Learning to Listen to Discomfort

Everything you want is just outside your comfort zone.
— R. Allen

For the past few weeks I've noticed a high-pitched ringing in my ears. At times I can forget about it, especially when I'm listening to something or someone else. But when things are really quiet it is hard to ignore.

I'm not sure when the ringing started and now I wonder if it has always been there. Maybe I'm just becoming more aware of it. 

Now that I notice it, though, it bothers me. 

I guess my attempt to drown out traffic noise on my daily walks by plugging in and turning up the music on my iPhone was a bad idea. My doctor says that the ringing might never go away but at least now I can take steps to protect my hearing from further damage. 

Ignorance might be "bliss" (picture me blissfully walking along to my favorite tunes) but it can also be harmful, or at the very least non-productive. 

Many people are afraid of silence and stillness. It makes them uncomfortable. I sometimes wonder if it's a fear of hearing something, or noticing something, that they've been trying for years to drown out with noise and busyness. 

When we get quiet and listen deeply we may begin to notice a level of discomfort that we would not otherwise notice. The discomfort could be physical, emotional and/or spiritual in nature. I know I've experienced all three during meditation. Our discomfort has something to teach us if only we will listen. I believe that, like dreams, this discomfort comes in the service of healing and wholeness. 

It's when we listen deeply to the discomfort that we know what actions to take. 

Sometimes we can notice the discomfort and intentionally choose to do nothing about it. Just knowing we're choosing can help us move from feeling helpless to empowered. 

More often, the discomfort can point us in a positive direction. For example, the discomfort of my ringing ears led me to seek medical attention. The discomfort of a deadline can help you accomplish things that might otherwise never get accomplished. The discomfort of a cluttered desk might help you get organized.

For me, just writing this blog is going outside my comfort zone. To put myself "out there" when I'd much rather stay quietly in the background makes me pretty uncomfortable. 

Many are terrified of public speaking. In high school, I actually chose to take a zero on a book report rather than stand and speak in front of the class. Pushing through that discomfort (by taking a public speaking course at Dale Carnegie) made a huge difference in my life. I could never have led a retreat if I had not overcome that fear. Now facilitating groups is one of my greatest joys!

Here's the thing... the only way to get to the other side of discomfort is to go through it. As the old children's song goes, "Can't go over it. Can't go under it. Can't go around it. Gotta go through it."

If you're in that place of discomfort and feeling stuck, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. What deep need of mine is not being met?

  2. What am I willing to do to meet that need?

  3. What's my next step?

By the way, if you see me walking down the street listening to tunes on my iPhone don't worry. My new QuietComfort headphones block out the traffic noise so I don't have to turn up the volume.