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Archive for March, 2011

The REAL Power of NOW!


The following story is adapted from Pema Chödrön, “The Wisdom of No Escape,” pg. 29.

Once upon a time there was a woman who was arrogant and proud. She decided she wanted to attain enlightenment, so she asked all the experts how to do that. Finally one told her, “Well, if you climb to the top of this very high mountain, you’ll find a cave there. Sitting inside that cave is a very wise old woman, and she will tell you.”

“Very well,” thought the woman, “I’ll do that. After all, nothing but the best.”

So off she went.

She endured great hardships getting up the mountain, but finally she found the cave. And sure enough, sitting there was this very gentle, spiritual-looking old woman in white clothes who smiled at her beatifically.

Overwhelmed with awe and respect, the arrogant proud woman prostrated herself at the feet of the sagely-looking woman and said, “I want to attain enlightenment. Show me how.”

The wise woman looked at her with her beatific smile and asked, “Are you sure you want to attain enlightenment? This may not be as easy as you think. It likely will be much more difficult, incredibly stressful really. Do you think you are up for this? Are you really sure you want enlightenment?”

The woman said, “Of course I’m sure.”

Suddenly the gentle old hunched woman stopped smiling, straightened up, and turned into a hideous demon brandishing a big stick and started chasing the woman all around the cave, saying “Now! Now! Now!”

And for the rest of her life, that woman could never get away from the demon who was always saying, “Now!”

But yet that’s just what we’re trying to do when whenever we give in to the auto-pilot of acting out on our fearful emotions and stressful feelings or just going along with our resentful, ornery, petty moods and impulses—we’re just running away from our inner demon of fear, embarrassment, shame, pride, inadequacy. And whenever we automatically react in this way and run from ourselves and from stress and fear, we’re not living mindfully; we’re asleep.

Now, now, now. We always have a fundamental choice available to us to make, even in times of stress and anxiety. Perhaps even especially in times of stress and anxiety. Any intense and frightening moment can be a defining moment. Or not. Meaning, we can do what we’ve always done—we can even redouble our efforts doing what we’ve always done—and repeat the past in the present and try to make our present and future just like our past, choosing yet again to run and hide, give into our stress and the anxiety demon that chases us, and empower it even more. Or we can make a different choice, define ourselves differently, set a different trajectory for ourselves, courageously and heroically go against the grain of our habits and the stress and uncertainty we’re feeling and the normal way we react to it; we can be honest with ourselves and others, drop the narcissistic and vain proud and arrogant act, become much more tender and vulnerable and open and frank about what we’re experiencing.

That’s the real power of now. Choice. Recognizing that we have a choice. And that we can choose differently, that we can make a different choice. That our conditioning and fear doesn’t have to be our destiny. That while horrific and crazy things may have happened to us or been done to us in our past, we don’t have to react and act out in destructive, fearful ways and take our fear and stress out on those around us—especially those we claim to love and care about.

To refuse to give into acting out on stress and fear and trying to run from these is nothing less than to create a seminal defining moment for ourselves. It is to finally take a stand. It is for our budding strengths to finally stir and emerge and become active. And it is to focus ourselves forward on our possible strengths and building on these, instead of focusing on the past and pandering to our weaknesses yet again. (Because whenever we do that and do what we’ve always done and run from stress and fear, we reinforce our fears and weaknesses, empowering them, making them even stronger and more likely to fire even more quickly and more fervently the next time.)

We always have the choice. Whether we are aware of it or not, whether we are willing to admit it or not, we always have a choice:

We can react mindlessly to stress and let it overrun us, and in doing so feed the beast and make the stress demon stronger.

Or we can go against the grain of what we’re feeling and respond more mindfully, more courageously, with greater tenderness and open-heartedness and vulnerability.

Whatever we’re given in life can either wake us up or put us more to sleep.

That is the real power of now. Making a choice. Making a very conscious, deliberate, strategic, mindful, eyes- and heart- and mind-wide-open choice. Deciding whether to wake up or go more to sleep.

To choose not to decide or to pretend that we don’t have a choice is to go to sleep.

