Discomfort is a part of our human condition, and it expresses itself uniquely to each of us. Looking from the inside out, it can often seem that others are successfully avoiding the pain of life based on our personal standards, when in truth, all of us, every single one of us, is swimming in the current of difficulty. Perhaps we don’t always recognize it for what it is, and instead swim hard against the current, trying to avoid the inevitable displeasure that living in human form offers us. When we can land in and with our discomforts though, something quite amazing can happen. Life can unfold for us possibility, choice, and awareness. When this happens, we begin to see our discomforts as gateways into our growth and refinement. Then, in a new way, we welcome them. This doesn’t mean that we relish the muck, but we no longer waste our energy swimming upstream.
We are sensitizing ourselves out of the opportunity to experience discomfort. We are so worried about causing pain and experiencing pain, that we are stunting our ability to grow and learn. The nature of pain is not inherently bad, it’s communicative. And the suffering that comes from pain and discomfort can serve to propel us to a new understanding or level of awareness. Especially in Yoga, we are becoming so attached to the avoidance of discomfort that we are taking the Yoga out of our Yoga. The way that our culture approaches Yoga right now is not as a transformational practice, but as a salve to our pain and discomfort, and friends, that is NOT what yoga is designed to do. Side stepping discomfort is a sure fire way to get stuck at your current level of evolution and create a cage of safety that demands a lot of you and subsequently of your environment.
Look at almost anything Yoga on Social Media, and you will see how desperately we cling to ideals of peace and balance. But is Yoga growing us into a better culture or better individual humans? The philosophy of Tantra helps us understand that existence is a constantly shifting experience of expansion and contraction, called Spanda in Sanskrit. There is a trustworthy pattern of energetic movement ensuring that we will never be stuck or stagnate in a single place. However, our current culture has created an adhesive attachment to the ideals of safety and security, creating a powerful resistance to the natural flow of things. Our society is so deeply attached to these ideals that we avoid the absence of them at all costs, and more often than not, at the cost of others. Attachment to balance and control reign supreme in modern Yoga. Yet, balance without allowance keeps us firmly protected from the risk of letting go into the mystery. The problem with this is simple. Life is an ever evolving, fluid, growing creation with increasing levels of sophistication. When we refuse fluidity and growth, we limit our capacity to evolve. We find ourselves in outdated, outmoded models that don’t fit, and we feel a great deal of discomfort. For some this discomfort may not look like much, a quiet yearning, a feeling of displacement, a fear of the unknown, but still it’s there. A gnawing inside behind the job, the marriage, the friendships, the home, the balance and harmony.
The missing piece of our understanding is that growth and evolution happen outside of comfort. That the risk that it takes to turn away from safety and comfort IS the gateway to our liberation. But, our opposition to crossing the chasm is deemed too risky, so we stay put, and the silent longing goes on while we work desperately to make it disappear. Don’t worry though, the intelligence of this mysterious universe is unparalleled, so it creates the ideal situations to propel us out of our comfort zones. Though we may not recognize them as such, we are given opportunities of varying levels of discomfort to launch us into our next phase of growth. The RISK ZONE, or learning zone as Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron calls it, is the place that seems most dangerous, most unsafe, most insecure. Yet it’s the place that holds the most possibility. In our lives, we have invested most of our energy and time developing fortresses of safety, so it seems absurd to abandon them. Why would you ever take a risk, when the castle of safety has been so fully fortified? Even if the gnawing continues. Our desires to avoid the discomforts of growth, and maintain a certain level of safety, to “protect” ourselves at all costs, are called Vikalpa. A vikalpa is a contrary intention, something that tries to steer us away from pain and discomfort at the expense of what is possible. Psychology would call these self defeating thoughts. Things like, you aren’t good enough, you will just fail, you will never get what you want. Though they are painful and self defeating, they keep us protected and anchored into place. They keep us in the stagnant, but familiar, places that we know, and we always feel safer in what we know that in the unknown. The unknown is the RISK ZONE, the place of uncertainty which cannot be controlled. The place where we might not be who we’ve worked so hard to become, the place where we might lose it all, or….
The place where we might find ourselves more fully. The place where we might truly come alive, the place where we will achieve more than we ever expected. That place feels at once terrifying and liberating. And everything in us says to avoid it at all costs. But that gnawing continues, and maybe we start to listen. When we move toward that longing that bubbles up from inside, we are moving in the direction of Sankalpa, our true intention, and the biggest risk. It is from this place that we begin to consider what is possible. It is in Sankalpa that we emerge into the full scope of our human capacity. The space beyond safety and security, beyond achievement and success, the space of aliveness. When we feel the pull towards the risk, our minds question our logic, our friends and family question our sanity, and we find ourselves overwhelmed with doubt about our actions. There is a part of us that knows and a part of us that doubts. Every Sankalpa comes fully equipped with a Vikalpa dance partner.
So it takes a large dose of Sraddha, trust in those who have walked the path before you in Sanskrit, a.k.a. faith, to make the leap. In making the choice to act, despite contrary opinions, we encounter a particular kind of tension that manifests as fear, worry, doubt, and discomfort. Tantra teaches us that THIS IS SHAKTI herself. This energy can be harnessed and deposited into your Sankalpa. All of the resistance has been working for you all along! It is only through the resistance and discomfort that we can generate the energy of change. All evolution and creation requires a catalyst, a friction, a spark. This tension is the power needed to move forward, to get unstuck, to grow!
But of course, it’s always a choice. You can choose to avoid the tension by turning away from the possibilities of change and evolution. You can choose to stay right where you are, and numb the longing, distract yourself from the gnawing, deny desire. You can choose to stay right where you are. Just remember, your Vikalpa IS the primary dialogue of self protection, the thing that is trying stop you from taking risk. And your future, is the risk itself. It is always waiting for you on the other side of your discomfort, but never in the absence of it. So the next time your discomfort calls you to doubt the risk, pause and ask yourself… what is waiting for you on the other side? What opportunity is calling out for you to take a chance? This moment of turning towards rather than away… that is the essence of a warrior.