Internet Inspiration – May 23, 2014
May 23, 2014
Internet Inspiration – May 30, 2014
May 30, 2014

On Tolerating Discomfort and #YesAllWomen

Friends, I hope you had a wonderful weekend. For those of you in the US, I hope you enjoyed your memorial day.

I’m not sure if you caught the #YesAllWomen activism happening on social media this week, but it was profound for me, and I’ve had it on my mind for several days. If you haven’t read it, here’s a quick summary, and I’ll have more excellent articles in this Friday’s link roundup. I do encourage you to do your own investigation and see what shows up.

I want to share something a teacher of mine brought into relief this week, and that’s the idea of tolerating discomfort. He says that there are always divine qualities being cultivated in us in the context of our entire experience.

So imagine I’m working out, and I’m just not interested. It hurts, I’m uncomfortable, and I don’t enjoy the experience the way I enjoy, say, savoring biscotti with my coffee. But the truth is, I kind of expect this level of discomfort when I work out, and I know that when I work out I’m developing and cultivating strength, endurance, persistence, patience, and several other qualities. And I choose to keep working out, even though I’m uncomfortable in the moment.

But it’s hard sometimes to keep this logic and knowing when I go out into the world and deal with my emotional stuff. Like, if I experience heartbreak, or boredom, or vulnerability, I will often reach for food to stay separate from that pain. If I think about humiliation, I’d really rather just ignore the whole topic, or hate on someone else.

My teacher points out that one of the most important capacities that a human being can develop is the capacity to experience discomfort without reacting immediately. If you react to discomfort it means that you missed the opportunity to act from wisdom. This is not to say you shouldn’t ever do anything; it just means that if you can pause, you can choose your action rather than just letting your body go into a fight or flight reaction.

I was thinking of that this week as I read through the #YesAllWomen tweets and posts. This issue is deeply personal for me, and it’s only in the past year that I’ve realized and been able to face how traumatic this pervasive, subtle misogyny has been for me in my life. All I could do was stand and applaud for everyone who spoke their truth. For, as Ursula K. Le Guin says,

We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains. That’s what I want — to hear you erupting. You Mount St. Helenses who don’t know the power in you — I want to hear you…. If we don’t tell our truth, who will?

As you might expect, there were some participants that tried to hijack the conversation. The ones I want to comment on here are the people who tried to respond with #NotAllMen. And my heart goes out to these people who felt attacked by these tweets, but the truth is they entirely missed the point.

And this is the hard thing that happens when you start to speak your truth: people take it personally, as though you’re being your authentic self specifically to shut them down. You’re living your life at them.

This is hard for everyone. It turns truth into an act of war and forces someone (or everyone) to be completely defended. There’s no more opportunity for authenticity when everyone has to worry about how someone else is going to react.

Friends, your truth matters. Your friends’ truths matter. Your family’s and relatives’ truths matter. And if you immediately spring into defense, you’ve put yourself into a fight or flight response. Now your body thinks this is a matter of life and death, and you have missed an opportunity to act from wisdom.

This defense keeps the deep, core issues away from us, separate. It’s the same as you breaking your leg, and someone not wanting to reset it because it’s going to hurt you. It’s the same as me skipping out on workouts because I don’t want to feel even the tiniest bit of discomfort. It misses the point. Sometimes you must face the discomfort in order to really see what’s happening.

Fight or flight keeps issues black and white. Everything must be categorized, and it can only be categorized in dichotomy: either/or, right/wrong, good/bad, safe/unsafe, pleasure/pain. The slightest discomfort means that your survival is in danger. It completely ignores nuance and grey space.

And if you think that your brain can tell a difference between someone criticizing you and a bear chasing you, I’m here to tell you that your body cannot. It reacts to any real or imagined stressor exactly the same way.

You must cultivate an ability to see color, and for that you must learn to seek pleasure and tolerate discomfort. It’s not enough to logic it out and say, “Yeah, yeah, I’m cultivating strength. Ok I got it. This sucks. F*ck you.” You need to get embodied and truly feel what you’re feeling and be where you are. Oriah wrote beautifully on this topic just today.

Now, I know that how we view conditions- both inner and outer- profoundly impacts our experience. But I was tired- not dying, not angry about being tired, not panicked or catastrophizing in any way. Because I could acknowledge I was tired, I went to bed early.

What bothers me about this so-called positive thinking is that it assumes that all thoughts of what is, when what is does not meet our ideals, are negative. There are often truly positive things that come out of days when I am tired and can acknowledge it- I deepen my kindness toward self and my compassion for others who are not having a full-throttle day. Tired isn’t in itself negative or positive- sometimes it’s just what is.

Fundamentalist positive thinking implies that acknowledging conditions creates them, and that denying what is will instantly create desirable change. But while we are human beings we are embodied souls/ ensouled bodies living in a physical reality prescribed by certain conditions. If I jump off the roof of my building with only positive thoughts about flying, I’m still going to hit the ground, because gravity trumps thinking in the experience of falling.

This #YesAllWomen tag was highlighting a deep betrayal. It’s highlighting a deep divide between the experiences of men and women. It doesn’t purport to speak for every gender, every race, every personal experience. It doesn’t seek to treat people like the lowest common denominator. That’s not the point. The point was to shed light on a hard, painful, damaging paradigm, and to acknowledge reality.

I tell weight loss clients all the time that you can’t lose what you don’t have. I can’t lose a million dollars if I don’t have it to start with. You can’t lose 40 pounds if you haven’t fully owned that weight. And you can’t change a paradigm unless you’re willing to acknowledge it first.

These tweets didn’t demand immediate fixing, and I think that’s what was so eye-opening for people. Women stepped up and spoke about reality, a reality unknown to many people. At this very moment, the most important action you can take is to just be still, and be willing to look at the cold, hard truth of what nearly all women call “normal.”

When you read those tweets or go through your life, listening to people say hard truths, what does it bring up for you? In what ways do you try to escape? If these challenges were cultivating a divine quality, what would it be?

My loves, as always, I welcome your thoughts.