Mindful Tolerance

PemaChodron“We have so little tolerance for uncomfortable feelings. I’m not even talking about unpleasant outer circumstances, but that feeling in your stomach of I don’t want this to be happening. You try to escape it in some way, but if somehow you could  stay present and touch the rawness of the experience, you can really learn something.” Pema Chödrön, Buddhist nun

Today I read the above quote and was immediately struck by the truth of the very first sentence.  Our society, at least our Western society which is the one I am familiar with, really does have little tolerance for uncomfortable feelings.  In fact, we have little tolerance for un-comfortableness in general.  Have we always been this soft? I mean how do we judge, for instance, a stressful day? Is it when we slightly over-tax our bodies carrying shopping, or over-tax our minds trying to figure out a solution to a problem? Did we have a difficult conversation with someone? Is this enough of a stressful day to reach for our vice of choice? What happens when something we perceive as majorly catastrophic happens?  Would our vices be enough to cope with the pain then?

To be honest, I am not trying to point fingers.  I was in a very stressful job once where the stress never ended.  I put in more hours than was required to get the job done, only it never got done.  I was doing the job of four people and then coming home with nothing left to give my family.  I often would phone my husband on the way home and ask him to meet me for dinner because I didn’t feel I could cope with arriving home carrying the amount of stress I was carrying.  Instead of staying present and learning that I needed to leave the job, I stayed with it and coped by avoiding relationships with my family and drinking wine.  When I finally did leave, I had gained a bad habit, a fear of stress and a very low tolerance for anything that made me uncomfortable.

What is it in us that makes us unconsciously believe that we shouldn’t have a life of stress?  Why are we so afraid to face our feelings and/or the feelings of others? If we take the time to reflect on this, we may find that when we look back at the times when we didn’t stay present in an uncomfortable feeling, the feelings or events got louder. One of the most important ways for personal and spiritual growth is to know ourselves.  When we are struggling with uncomfortable feelings or dark thoughts, we need to stay present and explore those feelings so we understand why they are there and learn from it.  Likewise, if we are feeling any sort of pain in our bodies, we need to be present and turn our consciousness to our bodies to better understand what is going on.  When we meditate our consciousness is directed toward our spirit which then connects to God and gives us further clarity still.

Yes, I know it can be painful but if we don’t allow the experience or darkness to teach us a lesson, the repercussions of this will be that we gain greater intolerance to pain and our road in life becomes harder to tread upon. We can overcome all things with reflection, meditation and holding on to the hand of God who is infinitely loving.

Daughter and  father

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