The value of discomfort

Jamie Catto explores what he calls the new alchemy: using anxiety and discomfort to shed emotional baggage

Jamie Catto explores what he calls the new alchemy: using anxiety and discomfort to shed emotional baggage

In our culture of pain avoidance, it is a radical idea to turn towards those experiences that feel uncomfortable. We are so used to taking a pill when we get a headache, or running to an addiction to distract ourselves when things get edgy. But when we do this we miss an opportunity to be a willing participant in what life’s genius is trying to accomplish.

For instance, sometimes I wake up in the morning with this gluey, tense feeling in my guts and immediately my mind starts adding up numbers, working out everything I need to pay for that month and strategising how in the short term and long term I can make this all work out. It is extremely stressful. Later that day, someone might ask me how I’ve been and I might say “I woke up worrying about money again this morning…”

But wait! If I rewind that morning’s experience and take it moment by tiny moment, this is what is really going on:

I wake up with this gluey, tense feeling in my gut. It feels really uncomfortable. Then, in order to get rid of this yucky feeling in my body, my well-meaning, yet misguided mind offers me up a story of something worrying that is going on in my life. It is trying to save me from discomfort and thinks that by matching this worried feeling to a controllable outcome in my life, I can solve it and get rid of the feeling.

But this is a trap. The idea of pushing away that feeling or solving it absolutely doesn’t work. If anything, it perpetuates, magnifies and prolongs it by chewing it over and over.

So, back to me lying in bed. What is really going on? My body, and yours, is the most genius self-mending, self-cleaning organism that we know. It is constantly scanning for viruses and bacteria and then making its own drugs, amazingly secreting things, and administering them to us in the body all day and night while we go on with our lives.

Difficult people and situations are nothing more than walking laxatives

Our skin heals itself if we cut it. Our bones knit and mend if we break them. Our body is also self-mending and cleaning all our accumulated emotional pain and stress. This is why we often wake up with a very uncomfortable tightness down our front, somewhere from the throat to the belly. It is not because we have woken up worrying about money, or our relationship, or any of the mind’s obsessions of what is wrong in our lives today. The discomfort is our genius system doing a well-needed emotional poo. It is discharging some of the accumulation of emotional pain that we all carry and it cleverly waits until these quiet, uncluttered moments to do its genius thing.

At these times, if we are skilful, we will ignore the mind’s version and only focus on the physical sensation. If we place our attention on the yucky, tight feeling in the body and gently breathe into it, allowing it, even encouraging it, staying with it in a soft and trusting way, knowing it is part of our body’s genius process, then miraculously it moves, it shifts, it transforms.

Could it be that all this adversity is actually a gift? A benevolent invitation for the skill to poo out some harmful, stressful built up stuff in us? From this perspective, difficult people and situations are nothing more than walking laxatives.

When I treat these triggers this way, I become powerful. Suddenly, rather than being disempowered by the events, I am now using them for their correct purpose. It is life’s alchemy, cleaning and unclogging me by finding ways to discharge accumulated emotional shit, and transforming it into empowered gold.

Photo by Sam Pelly