sitting with discomfort

I was at a loss yesterday to explain my reluctance to go and plant a few seeds, for pete’s sake. The idea was giving me an physical stomach ache. I kept thinking of more things that I should, logically, do first, such as hang out washing so it had the maximum amount of time to dry.

But eventually I couldn’t think of any more things that I should be doing, and had to face up to the fact that the idea of seed sowing was making me uncomfortable. Why?

I went back to a Zen Habits post about discomfortable feelings that I have found helpful previously. Leo says that discomfort is often born out of an unfounded fear of not being good enough. This does make sense to me, as if you don’t try you can’t fail… but as Ben Goldacre would say, “I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that.”

This wasn’t a fear of failing. This was an aversion to an activity I had previously enjoyed. And genuine enjoyment at that – not things I felt I “should’ do, but things that gave me pleasure and relaxation. What was this strange reluctance?

I am trying hard to listen to my feelings and this one seemed to be coming out of nowhere. I was very confused. So I asked the sobersphere for advice 🙂 then went out and sowed my tomatoes, observing myself like a lab rat as I did so.

I definitely felt discomfort during most of the process of getting the seeds planted – getting the propagator ready, finding the right pots and compost, and so on – and there were only a few moments, while I was actually planting the seeds, when I felt the focused happy concentration on the physical task that I would usually associate with it.

I was pleased to have done it but still not clear why it had been difficult. It was only after reading the lovely comments on my previous post that the fog started to lift.

I think I spent last summer, and to a certain extent the summers before that, with a pang of dismay whenever I saw my sad, unloved greenhouse, which should have been overflowing with good things. Each time that feeling happened it reinforced the association. So now, when I come to this chance for a new start, I am weighed down with old feelings of guilt and failure.

I am slightly appalled that of all the things I have done or left undone to which boozing contributed, a little greenhouse pottering seems to have swelled to such significant proportions. I will put down this stone that I was unaware I was carrying, and stride more freely into the future.

In the Zen Habits post, Leo advocates picking something not hard, only doing a very little of it, and mastering your fear of discomfort. This may not apply to extreme examples such as giving up alcohol. I would suggest that doesn’t lend itself to the little and often approach. But for other activities – exercise, meditation, planting a few seeds – it might work wonders.

In future, I will make a cup of hot chocolate for my discomfort and sit with it until I have worked out where it came from.

And then, like a cat on my lap, I will gently put it down, and let it go.

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