The Art of Discomfort

The topic of discomfort has recently been resonating with me. I spent the last few years for the most part feeling calm and content so I have a real benchmark for how my mind feels when it’s peaceful. Discomfort will always arise, it could be from any one or more aspects of our lives; financial stress, work, family, relationships, social pressure, our expectations or holding on to past experiences. Some of our biggest vices are born from the mind trying to deter discomfort in our lives and finding ways to mask or push that feeling away. 

When I was settled in London discomfort was intrinsic to my everyday life; I didn’t fully acknowledge it or know it was an option or choice, it was just always there.

At the time I found a release to take myself away from being in this reality; drinking. My eating disorder already had me living under a punishing regime each week and when the opportunity came to escape from myself it was always in a big way. I wasn’t aware why I liked to drink so much but just that when I had a drink I didn’t want to stop until I couldn’t feel anything else. I wanted to be numb, to let go of this regimental life and lose control.

I was always the girl at the party who couldn’t stand up by the end of the night. I thought I was just having fun, until it wasn’t fun anymore. The older I became the more obvious it was as everyone else learnt to handle their drink. The level of discomfort in my life was a never ending snowball as I had to face people and their judgements about me and my behaviour.

The cracks were showing enough that my manager at work suggested I take a week away and go back home to my family to clear my head. This started a new routine of detoxing sometimes for months at a time. I wanted to take control but as soon as I picked up another drink it didn’t make any difference, my old habits weren’t going anywhere. I felt as though I was in a constant battle and I was losing.

I was seeing a counsellor at one point who repeatedly questioned me about whether I had a problem with alcohol, to which I said I didn’t, I mean I wasn’t an alcoholic so of course I didn’t, so I stopped seeing her. I found myself choosing to be around people who encouraged that behaviour in me so I could hide the depth of the problem from myself.

The London life ended when I got to the tipping point where my level of pain and discomfort outweighed my ability to cope with it any longer.

If I’m honest I never really had the desire to travel but I just couldn’t stay at home, I needed a fresh start and it was absolutely one of the best things that ever happened to me.

Yoga gave me the direction I needed. Living in a yoga retreat forces you to face your thoughts, memories and emotions; you cannot escape from yourself there. Even difficult memories deeply stored away creep up to the surface.

Many people are drawn to yoga retreats to heal, reflect and relax but then realise it’s hard work to live a yogic lifestyle, it’s quiet and there are no distractions so you have to learn to spend time with yourself. Boredom is just the mind trying to grasp on to something; it’s reacting to discomfort in the way it knows how. Notice what you want to do when you feel bored or sad. Where do you find distraction and comfort?

Simplicity is a fundamental aspect of the yoga life, at the basic level we must learn to detach ourselves from our possessions. A yoga retreat should be simple not luxurious, it’s a small lesson in learning to live in what might be discomfort at the beginning but over time it becomes comfortable; you already have everything you will ever need.

Consumer society conditions us to get used to having everything we want when we want it, it’s not often we’re faced with a disciplined routine that we haven’t chosen. A yoga retreat life involves early nights, getting up at the crack of dawn to practice yoga and meditate, and set meal times with simple vegetarian only food. It doesn’t sound difficult but I’ve seen people so challenged by this alone.

Yoga and meditation themselves create physical and mental discomfort, it is only by regularly creating and practicing being in discomfort that we can learn how to notice and manage this feeling. We can train ourselves to accept, be calm and coexist in its presence. Self-obversation can lead us to the source of the discomfort, many times we react without understanding why we’ve acted in a certain way.

Self-discipline is the key that will eventually allow you to live a free life where you aren’t tied to the habits that don’t serve you. If you go back to your old vices, which will happen, it’s a sign you need to keep going deeper into the practice. Your mind has been creating these diversion tactics for a long time so have compassion for yourself, working through them takes time and dedication but it is possible.

If a part of your life is having a significant negative impact on you then do your best to change it but it is not an option to never feel any pain or discomfort. It is unavoidable so we must learn how to control our reaction to it, and not to fear or run away every time it surfaces.

An important part of my healing process was to spend time back at home in between my travels and to face that part of my life. You cannot run from what has happened or ignore the inevitable fact that at some point you will have to confront it or it will confront you.

When discomfort surfaces for me now I turn to yoga, it’s often when I let my practice slide that it finds a way in. I’m working on channeling these lessons on the mat in the most positive way I know how.

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