Whenever we run away and avoid and diffuse responsibility, we go to sleep.

When we stay and remain open and present and curious and investigate more mindfully what we’re experiencing as well as our thoughts and feelings about it, we are beginning to sow seeds of wakefulness.

Even when the stress is the greatest and the temptation to fly of the handle and lose it is most alluring and familiar, we can still go against our pride and habits and self-protectiveness, and let ourselves soften and breakdown and not be so fearful of appearing weak, needy, vulnerable, insufficient, hurt, and in need of a little (or a lot of) tenderness, compassion, kindness, soothing.

After all, that’s usually the real fear behind the stress whenever we act out harshly and self-protectively on it—the fear of appearing inadequate, the fear of facing up to and admitting our own powerlessness and inadequacy, the fear of hitting rock bottom and admitting that we’re helpless and much less than what we thought, the fear of being rejected and pushed away by another in a moment of weakness and frazzledness if we were to reach out to another and ask for compassion, tenderness, mercy, kindness. That’s the real fear.

To run away and avoid difficulty, is to try to go to back to sleep—it is to try to avoid ourselves, to set our life in such away that we avoid facing ourselves, that we avoid taking responsibility for ourselves, that we avoid dealing with our pride and having to feel inadequate, not together, uncertain.

In a moment of stress and fear, this fundamental choice is always there for us. The choice is always there to choose love or give into fear. To give into our reptile or to lead with our spirit and what’s best in us. We can either reject ourselves and others and lash around and act out like an alligator or a demon-like reptile, or we can make friends with ourselves and our unpleasant feelings and not reactively or automatically run from them whenever they frighten us with their intensity or heat, and we can lead from our spirit, what’s best in us, our potential strengths.

That is the real power of now, realizing that whatever we’re presented with in life can either wake us up or put us more to sleep. That we can always choose love over fear. That we can choose to sow love, or we can just react, go with our amygdala, act out of fear, cave and give into and empower stress. We can either maintain perspective or lose it. We can either go crazy or we can go sane. “When we find ourselves in a mess, instead of feeling guilty or stressed, we can reflect on the fact that how we relate to this mess now will be sowing the seeds of how we relate to whatever happens next. We hold the power to make ourselves miserable or make ourselves strong. The amount of effort required will be about the same. Right now we are creating our state of mind for tomorrow, not to mention this afternoon, next week, next year, and all the years of our lives.” ( — Pema Chödrön)

Now, now, now! Whenever the going gets difficult and stressful, we’re also simultaneously presented with another incredible opportunity yet again—the opportunity of yet another potentially life-altering “defining moment,” depending on how we decide to respond. The Chinese character for crisis is also the same symbol or character for opportunity. And that’s the reality of what any moment of stress and anxiety might mean for us. Because these moments of crisis are also our greatest potential moments to define ourselves differently, to make our future different from our past, if—if—we can heroically take the leap and make a different choice. We can always run; we always have that choice available to us to avoid or to wall up. But we can also choose strength, choose what’s potentially best in us, and try to stay and remain open and break our habitual ingrained self-sabotaging, self-protective, maladaptive, unproductive patterns and reactions by trying something new and making a different choice . . . the choice not to run and hide and annihilate and act impulsively without considering the consequences of what we’re doing, the seeds we’re sowing, the precedent we’re setting or reinforcing yet again (more fear, more bad karma, more fear and negative consequences, less strength and capacity and willingness to deal with stress head-on).

We can either stay and learn to deal with ourselves and deal with the consequences of what all of our past choices and past avoidances have done to us; or we can run from ourselves some more and make others deal with the consequences of our craziness and our shortfalls in courage and goodness. We can either bravely, humbly, even desperately learn to deal with ourselves, including what’s weakest and worst and not so savory in us; or we can run from those situations and persons and relationships that bring out the worst in us and expose all the crud and dross in us and mindlessly fantasize about a future that will be different from our past not because we’ve changed who we are but simply because we’ve changed where we are and who and what’s around us. Because the real power of now comes from acknowledging that we must be the change we wish to see. The real power of now comes from admitting that the geographic cure is not a cure at all, not even close, that it’s not a part of the solution, and that it’s actually just another fundamental part of our basic problem—that we don’t deal well (if at all) with ourselves and our fears and stress, that we just don’t fundamentally relate well to ourselves, we are not a good steward and friend to ourselves.

