slipping into something a little less comfortable
"Whether it's a painful task that we are called to, or an exhausting task, or an exhilarating task, or a joyous one — get your drama out of it, and do whatever you need to do with the highest dignity." Elizabeth Gilbert
About once a week, twice if I’m feeling ambitious, I plop my bottom on a bike seat and take a spin class. While music videos are projected on the big screen in front of the studio, I do my best to continue breathing and pedaling.
As I watch the videos with scantily clad women gyrating all over the place, I feel prudish and old. I wonder what my beloved and late grandmother would think. And she thought Elvis’s moves were disturbing.
Eventually, I avert my gaze and look at the chalkboard covered in motivational words and inspirational quotes. And inevitably my eyes land on the same quote every time.
Crap. I know this is true. But sitting in discomfort is...uncomfortable.
Sometimes I am uncomfortable doing unusual yoga poses and other times it is as mundane as engaging in small talk when I’d rather be home writing. Then there was last night when I walked from my house to a restaurant only to realize I was wearing neon pink underwear underneath an off-white dress.
The thunder accompanying my walk forced me to pick up my pace, and when I arrived five minutes later, I realized the reservation wasn't for another hour. So I sat at the bar by myself waiting for my friends and watching a ball game surrounded by people who I kind of knew but didn't seem to know me. Mildly uncomfortable.
Then there was the time I went to purchase a Burt Reynolds magnet (or something with a mustache on it) from a vintage store in town. I went to the store during their regular business hours, but no one was there, so I called and left a voice message. I thought my message was kind of funny, but it turns out I was just rambling and not making much sense. The woman at the counter did not find any of it remotely amusing. So there I was standing in line as she played my voice message out loud so everyone else in the store could hear it. Then she exclaimed robustly, "Some people, I mean is this woman for real?" Um, very uncomfortable, and yes I am for real.
While these above moments didn't necessarily induce magic, they were opportunities to sit in the seat of discomfort with all of its feelings of vulnerability and humility and realize that I didn't die of embarrassment.
Recently, I took a willing leap out of my comfort zone when I agreed to do an interview about teaching mindfulness to kids on a friend's radio show.
My first reaction after reading her request went something like this, “Hell no!” proceeded by the soft nudge of “Hmm, that could be interesting.”
I agreed to do the interview, and then quickly wondered why I said yes.
The funny thing is I had just spent the better part of the morning running around my house trying to locate my misplaced wedding ring. And I am quite certain I had also raised my voice at my kids in the past 24 hours. What the heck was I doing talking about mindfulness? I felt like a fraud.
And it didn’t matter how small or large an audience would be listening to the am radio show, I was nervous. So I prepared myself as best I could by prepping my materials before hand. I also practiced sounding professional by talking very seriously to myself in the car on the way to pick up my kids from school. I am quite certain I looked and sounded absurd.
Right before the interview began, as I anxiously awaited the call from my friend and host of the show, I sat on the bed in our guest room with the door shut trying to maintain my focus. And that is when I had an epiphany that the experience I was about to have had nothing to do with me.
It wasn't about me sounding articulate or intelligent, or like some kind of expert on mindfulness which I, of course, am not; it was about simply showing up and sharing helpful information.
I thought back to the times when I have stepped out of my comfort zone which for me usually means talking in front of a group of people. My face gets hot and red, my throat tightens, and my heart beats faster. But when it is something I feel passionate about, I also remember that we are here to serve others and that the task at hand is bigger than us and our drama.
We are all conduits for love, authenticity, empowerment, and transformation.
And however we step out of our comfort zones, whether it is giving a presentation for work, taking a new exercise class, going to a party where we don't know anyone, traveling to a place where we don't speak the language, or showing up to volunteer in our child’s classroom, we can simply acknowledge our discomfort, knowing everything is just as it should be and get on with it. Author, Elizabeth Gilbert recently wrote an article about not getting overwhelmed. Her advice: "Get your drama out of it."
So when those familiar feelings of awkwardness, uncertainty, and nervousness surface, it can help to differentiate what the signals are that your body is giving you. Are they warning you of impending danger, or is the supposed threat more about fear of failure and looking foolish? Because our attachment to our egos can get in the way of taking risks, thus preventing positive transformation from occurring.
And sitting in discomfort can mean a plethora of things...from staying in our seated meditation without giving into every single urge to move, to not rushing to fix our children's problems by allowing them to discuss and feel all of their feelings no matter how helpless and sad it makes us feel.
We learn that discomfort isn't all that awful because it comes and goes. It, too, is empowering, enabling us to no longer live our lives trying to avoid uncertainty, discomfort, and pain.
Because being uncomfortable from time to time is part of living a wholehearted and authentic life. Whether it's on a bike, in pink underwear, on the radio, or anywhere else outside of your comfort zone.
I think the tips below are helpful during times of discomfort.
1). If you are nervous, admit it. And if it is appropriate, share how you are feeling with others. This releases tension and helps you feel less alone. However, it is not about their reaction; it is about your expression and your deep respect for honesty.
2). Create an intention. Such as: My intention is to be informative and helpful, or my intention is to simply show up and be the best I can be.
3). Have a grounding or centering ritual such as prayer, asking for guidance, taking three deep breaths and letting out a sigh on the exhale, or writing down what is making you uncomfortable - I always bring my journal to doctor appointments because I get so nervous when there - or you can just "shake it off" (this is something Kundalini yogis and Taylor Swift both do.)
4). Remember you are helpful and are here to serve. If you are speaking about something you believe in, allow the power of this passion to move through you. If you believe in a higher power, let this subtle energy guide you.
5). You can always pause, breathe, take a moment, and ask questions to give yourself time to concentrate, get into the body and ground yourself.