Ah, the comfort zone. The place you are not supposed to hang out much of the time if you want to be happy, or so internet quotes and motivational articles claim. You are supposed to take risks and explore new territory, not sit at home and keep on doing the same things you’ve been doing since forever.
I feel very ambivalent towards this notion of stepping outside of your comfort zone. First, it implies that you actually have a comfort zone, meaning you live in a country where there is peace, financial security and food enough for everyone. Second, that this comfort zone has become so tedious and permanent that you now need to step outside of it or die of boredom and stagnation. Which makes the whole concept a motivational speech for spoiled people. Yes, I said it. We all need to think more about how much we have to be grateful for, because the majority of the world population wish they could be in your place, in your boring and oh-so-routine comfort zone with the I-phone and cable tv.
Not only that, but if you’ve been a victim of any kind of trauma, suffer anxiety attacks, are highly sensitive or feel profoundly unsafe in the world for whatever reason, you might actually welcome the idea of an anxiety-neutral place where you feel completely at home, where nothing changes and “where your uncertainty, scarcity and vulnerability are minimized” (definition of Brené Brown). Why can’t we have that place to go to and take shelter? Why are we almost shamed into having to go outside of it and live an extraordinary life? What if I want to be ordinary and just, well, safe? What if my ordinary life is already more than I ever expected to have?
I realise it’s probably a question of how you define your comfort zone. But if we use a bit of logic here, the moment your comfort zone becomes uncomfortable, for example by staying in an abusive relationship or a job you absolutely despise because you think the unknown might be worse, is the place you are at still your comfort zone or does your comfort zone actually lie outside the life you are currently living? Surely these situations would give anyone a lot of anxiety and other painful emotions which are usually not included in the definition of what a comfort zone is.
I’m most certainly not against people challenging themselves or working hard to achieve a certain goal. But do you really need to quit your job to write that novel? Do you really have to burn all your bridges in order to start a new business? Do you really have to invest all your money and take such a big risk? You can have your passion, but not that dangerous sense of entitlement. In a world where people get cancer, die of starvation, are violently tortured, murdered, bullied and enslaved (and not because they are thinking negative thoughts) you are not owed success or an income to live on just by taking a huge risk. It might happen, yes. And if it does, good for you. But be smart and have a safety net, that seems like the most loving thing to do for yourself to me. And above all, remember that if you are safe, healthy, have enough food and clean water and a roof over your head, you are already blessed beyond measure. Never, ever forget that.
Make your ego porous. Will is of little importance, complaining is nothing, fame is nothing. Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything.
Throughout the years, I met a few people who actively disliked or criticised me because they thought I was too ‘passive’, too little involved, too stingy with my opinion. Yesterday, after a meeting, another person asked me why I was so ‘passive’ and gave so little feedback. I answered honestly: I didn’t know that much about the subject, I preferred to listen and learn for now.
It’s like our society expects us to be instantly capable, to be instantly competent and confident in whatever you choose to undertake. If you’re not, fake it until you make it.
After a lot of hurt trying to be like that and fake it, I’ve given myself permission to be a student of life and to be honest about that: I’m here to learn. No, I don’t have an opinion yet on the subject, please check in again later. Without this permission, I’d be scared to undertake anything at all. Why would I? I’m not instantly competent. I am learning and that makes me vulnerable. If I can’t hold the space for myself in this vulnerable position and defend myself against people who want to wrestle an opinion from me before its time, it would indeed be harmful for me to try anything new.
It’s in my nature to be observant and to process things before actively talking about them. This seems to really irk some people, mistaking it for laziness or disinterest.
But I also know that I do have opinions on subjects that really matter to me and that I would give them if that particular subject came up. It’s not my fault if you judge me on subjects that interest you, but don’t have much meaning for me (yet).
I don’t look at it as being a passive person, more like someone who, in Rilke’s words, is “patient toward all that is unsolved in the heart” and who “lives the questions”. I understand that this might not be what our culture really values right now, but I admit that I don’t really care. This world is desperately in need of balance, of patience, waiting and gestation next to constant action, productivity and noise.
It doesn’t matter if the person in question is a stranger or your spouse. It doesn’t matter how that person feels about you or what your relationship is. It doesn’t matter that you are on a first date and the person opposite you doesn’t know you or love you yet. Love is not a requisite for respect and consideration.