It is possible for us even when the stress is the greatest and the urge to self-protect and flee is the most compelling to do something completely different, something completely unprecedented—it is possible for us to make a different choice—it is possible for us to not automatically shut down and self-protect and close our heart and mind, but to instead remain curious, daring, courageous, open, inquisitive, audacious, compassionate, and soothe our own frazzled emotions, not let them capture and blind us, but instead to remember what’s best in us and refocus our attention on it, and smile at fear, make friends with uncertainty and anxiety, not continue to relive the past in the present. Now is here. Now is the time. Now is all we have. Now is when we can make a different choice. Now. Now. Now. That’s all we have. Every now is sowing something in us, just as every now in the past has sown something in us and made us into the person we have become and are right now, including the way we react to stress and fear and deal with ourselves emotionally (or stubbornly refuse to deal with ourselves). If we want to legitimately feel good about ourselves by being braver and more centered in the future when the fearful stress demon comes again, we need to make different choice now than the ones we’ve been making in the past whenever we’ve gotten stressed out and obliterated situations, run from relationships and commitments when the going got tough, and taken out our stress on others.

Don’t surrender your loneliness
So quickly.
Let it cut more deep.

Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or even divine ingredients can.

Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My voice
So tender,

My need of God
Absolutely
Clear.

( — Hafiz)

It’s not just feelings of loneliness that we perhaps need to not run from so quickly when they visit us, perhaps it’s also those feelings of shame and embarrassment and even horror over who we are and what we’ve done (to others and ourselves) and what we’ve become that we also need to not surrender and not run from, but instead let cut us even more deeply, let ferment and season us, and let begin to finally transform us and awake us to some new sanity. . . . A sanity where we can make different choices. . . . More courageous choices. . . .

And if we’re going to grow and make our future different from our past we need to make different choices. More courageous choices. And Now. Now. Now. Because that’s all we have. If we’re idle and discursive and unfocused in our now, living haphazardly, dissipating our energy and our awareness, scattering ourselves, further fragmenting ourselves, not committing to anything other than homeostasis, the path of least resistance, and the comfort of moment, then we’re just seeding more future misery and unhappiness and instability for ourselves and others, and a future that will continue to look a lot like our past. We’re not sowing strength, bravery, attention, mindfulness.

But if in the moments of calm that we have now between moments of agitation we live more mindfully, take up meditation, yoga, writing, self-examination, self-analysis, reading decent books, studying and learning more and more about the dharma, the Tao, engage in more meaningful and wholesome and honest conversations (instead of discursive low-level ones that further scatter our attention), and we learn to begin sitting quietly with ourselves like a friend, like a best friend, like our a soul friend or anam cara, and patiently listen to ourselves, then we are planting different seeds, seeds of mindfulness, seeds of courage, seeds of bravery, seeds of better decision-making, seeds of more lasting happiness, seeds of honesty, seeds of friendliness, seeds of virtue, seeds of goodness, seeds of openness, seeds of wakefulness, seeds of transformation; —we are planting a future for ourselves that will be different than our past—a future that will be happier because we will be more eligible for happiness, because we will (finally!) be braver, happier, less afraid, more open-hearted, more inoculated to stress and anxiety.

But we can only do that if we are wise about our nows and make different choices now, now, now.

Because that’s the real power of now—it’s in the choices we make and the actions we take. Thinking and talking and daydreaming about it isn’t enough.

Because all of our nows, all of these moments of decision, taken as a whole, make up our lives and the sum quality of our lives, rendering us each either more and more eligible and fit for greater and greater happinesses, or less and less fit for life and thus leaving us weaker, more afraid, more miserable and isolated and alone, less able to be open and loving, and more and more ineligible for happiness and peace of mind and heart.

