Comfort CultureApr 01, 2022
The theme this past month for a lot of my work has been the concept of holding space. Now, I've spoken about this before, but what do I mean by this?
Well, holding space is simply a neat little term used to describe the idea that emotions need space to unfold and be processed inside of us.
Seems obvious, yes?
Or is it?
I'd love for you to call to mind the last time you felt an uncomfortable emotion? Sadness, fear, stress, anger, guilt, rejection, disappointment, pain- one of those types of feelings.
Where did it arise from within you?
What precipitated that emotion?
Where in your body did you feel it?
How long did it last for?
Did you instinctively reach for something else to try and distract yourself from the discomfort of that original feeling? Something like your phone, food, alcohol, cigarettes or some other form of stimulation to drown out the uncomfortable feeling?
Or did you find it difficult to hold? Perhaps you lost your temper at someone else about something unrelated, later feeling guilty that your fuse was so short because you were trying to hold that other uncomfortable feeling?
Perhaps you can't actually answer any of those questions because you were so preoccupied with trying to terminate that uncomfortable feeling, that you couldn't notice anything else?
The thing about uncomfortable feelings is:
- They're an unavoidable part of being human- to have the pleasant feelings, we by definition then need to also accept that the uncomfortable ones must come too.
- Many of us haven't ever learnt how to cope with having uncomfortable feelings. This modern world is somewhat of a comfort culture where discomfort of any type isn't well tolerated. We simply have lost the skill of being able to sit with uncomfortable feelings and thoughts.
- Like a lot of things in life, the more we fight against the presence of uncomfortable feelings- the longer they tend to stick around.
- For many of us- we engage in all sorts of things trying to distract ourselves from the discomfort of them while they're here- which feeds into a concept I've discussed before in my blog on Stimulation Addiction.
So, how does the idea of holding space relate to the concept of comfort culture?
Well, for most of us, it is very difficult to sit with uncomfortable feelings and thoughts. We're not alone in this, this is simply the default state for most humans. This idea of holding a space within ourselves- without the need for comfort or distraction- for uncomfortable feelings to unfold like a piece of origami, is actually not the default for so many of us.
Because when we exist in the default network of our brains, we are hard wired to seek pleasure. That next dopamine rush.
Why is this a bad thing I hear you say?
Well, I'm not saying that seeking pleasure is a bad thing... but mindlessly always seeking pleasure is. When our dopaminergic brain leads us, we end up filling our lives with practices and activities that give us one little hit of dopamine at a time, always leaving us wanting more. We can never be satisfied.
So how does learning how to sit with uncomfortable emotions help us to shift our brains out of their default state?
Uncomfortable thoughts and feelings can give us a wonderful sense of what emotions feel like in our bodies. The rich sensory information that comes from noticing where we feel things like sadness in our body can be an amazing learning process. Just as we learn how to pay attention to physical discomfort in the body with the same level of awareness as we do all other areas of the body during our body scan meditations- learning how to notice uncomfortable feelings and thoughts in our body and mind and then to sit with them- not needing to force them out or try to control them in anyway- is exactly the same as the open awareness we can begin to cultivate in the rest of our lives via practicing daily mindfulness.
Bringing awareness to this relationship between our natural human tendency to avoid discomfort and seek out pleasure simply gives us the ability to then choose what we do with that awareness. We don't necessarily need to change anything (unless we want to) but change can only come when we learn how to become non-judgementally aware of that which we desire to change. As with any ability, this develops over time and with practice. Learning how to sit with both the comfortable and uncomfortable emotions with equal weight is a skill that our sustained and regular mindfulness practice gifts us.
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