If someone is rude to you or completely disregards your needs, wishes or dignity, it’s not about you. It’s about who they are. You didn’t ‘invite’ this person to treat you badly. Everyone knows that they should be considerate towards others, some just choose not to and to test how much they can get away with. If someone takes advantage of your kindness and generosity, see it for what it really is: their bad character.
Someone who treats you without respect will not improve on acquaintance or suddenly realise that they should in fact pay attention to your needs because you are such a lovely person. And if they do, how would the remembrance of how they treat strangers affect you? Why is only someone who is invested in them or who can mean something to them worthy of consideration and good behaviour from their part? Being considerate and respectful is the norm, not some reward you hand out to people who please you in some way.
Pay attention to how you are feeling after you’ve spend time with someone. Don’t try to rationalise it. There is no excuse for treating you poorly, for not showing you the respect that you would show them. End of story. Sometimes (or perhaps oftentimes) we need to keep it really simple. Your life is too short to worry about how others feel about you. It doesn’t matter that much. You are safe. You are your own person. You can survive without other people’s approval. Have your standards, make sure you treat others with respect and consideration, stay close to yourself and how you are feeling and keep your distance from people who honestly just make you feel bad. You don’t need to impress them. You already are wonderful, smart, funny, intelligent and a blessing to be around. If they can’t see that, then it’s their loss. Please stop blaming and criticising yourself. It’s ok to stop trying to get them to like you. You don’t need them in your life. You don’t have to prove to them that you are in fact worthy of kindness, of attention, of love, of care. Of course you are. Wait for the ones who will know your worth all by themselves, without you needing to prove anything. They exist, trust me.
It’s so easy to become bitter and frustrated with the world. It’s easy to see the negative and to become cynical. Indeed, our society seems to wholly support people becoming cynical and pessimistic. When do you ever see positive, heart-warming news (outside of the holiday season) on TV? The puppy that has finally found a new, loving home is not going to appear as ‘breaking news’. That’s not sensational enough. And it’s not enough that we hear once a day about everything that’s going wrong in the world, no, it’s important that we hear about it every hour, so that we thoroughly realise that to feel safe in the world is an illusion. It’s all going to the dogs anyway, so why bother?
It’s harder to retain your childlike wonder about all the beauty and magnificence that this world has to offer. We see images of children drowning, but not of children being saved by loving, good people or by their own will to remain hopeful and to believe in a positive outcome for them. Of course, we shouldn’t go too far in the opposite direction and ignore the evil that human greediness and selfishness causes. But, there has to be some kind of balance! We need to address and feel our suffering (which is actually a powerful tool against becoming bitter and frustrated, which is all due to stagnated emotion that has nowhere to go). But we also need to learn to open our eyes to the incredible beauty around us. There is goodness in this world, there is hope and positive outcomes. Can we feed our starving soul by deliberately seeking beauty in literature, music, art, other people, spirituality and tales of happy endings, hope and empowerment?
This is equally necessary to be a responsible citizen in this world: to believe that our green earth can be saved and that efforts toward creating a better world are worthwhile. To recognise that this childlike hope we naturally feel when we are little is being stamped out of us on a daily basis and labeled as ‘naive’, creating a sick and pessimistic society that is bringing our planet nearer and nearer to disastrous calamity. To resist this force-feeding of fear and lack and to cultivate what Elizabeth Gilbert calls ‘stubborn gladness’. It’s easy to give up and to curse the darkness. It’s much harder to light one small candle and to keep that candle lit no matter what comes on your way.
My wish for this new year that awaits us is that we may all start our day with the intention of seeing goodness, love, beauty, kindness and hope wherever we go. That we may bravely face the darkness ahead, not by running away from it and burying our heads in the sand, but by feeling it and realising that it hasn’t killed us, that we are more than the lack, disillusionment and fear we feel, that there is always reason to hope and that we may protect this glimmer of hope fiercely, realising it’s our most valuable possession.
When your eyes hoover over this piece of text, can you take this as a sign to remember your breath?
Can you let go for a moment of your story, of all the reasons why your life isn’t as it should be and just lean in to the present moment?