Some day, in years to come, you will be wrestling with the great temptation, or trembling under the great sorrow of your life. But the real struggle is here, now. . . . Now it is being decided whether, in the day of your supreme sorrow or temptation, you shall miserably fail or gloriously conquer. Character cannot be made except by a steady, long-continued process.” — Phillips Brooks

[E]very time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself.

To be the one kind of creature is heaven: That is, it is joy, and peace, and knowledge, and power.

To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness.

Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.

— C. S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity,” pg. 87.

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James Hollis on Courage, Choice, and Personal Growth


“The capacity for personal growth depends on one’s ability to internalize and to take personal responsibility. If we forever scapegoat, blame others, see our life as a problem caused by others, no change will occur. If we are deficient in courage, no real growth can occur. As Jung wrote:

‘[Personal growth] consists of three parts: insight, endurance, and action. Psychology is needed only in the first part, but in the second and third parts moral strength plays the predominant role. . . . The Shadow side of ourselves represents a moral problem that challenges the whole of the ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the Shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark and anxious aspects of the personality as present and real.’

“What is not made conscious in us will continue to haunt our lives—and the world. The tendency for each of us to privilege our own position, be biased in favor of ourselves, fail to see consequences, and be unaware of hidden motives, is fundamental in us each. It takes a strong sense of self and a lot of courage to be able to examine and take responsibility for the darker parts of ourselves when they turn up. It is much, much easier to deny, scapegoat, blame others, project elsewhere, absolve ourselves, and or just bury it and keep on rolling.

“It is these moments of human frailty and inner stress and strain when we are most dangerous to ourselves, our families, our society.

“Examining this material when it comes up (or soon after it does) is an act of great moral importance, for it brings the possibility of lifting our stuff off of others, which is surely the most ethical and useful thing we can do for those around us.

“What do we each the owe the world? Simple: respect, ethical behavior, and the gift of one’s own best self.

“Our capacity to deliver on this—as well as our quality of life—will ultimately be a direct function of the level of awareness and moral courage and clarity we bring to our daily choices.”

The Last of the Human Freedoms—The Choice of Action, the Choice of Attitude In Any Given Set of Circumstances


In attempting this psychological presentation and a psychopathological explanation of the typical characteristics of a concentration camp inmate, I may give the impression that the human being is completely and unavoidably influenced by his surroundings. (In this case the surroundings being the unique structure of camp life, which forced the prisoner to conform his conduct to a certain set pattern.) But what about human liberty? Is there no spiritual freedom in regard to behavior and reaction to any given surroundings? Is that theory true which would have us believe that man is no more than a product of many conditional and environmental factors—be they of a biological, psychological or sociological nature? Is man but an accidental product of these? Most important, do the prisoners’ reactions to the singular world of the concentration camp prove that man cannot escape the influences of his surroundings? Does man have no choice of action in the face of such circumstances?

We can answer these questions from experience as well as on principle. The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action. There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress.

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedomsto choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate.

Seen from this point of view, the mental reactions of the inmates of a concentration camp must seem more to us than the mere expression of certain physical and sociological conditions. Even though conditions such as lack of sleep, insufficient food and various mental stresses may suggest that the inmates were bound to react in certain ways, in the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him—mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp. Dostoevski said once, “There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.” These words frequently came to my mind after I became acquainted with those martyrs whose behavior in camp, whose suffering and death, bore witness to the fact that the last inner freedom cannot be lost. It can be said that they were worthy of their sufferings; the way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement. It is this spiritual freedom—which cannot be taken away—that makes life meaningful and purposeful.

An active life serves the purpose of giving man the opportunity to realize values in creative work, while a passive life of enjoyment affords him the opportunity to obtain fulfillment in experiencing beauty, art, or nature. But there is also purpose in that life which is almost barren of both creation and enjoyment and which admits of but one possibility of high moral behavior: namely, in man’s attitude to his existence, an existence restricted by external forces. A creative life and a life of enjoyment are banned to him. But not only creativeness and enjoyment are meaningful. If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.

