A motivation for spiritual practice: avoiding discomfort

 

For many, one of the surface motivations behind spiritual practice and wanting to awaken is avoidance. We want to avoid our discomfort.

Depending on our approach, we seek to transcend this discomfort, hope it will go away through an imagined future awakening, pretend through nondual ideology it’s not there or doesn’t impact us, try to make it go away through healing, try to make it easier for us through befriending it, and so on.

This is natural and understandable and there is nothing inherently wrong with it. But it is good to be honest about what’s going on. This honesty can help guide our approach.

How can we explore this?

One approach is, perhaps ironically, the most basic of all forms of meditation. Notice what’s here. Allow it. Notice it’s already allowed, whatever it is. (Basic meditation, Natural Rest.)

Feel the sensations as they are. Notice and allow.

We examine the scary thoughts associated with these sensations (The Work of Byron Katie), and how sensations and thoughts come together to create a sense of reality to these scary thoughts (Living Inquiries).

Another variation is to befriend these aspects of us as if they were beings. The discomfort. The subpersonalities. Get to know them. Listen to what they want us to know. Find some understanding for them. Respect. Perhaps even love for them, as they are.

And we can also use heart-centered practices towards the discomfort in ourselves and what triggers it in the world. (Ho’oponopno, tonglen, metta etc.)

What happens when we explore our discomfort?

We may find more comfort with it, as it is. It may take away some of the drive behind our compulsions, including for spiritual awakening. And that, in turn, is very good news. We get to see if there is still a draw towards spiritual practice and/or awakening, and we can then engage in it in a more grounded way.

Isn’t this just another way to try to avoid our discomfort?

Yes, in a sense it is. It’s a way to find comfort with the discomfort.

The difference is that we are facing it head-on instead of in a more roundabout way. And we seek to see and feel what’s already here, and befriend what’s already here, as it is.

Are there not other motivations for spiritual practice and seeking awakening?

Yes, definitely. The most basic motivation is for what we already are to seek itself, to seek to notice itself as it is.

This may take the form of yearning for truth, love, home, or something similar. This is truth wishing for itself, love wishing for itself, and home wishing for itself. It seeks to bring itself into consciousness.

We may also recognize that our life as it is doesn’t work – for ourselves, others, and the world. And seek to find a way that feels more right.

And we may have glimpses of what we are, or intuit it, and seek it. Or it may be relatively clear and we wish to clarify it and learn to live more fully from it.

How do compulsions come into the picture?

When we try to avoid our discomfort, we go into compulsions. We can say that the basic compulsion is to avoid our discomfort, and that takes the form of all the different compulsions we may have in our life: Seeking awakening, food, sex, distractions, entertainment, career, being seen a certain way by others, and so on.

Why isn’t this a more explicit part of the conversation around spirituality and awakening?

It is, more and more.

And it is part of many of the teachings of the past as well. This is not a new insight by any means.

In the past, it seems that this was often addressed indirectly through different practices. They may have trusted that people would discover it for themselves at some point. And teachers may have spoken with students more directly about this when they felt they were ready for it.

It may also be that spiritual teachers and traditions found it useful for people to operate from this compulsion for a while. It kept them in the practice, even if their practice inevitably was colored by it and for that reason slightly misguided.

In what way is our practice colored and misguided by this compulsion?

When we are caught in a compulsion (which is always to avoid discomfort), it colors our perception, choices, and life. And it also colors our spiritual practice.

We tend to get caught up in an idea of a future goal (desirable) versus what’s here (undesirable), and miss that all of it is already happening here and now.

We tend to go into effort and pushing when all that’s needed is noticing what’s already here.

We may get disillusioned since our efforts may not give us what we want, or if it apparently does then it goes away again. Our efforts cannot give us what we want since what we want is already here, and finding it depends on noticing and not effort.

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