Earlier this year I had the opportunity of catching up with a childhood friend. As we chatted back and forth about what was going on in our lives, He inquired about my work and how I enjoyed it. I was open and honest with him and explained that I was grateful in the climate we are living in to be able to have a steady income, however I was unhappy and disconnected from my self in the work I was doing.
Im not sure if it was our understanding of one another that prompted him to say what he said next, but the reply he gave me was medicine I needed to keep in mind. He said, “Tanya, do you remember the story of how a pearl is made? As an oyster goes through it’s life, occasionally it picks up little irritants such as sand or debris that cause the oyster discomfort and agitation. But the oyster begins to work with this irritant, coating it over and over again for sometimes long periods of time until the pearl is formed. It is an unexpected and beautiful gift that comes from the original discomfort and the oysters tenacity to work with it.”. And he left it at that, there was silence until I felt ready to speak the next words.
Reflecting back on this experience, I recognize that it takes a specific kind of skill and willingness to hold space for someone during a time of discomfort or agitation. To allow them to feel what they feel, yet also allow them the opportunity to explore where the feelings may lead over time. Whether it’s because we ourselves are uncertain about how we feel in reciprocating the experience or perhaps because we feel the need to control or moderate the temperature of the experience, it’s important to understand the integrity behind how we meet discomfort- other’s and our own. In my experience the response is to offer a sense of soothing or advice, but this passive positivity, which I have experienced both experienced and taken part in, I am now understanding as something we practice often in our culture as Bypassing. Whether it’s mentally or emotionally or whats popular in the wellness community is spiritually, bypassing can be equally as damaging as our fear of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.
Now granted, I understand that perhaps some folks are genuinely optimistic and want to spread positivity all over the place as much and as often as they can. But the truth friends is that not everything is love and light. And the more open and willing we can be to acknowledge that, then we can start to bring what is love and light into the depth of shadows and really start to see what is possible for healing and growth. But, because we walk around in fear of either triggering or saying the wrong things, we result with a culture that is bypassing the opportunity to authentically accept and address our irritation in order to perhaps transform it into something beautiful. Discomfort and growth, are often relatives that happen in relationship to one another.
I also recognize that sometimes our tendencies to respond to a friend’s heartache may be a reflection of our own inner storm and because we are either not certain how to contend with it in a way that is useful or haven't been open and willing to address our own shit, it’s easy to say “It will all be ok”, or “Don’t worry, you’ll do it when your ready”. These types of experiences have become so perpetuated in our social exchanges that we just walk around seemingly blind in their impact, spreading them like STD’s. Its easy for us to scapegoat out of an authentic experience when the external world validates that we don’t have to really feel anything and instead can bypass the uncomfortable experience at the expense of our own growth, thus creating a culture of positive feedback/negative reinforcement.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali discusses five afflictions that keep us in our never ending web of entanglement and prevent us from realizing our true nature or attaining samadhi. Two of these afflictions, attachment (ragahs) and aversion (dvesah), I feel go hand in hand when it comes to understanding how Bypassing comes into an experience. While it is easy to understand why we might be attached to one particular thought or expression over another, and avoid other thoughts all together, the difficulty comes in seeing how we become attached to the things we avoid or dislike. This often results in limiting our own growth. And while the mental afflictions Patanjali talks about are apart of our natural operating system, it is a dedicated practice and an openness to growth that cultivates useful discernment and application of those tools. Understanding that they are designs the mind to ensure our safety and survival, but also functions of the ego to generate the manifest world that we live in. It’s like my teacher says regarding our asana practice; remember the three little bears, not too hot, not too cold, just right. Same principal applies here when working with discomfort.
Growth isn’t known to happen inside of our comfort zones. Sure some folks may seem like they just ease into uncomfortable situations and come out smelling like roses, but it is imperative to remember that what we see of their experience is our own limited view, and what has been intimately expressed and experienced internally to manifest externally is most likely far beyond our vantage point. Not to mention, because we live in a world where we can literally fashion all of our preferences via the technology we are so attached to living our lives through, we forget that that the way we receive information (ie: social media, podcast, or even media at large), we don’t always acknowledge that there could be more to the story then meets the eye. We’ve placed our trust in a perceived world we created, sometimes unconsciously but often intentionally to avoid the things we dislike, and have limited ourselves the access of what lays beyond our comfort zone.
The moral of the story here is remember that beautiful things often come from exposure to discomfort or agitation. Not to say that is the only route to growth; but to understand that the detour around it isn’t always the most beneficial path either. To get to the core of our own understanding begins with practice. And when we practice, periodically we begin to see how our perceived understanding maybe wasn’t the whole of the picture. And depending on the quality of your discomfort, that can be a very difficult realization to sit with. And sometimes that shows up in how we engage with others and their discomfort. So the next time you find yourself in a situation were you are either experiencing or holding space for someone experiencing a less then optimal time, remember the story of the pearl, and before you offer passive positivity maybe check your integrity of the statement first and instead offer the statement “what do you need?’ or “how can I support you in this time?”. It isn't necessarily our job to make sure they aren’t bypassing their own situation, but, offering to hold space for them in a caring and effective way can support us in not bypassing their’s or even our own experience. Just like the Pearl, beautiful things can often come from discomfort and agitation.