The lines above from singer Nessi Gomes beautifully describe an idea I have been thinking about a lot recently; how to sit with discomfort. I wrote previously about the powerful Compassionate Mental Health event which I am still contemplating, where facilitators offered the idea that to be with someone in grief, fear, sadness or other strong emotions is a privilege and not something to avoid. Right now the ashram is hosting a intensive course called Facing Death, Embracing Life – it seems that difficult emotions will be all around like it or not.
Some days at the ashram it feels like my wheels are stuck in the mud, spinning ever faster spraying mud everywhere. Or as if I was an animal caught in a snare and the more I struggle the tighter the bind becomes. In both these metaphors increasing the effort to get out of the situation, achieves very little. Likewise in moments of distress, desperately searching for avoidance, distraction or quick-fix strategies does not always help. I can’t always keep doing what I have always done, and expect a different outcome.
I find that seeing someone else in distress brings up my desire to rescue, fix and distract them, with a vague notion that it is comforting or caring for them. When I reach out in this way is it to help them or to help my own difficulty at witnessing their troubles? What if the loving response is to allow them to experience their emotions? What if a kind act is really to witness and hold that space open, rather than seek to close it down?
It’s rare that we can be really present and listen our own intuitive sense of what we or someone else needs. Sometimes that is space alone to be with the emotions. Sometimes that is listening without judgement. Sometimes it is just being with the person, without adding anything at all. But to do that we need a deep inner confidence that just being there is enough. That you are enough of a help, without being the rescuer. That whoever is in distress has the ability to right themselves, eventually, when the lessons are learnt and the emotions processed.
Gyandharma frequently tells me off for trying to fix the World. No wonder I can’t sustain a supportive role and provide real help if the expectation I hold is that it is even vaguely possible to always make everything better. None of this means that I shouldn’t help and support where I can and certainly I have valued the support others have given me in moments of distress. But maybe there is a different way, that is more balanced.
As Thich Nhat Hanh says we are inter-beings, we live in relationship to everyone and everything else. But that doesn’t mean we are responsible for everyone and everything. The idea of equanimity helps us to understand that the most difficult moments are also blessings. They are moments of grace that allow us to expand and grow, in a way that comfort never could.
What if accepting, and sitting with discomfort is when we see our true power in the World: a strength to hold both our own and others difficulties?