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Surrendering to Discomfort

Something that comes up a lot in yoga classes is the idea of settling into discomfort and being okay with it.  It'll most often come up in a challenging pose like utkatasana (chair pose or fierce pose).  As you breathe in the pose, quads and shoulders burning, sweat possibly beading on your forehead, your teacher leisurely walks around extolling the virtues of having your breath and mind stay as steady and calm as though you were in savasana.

It's always a good thing to cultivate - finding the comfort (or at least the tolerance) in discomfort.  It's one of the most easily transferable teachings to life off the mat as well.  This is also a lesson that I continually find myself needing to be retaught.

A quality I very much like about myself is that when something comes up - a disagreement, an offense, whatever it might be - my preferred way is to talk about it, deal with it, and move on as soon as possible.  I don't like to play games, draw things out, indulge in drama - I like to fix and forget.  This works great for short term, fixable problems, but not so much for other problems in life.  Those long-term problems, of which everyone has their share, are much harder for me to navigate so gracefully.  (This is probably in large part due to a lack of patience, but that's another blog post...)

When it comes to certain more long-term situations, such as a loved one (or yourself) struggling with chronic health problem, addiction, depression, or perhaps a drawn out divorce or custody battle, you need to truly tap into that reserve of strength that gives you a sense of ease amidst your efforts.  It requires patience to take things day by day and to not get discouraged when things become particularly challenging or drawn-out.

A friend of mine and I were talking about a few of these situations yesterday and we discussed this very question of how to live life day to day while enduring something particularly challenging that doesn't seem to have a clear end in sight.  How do you surrender to the situation without giving up the fight it requires to get through it?  How do you embrace acceptance without, to use her brilliant word, feeling like it's the same thing as approval?  So many of these yogi buzzwords we use, like surrender, accept, and finding "ease amidst effort," can seem at odds with our feelings of struggle over the situation we're in.  At the same time, it's so easy to let yourself slip into the deep pool of self-pity if you don't find that inner strength and presence of mind to find some level of acceptance of what is.

As I wrote last week, we can only control so much.  Refusal or inability to accept that very what is is cited as one of the chief causes of human suffering.

Despite how challenging it seems, I do believe it's very possible to surrender to what is while still working hard to change the situation.  It requires a certain amount of non-attachment to the outcome, otherwise you can drive yourself crazy if your labors don't produce the result you want.  I also believe it's possible to accept a situation without approving of it.  Oftentimes, what makes us miserable during dark times in our lives is our inability to acknowledge the truth of the situation.

By fighting against something we can't change, however, we just wind up wasting our energy, making ourselves miserable, falling into the depths of self-pity (which are very hard to escape), and worst of all, letting our challenges define us.

Surrender and acceptance are merely tools at our disposal to maintain our sanity during crazy-making situations.  In the same way that people extoll the virtues of forgiveness by assuring you that it doesn't mean you approve of behavior (there's that word again) but that you free yourself from the burden, surrender and acceptance to a hard situation merely frees you from the futile struggle against what is unchanging. By doing that, you have more energy to give toward changing what you can.

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