncomfortable situation, we will eventually create yet another comfort bubble that we can break through again, each time creating growth.

After much talk of embracing discomfort, we then arrived at the question, "How much discomfort is healthy?" For example: if we saw a child playing in a busy street this would certainly make us uncomfortable. But we have been talking about not being afraid of discomfort. Surely something is awry here.  We agreed that we need to find a balance in our lives between comfort and discomfort, and to be able to recognize when an overabundance of either state could be damaging. Other examples of times when discomfort should not be ignored or weathered were given:  perhaps a work relationship has become inappropriate, or we are dealing with emotional pain that should not be ignored.

One participant gave an example of how discomfort can sometimes prevent us from achieving our ends. She discussed how, although she is currently (comfortably) employed, she was searching for a new job. She stated how she saw potential opportunities pass her by because she was uncomfortable applying for certain positions out of fear that she might not be experienced with everything listed in the job ad, how the potential employers might reject her, and assumptions about the flooded pool of job candidates in the current market who would be edging her out of the competition. She realized that she needed to push through her discomfort and simply apply for the jobs, or she would never achieve the "big break" she was seeking.

Another story was shared about taking chances and believing that they will work out. A participant talking about how at one point in her life, she had made a decision to move to Chicago, a place she had never lived before and knew next to nothing about. She drove out there with no specific plan, just wanting to explore the area and see where the world would take her. She was driving through various areas of the city and not really liking the neighborhoods she was seeing, and was feeling a bit disheartened. Soon, however, as the road curved in a different direction, she found herself in a new area that appealed to her immensely. She confidently reported to her sister that she had found the neighborhood where she was going to live and the place where she was going to work. She applied for a job at the university, and was hired shortly thereafter. Her lesson in this was that we need to take the leap of faith. Where we are supposed to be, we will be.

The old adage, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained," seemed to resonate with many in attendance for this discussion. One person told us how he had been entertaining the idea of starting his own business. After a long period of rationalizing why he couldn't proceed in one aspect or another, he stated that after attending the first week of this discussion topic, he was prompted to really think about how his personal discomfort with the new experience was essentially preventing him from taking the first steps and breaking new ground for his business. Because of this he decided that it was time for him to move outside of his comfort zone and get started with his plans.

A final story was mentioned, that one person felt was an analogy for the themes of comfort and discomfort with regard to growth. This person had a rose bush in their yard. They knew they should prune the bush, but felt inexplicably guilty at the prospect of doing so, imagining that they were "hurting" the plant by cutting off parts of it.  Despite these feelings, they did prune the rose, and have noted that since then there was a burst of new growth, and that the new leaves and stems were bigger than before and more healthy looking. This is a good example of the principle that "If no action is taken, no growth will be had."

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Whose Life Are You Living?: Part 2

Sunday Service Discussion Notes for June 10, 2012

Sunday June 10th we concluded our discussion on Whose Life Are You Living? The summary for Part 1 of this discussion may be found here.

We asked the question, "How do we know when listening to others is better for you than what you want?" Lara, our facilitator for this discussion, shared a thought from author and Jungian Analyst James Hollis: One of the questions we need to ask ourselves when we consider whether we are being authentic, and whose advice we need to heed to achieve this end is "Does this experience make you larger or smaller?" We agreed that it can sometimes be very difficult to tell whether it is best to listen to ourselves or to take the advice of others in a given situation. There may be times when we are not fully self-aware, or possibly in denial of the reality of a situation, and our inner voice may not be giving us helpful direction.

The Gifts of Imperfection is a book by author BrenĂ© Brown, in which she offers guidance on the daily practice of letting go of who we think we should be and seeing what we are. She writes, “Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.  It’s going to bed at night thinking,Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”

The question was raised: How important is it for you to be right? A story was shared about a person who was involved in a car accident, and the insurance company decided that this person was at fault. This person's friends are encouraging her to take the other driver to court over the issue, to prove that the insurance company and the other driver are in the wrong. She is now faced with choosing to go through the rigmarole of the legal system, which she would like to avoid, in order to vindicate herself, or to simply let the matter go and get on with her life, with the written records indicating that she was in the wrong, even though she does not feel that this is the case. She is asking herself, "Do you want to be right, or happy? Is right feeling good or is it doing good for yourself?"

We wanted to know what is the big question to ask ourselves to know if we are living an authentic life and is it good for us. The first thing we might ask is, "Does it feel good to me?" This prompted one participant to note that it can sometimes be a challenge to know whether "feeling good" is enough to justify a behavior. The example of substance abuse was given - certain actions may feel good to us, but in reality, they may not be beneficial in the long run. How do we know the difference, especially when we are sometimes too close to the situation to be objective. This dilemma gave birth to the next question we can ask, "Is it good for me?" Perhaps if we are able to discern if various actions and behaviors are good for us overall, we can begin to tell the difference between pursuits that feel good, and pursuits that also are good. We decided that if we can answer 'yes' for both of those questions, then we believe we are on the right track.

