I have a prayer that my discomforts might not be trivial.
See, the thing is, I KNOW I’m going to seek comfort. Most of us do naturally, to some degree, and I DEFINITELY do. And I’m not castigating myself over the fact that I like eating Ramen noodles, with hot sauce and reading a good novel (ok, fine – reading a good website) on the sofa. I yearn for comfort pretty often. I’m fine with that. After forty years, I’ve become more and more accustomed to who I am. And I find I’m really quite likeable, on the whole, if a bit lovably ridiculous.
I also know I’ll be UNCOMFORTABLE with a somewhat predictable regularity. This may have less to do with a perennially changing world, than it has to do with the fickle world of my inner motivations. When it comes to finding things to upset my own equilibrium, there are not enough mattresses in the castle to separate this princess from his pea. Sooner or later, I will feel the twinge. And this is how it happens that I find myself composing long, angry, cleverly constructed rants to the makers of FruitShootBingo, castigating them – in a knowingly ironic sort of way – on their reliance on in app purchases.
I don’t want to compose long, angry, cleverly constructed rants to the makers of FruitShootBingo. At least, not beyond the amount necessary to the charming quixotism of a full life. I don’t mind being the sort of person who does this occasionally – a sort of silly avenger of the things that ain’t broke. But I don’t want to get into any serious habits here. No, the bulk of my time should go elsewhere.
And the fortunate thing is that it’s fairly easy to arrange a life where there’s a good chance that my discomforts might be put to good use. This is NOT accomplished through the regulation of my emotions. Literature is full of examples of how this never works, and so is the literature of my life. Emotions love a command, but only because it gives them something they can get angry at. No, the able fisherman does not herd fish. One will come, and then another. If they stop coming, she checks her pole, and if that doesn’t work, she prays for the pond.
No, rather than discipline my emotions into shape, the strategy I adopt now is, first of all, to try and put myself in a place where my inevitable discomforts will latch on to something meaningful. When I say “put myself in a place”, I mean first and foremost where my body is, and secondarily where my mind and empathy find themselves. I try to spend time with the poor, including the poor in spirit (it helps that it’s written into the job description). I get to know the lives of others. I read the news, but try not to read it so much that it becomes a spectator sport (and if I fail at that – which I usually do – try not to make a spectator sport the centre of my life). I cultivate the power in me to be helpful. And I keep asking the question, “is my discomfort serving anyone here?”
And so, I try to put myself in places where my discomforts may come to good use. I walk into difficult rooms, where emotional trials and tribulations await me, so that I might be the instrument of a peace far larger than myself. This is a bit challenging for me – instinctually, far from embracing positive discomforts, I shrink from discomfort (even the discomforts I myself create!). It’s helpful to remember that the discomforts will come into my life anyway. So I might as well choose the context for these discomforts to arise.
The other strategy I adopt – returning to the top – is to live a life of prayer. By this I don’t just mean saying prayers regularly, although I do try to remember to do this. It means taking time to pause and reflect, and not always living in the moment-to-moment of life. Not getting too caught up in where I am right now, which may not be where I am tomorrow. The life of prayer is the larger life, the life that acknowledges the may-yet-be and lives between the certainties of human experience. And so I return to prayer, the ocean which sways the ship back and forth.