The Art of Discomfort (Version 1)

Half the time I catch him sleeping, Max looks incredibly uncomfortable.

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I really don’t know how he gets into some of the positions I find him in, or why he would ever maintain them.

He recently found a cushion I leave on the floor (after it being available to him the past 3+ years), and has finally started making use of it. But still, I catch him every now and then back in what I can’t imagine is a comfortable position.

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As I’ve reflected more on the many ways Max lives in discomfort, I’ve realized that he may not be the only one. Max has taught me that there is an art to discomfort and it seems to be fairly widely practiced.

I too find myself living with a lot of discomfort – whether it is in getting sick and refusing to take medicine or in knowing the unsettling realities of poverty, racism, sexism, and a whole host of societal ills and not doing all I can to address them. I know the world doesn’t quite feel right, but I find myself curling around the sharp corners as if it were the only place to lay.

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Max practices the art of discomfort through a remarkable tolerance for pain, which I discovered after the vet noticed a really nasty ear infection several years ago. The infection has been gone for a while now, but I still think about how he gave so few clues that he was in pain.

Like Max, I also often want to tolerate and soldier on past the pain in my own life and past the pain I observe all around me. I ignore it, convince myself it doesn’t matter, or lead myself to believe it could be worse. While these all are very successful adaptive behaviors to live in a broken world, they are far from helpful in actually relieving the discomfort that I or others face.

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I’ve also noticed that Max tends to move from one uncomfortable position to another. When the one spot becomes too much to handle, he finds a new one, even if the new spot is equally uncomfortable. And I too, when overwhelmed by one uncomfortable situation, find myself drifting away from it to superficial involvement in a different uncomfortable situation. By moving around so much, I only get a taste of the discomfort before moving on to something else, and I don’t really have to address the deeper problems causing the discomfort.

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Max has taught me that it is far easier to dance around the discomfort than to face it and see that something needs to change. He has taught me that it is easier to get used to discomfort than to do what it takes to make the world a more comfortable place. And Max has taught me that by practicing these expressions of the art of discomfort, I really only perpetuate harmful causes or consequences.

So thank you Max for teaching me that it is far easier learn to live with uncomfortable things, rather than fix them. And thank you for awakening me to the importance of directly facing discomfort so that I don’t grow callous to or avoid the real problems around me.

Comfy

If Max knows anything, he knows how to get comfy.

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He somehow even knows how to get comfy in seemingly uncomfortable places – like the ground or the bathroom or…

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And as I look over at him, lost in my self-conscious absorption with how I am portraying myself in dealing with the worries of my life, he reminds me over are over – sometimes you just gotta be comfy.

Sometimes you just gotta put away those cares and sprawl out.

I see in Max’s expert grasp of comfiness a letting go. It’s a letting go of dignity, of self-centeredness, and of portraying an image that I’ve got it all worked out.

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Sometimes, you just gotta let go and be comfy. Be comfy with yourself, your situation, and the people around you who will love you no matter what.

Sometimes you gotta be comfy.  But just sometimes. Not all the time. Sometimes you gotta be uncomfy.  You gotta see the uncomfiness of the world around us and be disturbed. You gotta see the uncomfiness of individual people and empathize with them.

While Max has taught me the value of comfiness, he has also shown me that too much of it can keep us from seeing the harsh realities all around us, especially the all too many people in this world who cannot find comfiness.

When I am in visible distress, Max sometimes comes and sits by me, forsaking his comfortable position on the couch or chair.  Sure this isn’t a giant sacrifice, he’s still in the warm house, but his momentary choice of less comfort brings me great comfort.

Max has taught me to be comfy – fully, radically comfy in a way that takes me out of my cares so that I might not be so absorbed with my public image. (And often this just involves pulling on the snuggie and finding a soft pillow.)

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But Max has also taught me that I must get up from that comfiness and equally fully and radically step out toward others to be with them – even if this means uncomfortably stepping into the cold to meet those who don’t have a snuggie to keep them warm.

So thank you Max for teaching me that it is okay to be comfy and showing me how to do it. And thank you for choosing to sometimes be uncomfortable in order to bring me comfort. You have shown me that the two are not mutually exclusive, but rather join one another in the great rhythm of life and love.