Getting Comfortable with Discomfort
We usually start therapy in order to address an “issue” or “problem”. A psychotherapist is someone who we hope can help in resolving our issue or fixing our problem. Many times, the reason to enter therapy is because of some uncomfortable level of anxiety, depression or dis-ease. Conventional wisdom tells us that if it’s uncomfortable and doesn’t feel good, it is bad. There are countless remedies for discomfort: painkillers, anti anxiety meds, anti depressants, drugs, sex and entertainments of all kinds. These things help to cover up the discomfort but it doesn’t address the underlying experience of discomfort. Many of us know intuitively that there is something inherently wrong with medicating and distracting ourselves all the time. Why?
Alienation From Our Own Experience
What develops overtime is an alienation from our own experience. We loose trust in our ability to handle reality because we think we can’t even handle our own experience. Instead we feel like our thoughts and feelings are handling us. The mind and body we call our own feels out of control and unmanageable.
Another way of working with our experience of discomfort needs to be found. We hope a psychotherapist has the answer and can show us the way. A contemplative view to this dilemma is that part of the problem is we are struggling against our experience. We have forgotten that discomfort is a natural part of the spectrum of human experience. Anxiety and depression are heightened aspects of our experience while intense and debilitating at times, serves it’s own purpose. In very general terms, anxiety is related to an increase in energy and fear of the unknown. Depression is a clamping down and over-controlling of our mental and emotional experience. These states are not necessarily bad. Anxiety can be related to excitement, newness and uncertainty. Depression can be a necessary way of pulling one’s energy inward in order to slow down and process thoughts and feelings.
While helping one to develop skills and resources for working with uncomfortable experiences, psychotherapy can also help go into a deeper understanding of our own thoughts and feelings. Much of the time spent in the therapy room is spent talking, analyzing with some “experiential” feeling mixed in. But what happens between sessions? Many of us go on our merry way not thinking too much about therapy until the next session.
Meditation is a way to actually learn how to be with our experience in bite size pieces. The more we can relax with what is uncomfortable, the less we have to try to fix or get rid of our discomfort. Overtime, we reclaim the full spectrum of our experience. The intolerable intense experiences of anxiety, depression and dis-ease may become more workable. Meditation trains us to not run away or try to change our experience but instead to rest in our experience as it occurs. This training helps shift our habit of struggling against our discomfort which only makes things worse. When we meditate, we can actually learn more about what it is we are depressed about or is causing us anxiety. Seeing clearly what is actually happening in the moment is empowering. It gives us important information to help learn how to skillfully work through the issues underlying the symptoms of anxiety, depression and discomfort.