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."

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