We finally asked the question "How often do we live our lives outside of our comfort zone?" and decided that this opened up a range of other questions on the matter of comfort and discomfort in our lives, which will be our topic for the next two weeks (June 17th and 24th).

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Whose Life Are You Living?: Part 1

Sunday Service Discussion Notes for June 3, 2012

Last Sunday we began our discussion on Whose Life Are You Living?

In the first phase of our lives, we learn how to survive from our parents and family. We learn about the world from our teachers and peers, and later our employers. We know that each of us has our own dreams and goals, and that these do not always coincide with the ideals of our family or community. How do we make these happen in spite of what others believe we should be doing with our lives?

Our facilitator, Lara, told a story of how she had been planning for a vacation. She had a few different places that she wanted to visit, but decided that she had to choose just one place to go to keep the budget under control. While she was visiting a bookstore, exploring travel books on likely destinations, a friend admonished her when she picked up a book about Istanbul, her firstl travel choice. This friend, and others to come, expressed concerns about her traveling alone to this location, and did their best to steer her into seeing Italy instead. She allowed herself to be swayed and began planning for an Italian vacation. She started brushing up on speaking some Italian, and trying to decide which places in Italy to see. Even at this point in the process, her friends were still trying to insist that they knew best which areas she would like the most, despite her protests that she did not really care to visit them. At a certain point she realized that she was no longer excited planning this vacation and it had become a chore. She realized that this was because she was not really going where she wanted to go, and had merely acquiesced to the pressure of well-meaning peers. Once she decided to change back to her original choice, Istanbul, she was able to recapture her enthusiasm about the trip. This showed her that she needs to live an authentic life, and be on a path of her own making, rather than letting others dictate her actions.

Another participant talked about how during the early part of her married life, her husband was a great sports enthusiast. He was so excited about each sport while he was involved in it, that he wanted to involve his wife as well. He bought her golf clubs and lessons for her birthday one year. She tried the lessons, but discovered that she did not care for golf. He decided to take up sailing, and lessons were given to his wife for this as well. She stated that she is not a competitive person at all, and so when her husband wanted get involved at racing the boats, she went along for the ride but did not enjoy it very much. Archery and tennis also captured his attentions for a time, and again she was involved in these, regardless of interest. She discovered that she was living essentially her husband's life and not her own unique one. That she had become an extension of him. She said that only later after her husband passed away, does she now feel like she is her own person as far as her interests and hobbies are concerned. We agreed that this story illustrated how, when in a relationship, we have to compromise with our partner, but that we should make sure that one of the two people is not doing all of the compromising.

One person spoke of a short video clip they had seen online* that featured a two or three year old boy at a church singing a song with lyrics that showed extreme prejudice and hate toward a particular group of people, and the church members applauding and cheering him on. We discussed how this little boy was only singing this song because it was something that he had learned to parrot that would grant him huge amounts of approval from his community. We talked about how people (children in particular) are extremely motivated by approval, and that many of us choose to take certain actions, whether we are consciously aware of it or not) in order to gain the approval of others, without considering whether the actions would feel good and right to us if the approval factor was removed. Because of this, we agreed that it is very important that we all learn to think for ourselves so that we may choose the most authentic path for each of us. We agreed that authenticity can be hard to find, and that we are all subjected to societal, cultural, and peer pressures that want us to fit in with the group.

A Shakespeare quote was shared:
"All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances;  And one man in his time plays many parts." 
The question was then asked, "Who's writing the script?" The group was asked to think about who was dictating what their "life script" would be.

How do we find what it is that we really want to do and then pursue it? How many of us are doing what we want to do in life? How many have something we want to do but are not doing it yet? Why?

One participant stated that he knows what he wants to do, but that he feels that he is obligated to accomplish the tasks of his "dutiful self" first, before he allows himself time to move on to the things he really wants to do. Responsibilities like earning an income, maintaining a household, etc. After these, he stated that he would have maybe twenty minutes per day to involve himself in the activities of his choosing. How then, we asked, does one balance our responsibilities, which may not be tasks that we truly want to complete, with our desires and true goals?

Many questions were raised near the end of our discussion: Are you living your true, authentic life? Is it yours and not someone else's? Is it socially acceptable and expected? Does that make it your life? How do you know?

With all of these questions still to discuss, we decided to continue this topic next week as well.

*Normally we like to include links to any video clips that we mention in our discussion, however this clip contains material that could be offensive, we will forgo it in favor of maintaining a positive discussion environment.