You are safe and held here. Can you feel that? Can you feel how your breath relaxes and deepens when you remember that you are here, that your worries are mere castles of air in the sky and that they dissolve once you tune into your breath and put a gentle stop to the treadmill of your ever-recycling thoughts?
Please take a moment to contemplate the miracle that your body is. You are alive, you are breathing, your heart is beating and this all happens for you, naturally. Life wants you here, wants you to survive and to thrive, wants to give you your best shot at a happy and healthy life.
When you think nobody loves or cares for you, remember your ever-faithful body, who fights for you every single second of the day, without pause. Can you take a moment to feel how much your body loves you and perhaps offer a few words of tenderness? Even if you are ill or in pain, can you consider the possibility that your body is doing the best it can and needs your attention, care and love now more than ever?
As Anne Frank said, could you take a moment to look at all the beauty still left around you and be content with that, for now, in this moment?
May your life be filled with blessing, radiant health and wholeness, wherever you go.
One of the things that I miss most about being in a relationship is being held and hugged when I need it. I don’t think we ever outgrow our need for physical touch, yet it’s seen as one of the quirks of being in a romantic relationship, only for those who manage to make another person fall in love with them.
I’m not saying we should go out and be held by strangers, because that can understandably feel uncomfortable, but as a single woman I’ve been exploring self-touch. Whenever I feel anxious or afraid, I put my hands on my chest and belly, or wherever the feeling is located in my body and soothe myself with loving words, such as I love you, you are safe, everything is okay. I also hug myself and caress my shoulders and arms when I’m feeling particularly vulnerable. This might seem weird or cheesy to some (it does seem that way to the more critical and judging part of me as I’m writing this), but if you’ve never learned as a child how to soothe your overwhelmed nervous system, the practice of self-touch can be a very healing and even life-saving process.
So maybe next time you feel lonely, sad, afraid, or you’re experiencing any sensation that makes you wish for the presence of another, you might like to try this practice of closing your eyes, feeling where in your body the emotion resides and touching that part with loving caresses. It’s important to learn how to mother ourselves, so we no longer require a partner to do this for us. That way we not only can learn to be happy alone, but we also create the opportunity for more healthy, honest and loving relationships when the time comes. 🙂
Have a beautiful day!
You are tired, friend.
Your body aches to rest.
You have wanted to fall apart for so long.
To let go of your defences.
To be transparent and authentic.
Your cynicism has protected you.
Your fear has served you well.
Your dreams of enlightenment were beautiful dreams.
But there is no need to hold your ‘self’ together any longer.
Or simply stop pretending that you don’t know ‘how’.
The vastness will hold you.
Only illusions can disappear.
The deeper the heart breaks
The more love it can hold.
Don’t tell me you are not worthy.
Don’t tell me you are not made of stars.
Let’s stop this frantic, desperate search for Love.
Let us stop chasing phantoms.
You are here,
You are held in God’s loving embrace.
Let us stop trying to impress others,
you are a miracle and Life itself.
What can others offer you
that you do not already possess?
They are only mirrors
for your radiance and pain.
As within, so without.
So where in your precious body
are you refusing to look and spend time?
Let us give up on running away,
begging others to love us.
Let us rest and whisper our own name.
I love you. I love you. I love you.
In sickness and in health.
Through joy and bliss and agony.
Even if you never find the ‘One’,
I have already found you
and you are wonderful
When you open your heart to love
Love for yourself, love for the world
Love for life.
When you accept and caress your pain,
like an infant in need of gentleness and understanding.
When you let everything be as it should,
when you let life unfold and unfold and unfold,
when you let go of what you thought was best for you,
and instead learn to trust on love, on yourself,
on God, and everything in between.
When you are truly patient with yourself,
allowing the flowers of your inner soil to bloom,
even when the world turns against you,
you will know the unknowable.
You will know the secrets of Love.
You will know that the universe is in you,
dancing to the melody of your heart.
Do not be discouraged by the ache you are feeling,
my dear one.
those are the pains of a new beginning.
Let yourself die a thousand times,
so you will know the seasons of life.
You are so much more than you thought you were,
don’t be afraid to fly.
Don’t let others take your wings away,
but follow who you truly are inside.