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Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

Archive for August 17th, 2013

Comfort zones 0

Posted on August 17, 2013 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated August 18, 2013 – 12:00am

It is nice to be comfortable, to feel at home, safe, in a world that unfolds in a predictable manner. It is a great feeling to be financially comfortable, to have enough money and not have to worry about paying bills. When one goes a little beyond having just enough money, life starts to get more exciting than comfortable. As more money comes in, it becomes exhilarating. But while one is beyond being uncomfortable, one is not in relaxed comfort either. Way too much money may begin to feel like a burden to carry. It is anything but comfortable.

To be able to appreciate comfort, one must have the ability to determine what feels “just right.”

Being in a relaxed state is how a comfort zone feels like. After a long, challenging day at the office, or a long trip, it is great to come home to people and things that are familiar — wife, children, the family home, the things inside the house that make you feel at home because you bought them and put them there. You know where your slippers are. You like the familiar scent of the house. You like the food. In fact it was especially prepared for you. The sounds you hear tell you that you are home.

There is a great assurance one feels around familiar things. There is comfort in routine. Whatever it is one is doing, one is relaxed because of one’s familiarity with the setting and the situation.

There is also the aspect of comfort when you know you do not have to try very hard. You are relaxed physically when you surrender to inertia. You lie down instead of sit. You get out of your tight clothing and slip into looser ones. You obey the demands of your body. You eat when you feel like it, and sleep because you can’t help it. Physical comfort is surrendering to the pull of gravity and entropy.

It is wonderful to feel comfortable.

Some people can be “picky” in their comfort. By this I refer to people who cannot use toilets except those in their own homes, or eat food prepared by someone other than the cook they are used to. They also find it hard to sleep in a new bed.

There are people who wear only branded clothes and accessories. There are also those who do not express their own opinions but those of others whom they feel carry weight and command respect. Such people seem to be comfortable being associated with status. It is their way of gaining approval. To be accepted, not to be singled out or criticized, to live within the confines of strict political correctness is where their comfort zone is. To each his own.

However, there is also such a thing as too much comfort. I can get restless being stuck with the familiar. When I stay at home too much, I get cabin fever. When I keep doing the same things in the same way, I get tired and bored. When we relate to people the same way all the time, contempt for one another is inevitably bred. When these things happen, I am tempted to break out of the mold, to try new things, travel, explore the unknown and unfamiliar paths, or create new ones.

It is great to experience comfort in love, in one’s religion, and be happy with one’s self. It makes one sure of things that matter and a sense of who one is. But at the same time, too much of the familiar leads to stagnancy and boredom. The magic disappears. Clinging too much to the familiar and comfortable can feel like one has built walls around life itself. The unfamiliar, the unknown is stopped from entering. When this happens, the comfort zone once cherished for being nourishing and life affirming becomes stale and can even turn one’s spirit toxic.

Looking back, there was a time in my life when I stopped finding comfort and solace in my understanding of the religion I grew up in. I felt it had become too small, too constricting and too unreasonable in my everyday life. It stopped nourishing me and giving me spiritual comfort.

But far from straying from God, my stepping away from religion opened me up to a bigger spiritual understanding of God, life and myself. I felt the presence of God outside the box, outside the franchise that religion and dogma had trapped God in. I felt that God could not be contained or summarized in words, or even a set of strict beliefs. And I found a God who was so inclusive, there was nothing that was not God. When this happened, I knew I had stepped out of my comfort zone.

My world was transformed. I realized that the search for God I had been on all my life was a useless endeavor. How could I search for something that was never lost and in fact was always present and unavoidable? What a crazy, rich and beautiful reality I awakened to!

But where I found ecstasy, I also discovered suffering. Where before I yearned for constant comfort since it meant freedom from pain in all ways, I learned to accept discomfort and pain as part of life. I learned to accept diversity of views, beliefs, customs, and embrace the difference. I allowed points of view that I once found threatening into my understanding. In short, my heart opened up to a greater compassion than I had ever experienced. I felt I had a wider grasp of suffering, going through moments of being one not just with those who suffered but with everyone and everything else. I felt a quantum leap in my spiritual growth when all these things happened.

I believe that understanding and growing in spirituality means constantly challenging one’s understanding of life and of a God who draws one ever deeper into mystery. The more you know God, the more you know how little your understanding is and will ever be. And yet the spiritual imperative is to continue to try to understand and accept Him. And that is not a comfortable thing to be doing at all.

It is the same with love. To love a human being is to extend, or offer oneself to another. And it can give us a wonderful warm feeling. But it also demands sacrifice and trying again and again and giving till it hurts. To be able to do this sustainably, one must tap the deepest recesses of one’s compassion and discover therein a wellspring of love that flows unconditionally. One must see a glimpse of God that lies within us.

I know now that a lot of the good things in life actually lie outside our comfort zones. To venture outside the familiar is to sharpen one’s senses and perceive the invisible presence, the ultimate reality that is waiting to be discovered. It is also about developing one’s courage, to live ever bigger and greater than we ever imagined ourselves, and yet remain vulnerable and open to whatever shows up.

I am not advocating asceticism. I want to be happy and possess material things like everyone. And I am certainly not against comfort zones. It is a place to heal, to replenish, to relax and to rest. But the idea is not to maintain these zones as closed sets within fixed borders, but to keep moving the fence to include ever greater unknown territory and allow one’s self to get to know the unfamiliar and make it part of one’s comfort zone.

To maintain a comfort zone, one must let new stuff in, otherwise it becomes a zone where things become static, unchanging until they grow old, wither and die until it becomes a zone of spiritual death.

  • August 2013
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