A Fundamental Spiritual Lesson
There is a common misconception about personal growth that says being more spiritual means your life is better in every way. This is often translated as being physically healthier (because you're more “aligned” with your truest self) or not experiencing anger or fear or insecurity (because if you're more spiritual, you're happier).
This is fundamentally problematic.
Regardless of the teaching or the teacher, the modality or the practitioner, we are irrevocably human. Being human means that we are living in a body that is a temporary vessel that is destined to fail. No amount of spirituality is going to stop the natural physical processes.
It also means that we are subject to human emotions along the entire continuum. It is as impossible to eliminate the feeling of jealousy, for instance, as it is impossible to eliminate the color orange. No amount of spiritual growth or energy healing is going to prevent us from feeling undesirable or uncomfortable emotions.
So where does that leave us?
If we see these feelings and experiences as inevitable, then it is all about how we respond to them. In our culture of instant gratification and the social and capitalist ideas that we are to feel good all the time, it is common to try and escape our lousy feelings or experiences quickly. This denial or aversion to discomfort is a recipe for problems.
One of the most basic and primary things we have to learn on the path of personal and spiritual growth is how to be okay with things not being okay.
Learning to sit with things that are uncomfortable is immensely powerful. This is the root of how change happens – we acknowledge the discomfort that is present. Running from discomfort gives us no chance to understand it, to look into it, to find the deeper meaning or lesson in it for us, and to transcend it.
Just being able to say, “Yes, this is here” gives us a powerful opportunity to work with it, heal what needs to be healed and then live our lives in a fuller way. Denying or judging discomfort does not make it go away. In fact, any denial or judgment acts as a heavy blanket over the root discomfort, burying it and making it harder to work with.
The Monster Under the Bed
If a child walks into his parents' room and says he's scared of the monster under his bed, having the parents angrily judge at him with something like, “Quit being so stupid. There's no such things as monsters, go back to bed!” does a double harm. It denies the kid's feelings, who is potentially going to trust his parents (or himself) a little less going forward, and he will still feel scared, perhaps more deeply and subtly.
Instead, if his parents respond with, “Here, have some ice cream and watch some TV,” without actually addressing the fear, the fear will still remain. It will just be forgotten about consciously. It will still be there waiting for him when he gets back into his room. Nothing is actually dealt with or healed.
This is something that is very common for us to do to ourselves. If we say, “Goddamnit, I'm anxious again, I fucking hate my anxiety,” or “ I know I should just be in unconditional love towards this person who harmed me,” without acknowledging our own upset feelings, they are just going to perpetuate.
I am not promoting complacency or passivity. There are things in life – both within our selves and between us and others – that need us to step up and actively make changes. But until we truly sit with our discomfort and with the things we want to run from, we have a much harder road of making actual, lasting change.
A simple technique to this end is to practice saying “Yes” to whatever shows up. It may sound silly, or even feel that way in practice, but it is ultimately empowering.
“Yes” to feeling fearful or hateful or anxious.
“Yes” to the anger of injustice.
“Yes” to the pang of betrayal.
“Yes” to self-judgment.
Saying “Yes” does not mean we like what is showing up, it means we are not running from it. It means we are not ignoring it or judging it. It is here, it is welcome. Then we can fully deal with it. The first step of 12-step programs is admitting there is a problem. This tacit acknowledgment of our situation is the first step towards real, actual change.
If you want to grow personally or spiritually you have embrace all of who you are. That includes the stuff that is uncomfortable, unpleasant, or embarrassing. Acknowledging empowers you to face it, heal it, and move forward more empowered.