Generally we choose comfort over discomfort, and that seems wonderfully reasonable, doesn’t it? But just consider, whenever you choose comfort you are pushing away about 99.9% of what is available. Reality is vast, while your comfort area is tiny and constrictive. Recognising that both comfort and discomfort are valid experiences is a big leap into a broader, more flexible mind. And that happens when we recognise also that comfort and discomfort are about preference, not reality.
The Conviction of Being Right
Something that precedes our choice for comfort is the conviction that we are right – in our decisions, in our sense of self, in our opinions, in our beliefs and attitudes. Of course, this is a delusion. We humans are prone to mistakes of fact and certainly to foolishness in our psychological and social interactions. But we are always convinced we are right.
You don’ think so? Oh, of course, you suppose you are right. But it goes much deeper than an opinion. Without the conviction of being right in all your thoughts and reactions, you would be open to a much more flexible sense of who you are – your ordinary notion of your personal self is based in this sense of rightness. Another way of putting it is that most people’s ego is non-negotiable in its construction of itself. And therefore, it positions itself in a frame of rightness.
You might like to think you are not non-negotiable, you can see when you are wrong and admit it.
Well, for one thing, that doesn’t often happen. Instead an escalation of opposition tends to happen, as any argument shows. For another, the person’s sense of self is at stake – poke an individual’s sense of self and all hell breaks loose! And for another, any admission of being “wrong” is always retrospective. It is “I was wrong – but now…. I’m right!“
Probably ego-rightness is a survival mechanism. If in the present moment we doubted who or what we are, if we were not certain about our rightness, perhaps we would not be confident enough to make our way through life at all. But supposing it is illusory?
The Illusion of Being Right
The trouble with the conviction of being right is that there is no way that it can possibly be so. The best you – or anyone – can manage is to be correct in some occasional matter of fact . That is a matter of logic. But the feeling of the intrinsic rightness that the personal self craves is more thorough-going, and it is merely the sad business of the ego trying to assert self-importance in the face of the universe.
If you prefer to put that in spiritual language, the assertion of “I’m right” puts your puny little ego in place of universal consciousness. Ugh!
So what about Comfort/Discomfort?
Always choosing comfort reinforces the complacency of our self-righteousness. Physically, it is not such a big thing. We can choose salt with our food, no problem. But what if there is no salt? Would we be ok with the food if there is no salt?
An old proverb suggests that you wouldn’t. A proverb for something which cannot be tolerated is that it is “like an egg without salt.” We can choose the armchair, if there is one available – so long as we are equally ok with the plastic chair.
But what about social discomfort? How much do we want reinforcement for our sense of rightness ? What about politically? Psychologically? Emotionally? How do you handle your discomforts in these areas? Often as not, people “handle” them by anxiety or alcohol, stress or psychosomatic symptoms, depression or avoidance, narcissism or attempts to control others.
So what? Well, something we could do is go on in the same old way, never noticing our own interior processes, much less exploring them, certainly not sitting with the discomfort of seeing them for what they are… perhaps we can go on the same old way, simply asserting to ourselves, “I’m right”, while maintaining dysfunctional coping process.
Or we can opt for discomfort some of the time – the perfectly valid experience of discomfort. “Aha,” we might say to ourselves, “that situation feels very uncomfortable … here is a great chance for me to look at my choices and patterns of reaction.” We can work to find what discomfort is telling us about ourselves.
We could even choose occasionally to make minor choices for discomfort – the least comfortable chair, for instance – just to notice our tolerance levels and how close they are to the surface of our interaction with reality. We can allow the sense of discomfort when we have a “negative” experience like a comment you didn’t think was fair, or a realisation that you are out of your depth socially or intellectually, or even a sudden realisation of advancing age. And then perhaps we can notice that our desire for comfort is inextricably entwined with our sense of being the one who is “right”, and entitled to what your idea of “fair” is.
What then? Such an opportunity to do the work of revising your sense of what self is. With that, you will grow your tolerance and your capacity for acceptance – of truth as it is, of self as it is, of others as they are – and resilience in all the ups and downs of life.
Befriending discomfort makes us comfortable with reality.