Recently I had a health appointment where the same issue came up yet again. This thing that we had been working on for years came into focus once again. This ‘problem’ that I thought I had moved beyond was showing it’s face again. Somewhat exasperatingly, I questioned, “What can I do at home to help move beyond this?” Expecting a list of herbs, exercises, or dietary changes to be the practitioner’s response, I was surprised to have the advice be this: “Learn to sit in the uncomfortable.”
“What?!?! Sit in the uncomfortable?”
Though this recommendation was not exactly what I had in mind, something in her words resonated deeply within me. I walked away from that session with a clear focus: learn to sit in the uncomfortable.
As I thought about what this meant and felt into its resonance within me, I began to see all of the many ways that I avoid sitting in the uncomfortable. I mean, AVOID – at all costs. I started to see the mechanisms I employ to avoid feeling those little and large feelings that I don’t want to feel. The ways that I distract myself and busy myself became apparent… all in an attempt to ‘not feel’ the uncomfortable.
After recognizing this I became a woman with a mission. Feel. Feel it all. Sit in it all. Learn to hold still when faced with an uncomfortable feeling or situation instead of running, numbing, avoiding, or distracting. Find out the ways that I already do this and curiously play around with different responses.
The first step to all of this is the noticing… the recognizing. Until I stopped to look, I didn’t realize all of the actions I was taking to avoid the uncomfortable. Once I became aware of this pattern, I saw it peppered all throughout my life – both in my mental space and in my daily actions. By bringing mindful awareness to this aspect of myself I was able to start to ‘catch myself in the act’ – to observe myself doing the very thing in the moment that I was doing it! I would start to cue in to the ‘why’ of so much of what I was doing. “Why am I standing here instead of over there?” “Why am I eating this right now?” “Why did I just say that?” “Why did I scurry past those people?” “Why am I so tired right now?”
Noticing is the key. Once you establish a friendly rapport with noticing you can begin to get playful with what you want to do with what you’ve found. For me, I started to play around with doing the opposite of whatever I caught myself trying to avoid. If I found myself uncomfortable around a certain person and walking in a different direction, I would allow myself to approach that person. If someone paid me a compliment I would simply say, ‘thank you’ and feel all of the feels that come with that for me instead of dismissing it or turning it back to them. If I was engaged in a conversation where I started to feel anxious and began looking for an escape route, I would take a breath and remind myself that I was okay and that I had choice to stay or to go and, ‘would I be okay staying to see what I could learn about myself from that anxious feeling?’
The wisdom in my practice of ‘try the opposite’ was my posture of curiosity and play with myself. I had no interest in being harsh or forceful with myself in this process of discovery. I was interested in trying out new and unfamiliar ways of showing up in the world. I was interested in seeing if I could become more familiar and even grow a relationship with the very things I had been working to avoid. It is important for me to point out that often our uncomfortable feelings are part of our intuition and something to be listened to and acted upon. Uncomfortable feelings can be strong truth-tellers of what to avoid to be safe. I am not suggesting that we override our beautiful intuitive voice that works to teach us and keep us safe. I am saying that, for me, my beautiful intuitive voice had gotten a bit lost or muddled in the loudness of the presence of the avoidance of the uncomfortables in my life. So, for me, it was necessary to explore these uncomfortables by turning toward them vs. away from them, to explore where they were really coming from. This is a practice… an experiment… one to be approached with a great amount of playfulness, curiosity, and kindness toward self.
As I began to notice how I was avoiding the uncomfortable and then practiced turning toward and feeling the feels of the uncomfortable, I began to feel stronger and more clear. I felt less thrown about in my daily life – more steadfast. It was as if all of the energy I was subconsciously using to avoid experiencing the uncomfortable got channeled toward my own strength and betterment. I felt less controlled by some unseen force and more in control of my life, my thoughts, and my actions. Learning to sit in the uncomfortable gave way to power, clarity, and greater flexibility for me.
I believe that what the practitioner was aiming for, and certainly what I gained, was a sense of flow – within my body and within my soul. The ‘health problem’ that I was encountering over and over again had to do with something that was stuck and stagnant… not moving. Part of the reason my body had oriented itself around ‘stuck’ was because I was stuck – stuck working so hard to avoid the uncomfortable. All of my energy and action used to avoid was creating restriction within my body and being – thwarting a sense of easy flow and movement. For me to actively pursue and begin to move into the uncomfortable allowed some of this ‘stuck’ to be explored and moved along. The emotional and energetic clenching that I was doing in an attempt to not feel the uncomfortable was released, allowing greater ease in me and in the tissues of my body.
I have not yet returned to this health practitioner to hear whether or not my ‘health problem’ has resolved, but I can say that by learning to sit in the uncomfortable I have grown and healed in ways that have empowered me and brought me closer to myself. That is something worth sitting in the uncomfortable for!
Author: Erica McLaughlin is a mindbody therapist specializing in embodiment. She strongly believes in the healing power that comes when we provide ourselves a quiet space to connect the body and mind. In this space our true essence has a chance to emerge, offering the greatest gift of healing: self-acceptance.