Now that I’m sixty years old it’s very easy to stress and strain my muscles, tendons and joints. I was one of those moms who prided herself on being able to pick up two grocery bags in one hand and a toddler in the other while opening the front door with the keys I’d kept in the palm of my right hand. If I was really feeling audacious, I’d swing the diaper bag over my shoulder and prop something on top of it. I thought I was being clever and saving time. Who needs to make two trips when you can catch it all on the first go round?
Apparently, I have not gained wisdom with age. So, last week, after awkwardly lifting a heavy object for much too great a distance, stressing and straining the whole time and telling myself, THAT’S GONNA HURT LATER, it did.
I don’t like the discomfort of body aches and pains. It reminds me of my stupidity, my cavalier attitude about my body’s ability to tolerate abuse and my limitations. But mostly, I don’t like what it does to my attitude. Discomfort leads to behavior that I am not proud of-impatience, irritability, snapping at my spouse, avoiding and complaining, followed by doing something else that strains a muscle, just to get it over with. I know that my awareness of my body’s limitations is something I work on every day, but somehow it is always overridden by my need to be expedient, as in the days of hauling an entire week of food for the family from my car into the house. More to the point, for me, feeling discomfort is a sign that I’ve failed at something, that I miscalculated and came up short, that I’ve not been able to control something in my life. I think that bothers me more than the physical pain and makes it all seem more intense. I can be very unforgiving of myself when I screw up, which means I struggle to be more tolerant of others who screw up.
So, recently I’ve begun to look at discomfort in a whole new way starting with ME! In the beginning, I thought it was enough to just admit the discomfort and move on. Unfortunately that led to a way around the problem of dealing with it-rationalize, avoid, resist-and so nothing would change. I am learning to be honest with myself. I AM going to screw up, make mistakes, find myself in situations that are not under my control. I WILL miscalculate or over estimate my abilities or tolerance for new and different things. I’m fallible, I’m human. It’s okay. If I forgive myself, it allows me to look compassionately on alternative ways of approaching the problem instead of saying “THERE IS NO PROBLEM”. And it makes me more tolerant and compassionate of others.
Recently, when my Arab gelding Wave was enlisted to participate in a Coaching with Horses session, my client pointed out that Wave did not look like he was interested in or happy about being included in the coaching process. We talked about individual personalities of horses and their tolerance for repetitive activity. A lot of the coaching session involves low energy movements and short conversations between myself and the human. Wave finds this of no use to him and heads to the gate, no doubt hoping to be allowed to graze on the grass just 5 feet from the door. But, on this occasion, I decided to allow Wave to pace and move around the door while we spoke outside the arena. By not acknowledging his presence or bringing the conversation back to his reaction to the circumstances, he soon wandered off to the other side of the arena, at one point stopping to look at the other horses outside in their paddocks. Our focus on HIS discomfort gave it more energy and made it more urgent for him. Without it, he found a way to deal with it.
In the wild, horses must deal with discomfort every day. Searching for food and water may lead them to discover that they must travel further than the previous day, only to find a limited amount of resources. Weather and other environmental stresses lead to uncomfortable days spent in the cold, wind and rain with little shelter, other than the warm bodies of their herd mates. Horses learn to adapt their behavior or accept the discomfort. It is a part of life they cannot avoid.
Humans, on the other hand, spend a lot of their time trying to avoid discomfort-emotional pain, loss, fear of everything from failure to death, even though no one in the history of humankind has been able to go through life untouched by these real life occurrences. I have begun to search my mind and the resources at my disposal to find another way to approach discomfort. Can I learn from it? Can I be at peace with it even though I don’t like it? Can I be like the horse who adapts and finds shelter in the comfort of others? I can avoid discomfort for short stretches of time, like telling myself that the food I eat is not affecting my weight, my body or my self worth, that there’s nothing wrong with an occasional “indulging”. But then, just two weeks later I’m faced with the same discomfort. I consider myself to be pretty intelligent, but smarts has nothing to do with it. We think we are avoiding discomfort, when in reality we are hiding from it-like a young toddler pulling the blanket over her head, convinced she is now invisible.
Until I admitted that I was unhappy with my choices and the consequences, I could not make new choices. I’ve been blessed with good friends who have given me some new options for healthy, tasty food that I am now experimenting with daily. I’ve begun to enjoy my trips to the store, exploring the aisles, seeking out new foods that can pass the test and using the computer app that gives each of them a grade for nutritional value. I like that-having spent my youth as one of the smartest kids in my class (I’ve got the ribbons to prove it), I’m very motivated by good grades.
Yes, Wave was bored and uncomfortable for a while, but mostly he was picking up on the message that he could gain more attention from his discomfort rather than accept his temporary situation and choose another solution. Once he saw that his first option was not working, he was able to accept it and calm himself. How smart the horses are!
Since discomfort is going to be a part of my life until the day I die, I have two choices-continue to deny it, thinking that I’m outsmarting it or accept it, learn from it and come up with a way of living along side of it with grace and courage! I know now that DISCOMFORT is not a four letter word!