The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity—even under the most difficult circumstances—to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not.

Do not think that these considerations are unworldly and too far removed from real life. It is true that only a few people are capable of reaching such high moral standards. Of the prisoners only a few kept their full inner liberty and obtained those values which their suffering afforded. But even one such example is sufficient proof that man’s inner strength may raise him above his outward fate. Such men are not only in concentration camps. Everywhere man is confronted with fate, with the chance of achieving something through his own suffering.

Freud once asserted, “Expose a large number of the most diverse people uniformly to hunger, and with the increase of the imperative urge for food, all individual differences will blur and in their place will appear the uniform expression of one unstilled urge.”

Thank heaven Freud was spared knowing the concentration camps from the inside. His subjects lay on plush couches designed in the style of Victorian era culture.

Because, there—in the filth of Auschwitz—individual differences did not “blur.” To the contrary, people became more different; people unmasked themselves, both the swine and the saints.

(Viktor Frankl, abridged and adapted from “Man’s Search for Meaning,” pp. 85-89, 178, emphasis added)

C.S. Lewis on the Power & Consequences of Our Choices


[E]very time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself.

To be the one kind of creature is heaven: That is, it is joy, and peace, and knowledge, and power.

To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness.

Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.

—C. S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity,” pg. 87

The Fight for Our Heart: Feeding the Right Wolf


A Native American grandfather was speaking to his grandson about violence and cruelty in the world and how it comes about. He said it was as if two wolves were fighting in his heart. One wolf was vengeful, resentful, and angry, and the other wolf was understanding and kind. The young man asked his father which wolf would win the fight in his heart. And his grandfather answered, “The one that will win will be the one I choose to feed.”

A person does something that brings up unwanted feelings, and what happens? Do we open or close? Usually we involuntarily shut down.

Yet without a storyline to escalate our discomfort we still have easy access to the natural state of our heart.

Right at this point we can recognize that we are closing off, and instead allow a gap, a crack, and leave room for change to happen and for our self-protective reflexes to relax and gentle..

In Jill Bolte Taylor’s book “My Stroke of Insight,” she points to scientific evidence showing that the life span of any particular emotion is only one and a half minutes.

Just 90 seconds!

After that we have to revive the emotion and get it going again.

And we do this automatically by the story or stories we tell ourselves about what has happened. We revive the emotion and amplify it by the habitual patterned ways we have of talking to ourselves—which unless we have trained the mind through mindfulness meditation, or therapy—will likely be counterproductive and just antagonize our emotions, instead of deescalating and re-centering ourselves and seeing and experiencing more directly what happened to us.

Our usual way of dealing with a negative emotion is that we automatically do revive it and feed into it by uncritically feeding it with our internal conversation and the stories we tell ourselves of why the other person did this to us, or why this shouldn’t be happening to us, or why this isn’t fair. . . .

This is a very ancient and basic habit. And it allows people like you and me who have the capacity for tremendous empathy and warmth and understanding to get so clouded that we can actually do harm to each other.

Understanding this, I’ve become highly motivated to make a practice of doing the opposite. I don’t always succeed, but year by year I become more familiar and at home with dropping the storyline and trusting that I have the capacity to stay present and receptive to other beings.

Suppose you and I spent the rest of our lives doing this? Suppose you and I spent the rest of our lives not avoiding what we fear but befriending it, staying, becoming less reactive, and not feeding that reactive self-protective uncharitable wolf? Suppose instead we began a practice of feeding the other wolf, the wolf of forgiveness, charity, kindness, understanding, courage, and love? What might happen to the quality of our own lives and the lives around us? What impact might this have on our community and even the world as a whole? . . .

Look what the opposite does.

When we avoid those who activate our fears and insecurities, those who bring up unwanted feelings, we dehumanize them. This just cultivates a more aggressive and anxious and isolating and self-protective society.

Yet it can also become a daily practice to humanize people. We can make that choice. We can feed that wolf.

