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Sitting With Discomfort

One of the great skills of humanity is problem solving. We fix things, invent things, solve problems to try and understand our enviroment. This is the fuel that has propelled civilization after civilization to be where were are today. This is sometimes called our "mastery orientation": the ability to control and manage our enviroment and think our way out of difficulties.

But what if we cannot think our way out of what we are faced with? We can't think our way out of loss or grief...or the decisions of others we fundementally disagree with. When this happens we often feel angry or sad and frustrated, our views become entrenched and we become rigid in our thinking. It leads to conflict, disagreement - even war. At these times we refuse to sit with the discomfort so we resist it and dig in, rejecting the feelings that are arising within us.

Tich Nhat Hanh suggested we should sit with the feelings that arise when we don't have an answer, accept the uncertainty that comes from not being able to resolve how we feel or escape from the discomfort of, for example, bereavement. We do not always have the answer or the solution to what faces us and unless we sit with that feeling, our minds will go round and round in despair, seeking a solution to make these emotions go away but instead prolonging them. Our determination not to feel how we feel just makes them worse or last longer.

Next time you're inexplicably cut up at a roundabout instead of thinking "that guy is an idiot and that's why he did that", building up a story of why he is an idiot - the car he drives, its colour, the glimpse of him you saw as he sped past, followed by additional entirely fictional biographical details your mind creates to add to the story, try thinking "I have no idea why he did that..." The discomfort of uncertainty will last a lot less time and be much less painful, less angry than your minds attempt to create a story about why it happened in its attempt to problem solve.

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