“Comfort…that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and then becomes a host, and then a master.” -Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet.
One of the biggest myths of the collective ego, a myth that is greatly perpetuated in popular culture, is the idea that an abundance of comfort and security will result in happiness and a meaningful life. Beginning as early as childhood we are fed the belief that if we work hard enough we can eradicate all discomfort, avoid all pain, and finally feel safe, happy, and content. While the ego would prefer to erase all the unknowns of life, and remove all potentially uncomfortable or painful experiences, this would actually be a recipe for suffering.
Imagine if your ego had every one of it’s desires met. Imagine you could actually control every aspect of your life, being able to avoid all discomfort or pain, and instead, have everything that you wanted. If it were up to the ego, you would likely be very wealthy, never having to work again, with every one of your whims met instantaneously. While this might initially sound like heaven, in reality, this type of life would very quickly lead to some kind of hellish experience. You can see very clear examples of this in many wealthy people who have amassed large fortunes, yet still need more, and remain rather miserable despite having everything they ever wanted.
An episode of the classic television show, “The Twilight Zone,” exemplifies this paradox regarding the desires of the ego. In the episode a thief is killed during an attempted robbery. In the afterlife he finds himself in what appears to be heaven. This version of “heaven” is a casino where every bet the thief places, he wins. There are beautiful women at his side, and an endless buffet of decadent food to eat.
For the first week the thief is elated, indulging himself in every gluttonous desire. As he continues to win every bet he places, and have every one of his whims met, he becomes bored and uninspired. Very quickly he finds himself completely miserable, frustrated by the lack of excitement or meaning in his new environment. Without the element of surprise, and the challenges that come with the many unknowns of life, the joy quickly disappeared from the thief’s experience. What he had always believed would make him happy was actually a horrible fate. The twist at the end of the episode occurs when the thief realizes that what he thought was heaven, was actually hell.
This is a perfect example of the paradox of the ego, which is always searching for what it believes will get you closer to paradise, while slowly paving the road towards a life of stagnation, emptiness and suffering. The ego mind believes that all of those temporary experiences of comfort or pleasure will ultimately bring you happiness, while in reality, they create a form of padding around you, dulling your inner fire and passion for life.
When you fulfill the desires of the ego for greater comfort, you are putting up a wall between yourself and the direct experiences of life. This will never satisfy the heart and Soul, which desire to know the full range of human experience; deep joy, love, bliss and ecstasy, as well as deep pain, sadness, and grief. The heart knows that you cannot have joy without pain, or ecstasy without sorrow; they are, in fact, two sides of the same coin.
And the paradox is that once you have become thoroughly insulated from having to experience any discomfort or pain, you become miserable. You become anesthetized to life. You long to feel something, anything, just to know you are alive. And so the ego becomes even more self-satisfying as a way to feel something (which takes the form of compulsively seeking pleasure gratification, greater comfort, or even self-destructive behaviors). This is the state of our collective unconsciousness now; continually seeking greater comfort as a way to insulate ourselves from life, while simultaneously compulsively seeking pleasure gratification (in all its various forms) as a means to artificially feel alive.
So become alert throughout your day as to where you may be avoiding discomfort, uncertainty, or the unknowns of life, and allow yourself, instead, to be present with it. Yes, a certain amount of comfort and consistency is necessary in order to be effective in the world; a comfortable home space, comfortable clothes to wear, a reliable mode of transportation, and a pleasant place to work. But watch how the ego can be very slippery in its desires, wanting to “upgrade” in subtle ways; “life would be a little better only if…” Suddenly you need a bigger place to live, more features in your car, or you find yourself wanting the newest gadget because it will make life a bit easier. Stay alert and present to be sure that your “needs” truly are what you need in order to be healthy and happy.
Begin to allow more space in your life for discomfort. Make a point of letting yourself feel pain and discomfort when it arises. No need to be masochistic about it, but rather, find the balance between comfort and discomfort, pleasures and challenges. The next time you get a headache, for instance, instead of immediately going to the medicine cabinet for the painkillers, simply let yourself feel the pain. Breathe into the pain and allow it to soften.
Can you sit with the discomfort of the unknown, without needing to be in complete control of your experience? How much unknown are you comfortable with? Let yourself really unravel the conditioning regarding control and comfort, giving yourself the opportunity to have a richer and more meaningful life by consciously engaging uncomfortable experiences. Become like a flower, absorbing the light of the sun when it is shining, but also like a warrior, facing challenges, pain, and discomfort head on when they arise, without needing to anesthetize yourself with some form of escapism or padding.
Mica is a holistic counselor who suffered from ulcerative colitis for 8 years before learning to heal himself. His big breakthrough came after reading the spiritual material of Eckhart Tolle, and uncovering the dysfunction of the ego. Mica now helps clients heal themselves and create more heart-centered lives for themselves through holistic counseling. He offers sessions over the phone and by Skype.