And when I do feed this wolf of friendliness and understanding unknown people become very real to me. They come better into focus as living beings who have sorrows and joys like I do, people who have parents and neighbors and friends, just like me. I also have a heightened awareness of my own reaction and fears, judgments and prejudices that pop out of nowhere about these ordinary people I’ve never even met.

When we see difficult circumstances as a chance to grow in bravery and wisdom as well as in patience and kindness, when we become more conscious of the ways we get hooked and we don’t take the bait and escalate, then our personal distress can become a means of better connecting with the pain, discomfort and unhappiness of others.

The primary intention in writing this book is that we might prepare ourselves to look beyond our own welfare and consider the great suffering of others and the fragile state of our world. As we change our own dysfunctional habits, we are simultaneously changing society, for society is nothing more than sum of all of our relationships, interactions, exchanges or lack of exchanges. Our own awakening is intertwined with the awakening of an enlightened society. If we can lose our personal appetite for aggression and addiction, the energy on the whole planet will become a bit more loving, tender, compassionate.

For the sake of all sentient beings, I hope you will join the growing society of aspiring and full-fledged spiritual warriors who are emerging from every continent on the globe. May we never give up our genuine concern for the world. And may our lives become a training ground for awakening our natural intelligence, openness, and warmth.

– Pema Chodron, adapted from “Taking the Leap,” pp. 3, 78-81, 98-99.

The Comfort Zone


We all live within the comfort zone. It’s the arena of activities we have done often enough to feel comfortable doing again—all those once-difficult and fearful things that we now find easy and comfortable.

Imagine the comfort zone as a circle: inside the circle are those things we are comfortable doing, outside is everything else. The wall of the circle is not a wall of protection, it is a wall of fear, a wall of limitation. The illusion is that the wall keeps us from bad things and keeps bad things from us; the illusion is that we are wise enough to know which things will prove beneficial over the long-term and which things will not and weed them out accordingly. The truth is we will err on the side of caution and weed out too much, we will be over-cautious and weed out much that is beneficial and would operate for our benefit. When we do something new, something different, we push against the parameters of our comfort zone. If we do the new thing often enough, we overcome the fear, guilt, unworthiness, uneasiness, hurt feelings, and anger, and our comfort zone expands. If we back off and honor the limitation, our comfort zone shrinks. It’s a dynamic, living thing, always either expanding or contracting.

When our comfort zone expands in one area, it expands in other areas as well: when we succeed at something, we take that self-confidence and esteem with us into other endeavors. This is known as “positive transfer.” When we give in to our comfort zone, the zone contracts. For some, the comfort zone shrinks to the size of their apartment—they never leave home without anxiety. For a few, the comfort zone shrinks to a space smaller than their own body, these are people who in every aspect of their lives are paralyzed by fear and self-doubt and not being good enough. This is when the comfort zone has won its greatest victory. —That and suicide. The “it” some people refer to when they “just can’t take it anymore” is the need to constantly be confronting the comfort zone just to keep the fear at bay. Here is one of the great ironies of life: those who are doing what they want to do and are consciously expanding their comfort zone at every opportunity experience no more fear than people who are passively trying to keep life as comfortable as possible.

Fear is a part of life. Some people feel fear when they press against their comfort zone and make it larger. Other people feel fear when they even think they might do something that gets them even close to the ever-shrinking, in their case, boundary of their comfort zone. Both feel the same fear. In fact, people in shrinking comfort zones probably feel more fear. They not only feel fear, they feel the fear of feeling fear, and the fear of the fear of feeling fear, and on and on. The person who develops the habit of moving through fear when it appears, feels it only once—“a coward dies a thousand deaths, a brave man dies but one.”

In the air conditioning trade, the “comfort zone” is the range of temperatures on the thermostat (usually around 72 degrees) in which neither heating nor air conditioning is needed. It’s also called the “dead zone.” That’s the result of honoring the comfort zone too much, too often—a sense of deadness, a feeling of being trapped in a life not of our desiring, doing things not of our choosing, spending time with people we don’t like.

This is my favorite method of expanding the comfort zone: learn to love it all.

(Peter McWilliams, adapted and modified from “Life 101“)

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