A few weeks ago, as I stepped out of a hot, steamy bath, a cold draft of air from the ceiling vent assaulted me, left me covered in gooseflesh. As I reached for my bathrobe, a strange thought occurred to me.
As humans, we are averse to being cold. The minute we feel a chill, we reach for something to warm us. Without a second thought, we don our jackets or sweaters or blankets and banish the chill from our bodies.
The same is true with hunger. And pain. And everything else that makes us uncomfortable. When we’re hungry (and often when we’re not), we reach for something to eat. When we’re in pain, we take a pill to make it go away.
In fact, our life mission might be summed up to this: At all costs, avoid discomfort.
But if we never feel discomfort, how can we truly appreciate the gift of comfort? If we never allow ourselves to be cold, to really feel what it’s like to be cold, then how can we really appreciate the warmth of a blanket, or a fuzzy flannel nightgown, or a cup of hot cocoa?
I recently watched a movie called My Life Without Me in which Sarah Polley, wife and mother of two young girls, learns she has terminal cancer and only about a month to live. At the Laundromat one night, she falls asleep and wakes up with a man’s coat covering her. She stands to leave and hands the coat back to Mark Ruffalo. “You keep it,” he says. “No thanks,” she replies. “I like being cold. It makes me feel alive.”
And so I made it my mission to allow myself to feel any and all discomfort over the next three weeks without rushing to eliminate it. Did I mention that I was home recovering from surgery?
The first week, I had drains from the breast cancer reconstructive surgery I’d just undergone. Plastic tubing on both sides that is inserted slightly toward the back, making it painful to lean back or lay down.
But I had made a deal with myself and I was going to keep it. Every time I leaned back on the sofa cushion, rather than wince at the pain, I acknowledged it was there, but did not react to it (and I did not take any drugs to numb the pain). It took a little practice, but after a couple of days, the grimacing stopped all together. Instead I focused on how wonderful I would feel when the drains were removed that Friday. And before Friday even arrived, I barely gave the pain any thought.
It was another week after the drains came out before I could take a tub bath, and when the day arrived, I turned the air conditioning on full blast and stood naked under the vent in the bathroom until I was shivering with cold.
I contemplated the feeling of being cold, thought about the people who can’t afford heat, and those who live on the streets and are perpetually cold during the winter. I wanted to step into the steamy tub and relieve my quivering body, but I stood under the vent a while longer. I stood there until being cold no longer bothered me.
And when I plunged into the hot bath, rather than feeling relieved that I was no longer cold, I felt the true joy of being warm.
What about you? Have you ever made peace with something that used to bring you discomfort?