“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”
We have this weird way of familiarizing the unfamiliar by changing it
This may be the last piece of poetry before heading back to the states. The last 5 days here are going to be dedicated solely to soak in all that India has to offer. Generally when I write, I sit down with an idea in the back of my mind or a reflection that steers course my ship. Today I have nothing and the wind has ceased to fill my sails. In the past when this arises, I shut down my computer and embrace the impotence but today will be different. Today I will sit here in the discomfort and stare at my screen. Why? Because the past 4 weeks have been filled with an array of uncomfortable situations – and I have learned to love it.
Over the past month I have given myself the opportunity to bare witness to a world that I could not have conjured up in my wildest dreams. I left my nest, opened my wings and immersed myself in southern India, alone and with no predetermination. I was aware from the beginning that I would embark on a life changing experience that would be filled with uncertainty, but I had know idea that the discomfort I felt would end up becoming my best friend.
What I have learned through this experience is that there are actually two approaches to working with unfamiliarity. When we are first dealt a new experience, we find normalcy in it by comparing it what we have seen and what we know. This reference point can be patterning, behavioral tendencies, life experiences or societal norms. Wherever there is a disconnect between the known and unknown, we label it as ‘discomfort’ and the greater the differential, the greater the level of discomfort. In this model, our attempt to stabilize becomes a burdensome act and has certain repercussions. When we create ‘comfort’ by packaging a new experience into an old box, we manipulate the experience in a way in which it loses much of its value. It is very difficult to avoid categorizing and labeling experiences this way because it is the nature of the mind, however, in the pursuit of familiarity we do have the opportunity to liberate ourselves from this and create a mind that functions with greater clarity.
The alternative approach to assimilate discomfort is by using wisdom. We utilize discomfort as a catalyst to redefine our preexisting framework. In this process we give space for the outcome to unfold. As opposed to struggling to bring the unknown to us, we slide slowly toward it. From there everything is seen as an opportunity where we can knead our perspective much in the same way we would knead dough; continually adding flour until it the flour becomes incorporated. We are not putting the dough into the flour. What was once a burdensome act of pulling is now very light and aerated with insight. There is very little strain when we can see the potential and it becomes like a good friendship – the kind in which require no effort.
In India, people do not eat with forks. Instead everything is eaten with the utility of the right hand, which can be a huge struggle for many travelers. One way to embrace this dining experience is to put into place a pattern that says, “While I am in India, my hand will have to be like a fork.” By doing this, every time you eat with your hand, you link to the experience of eating with a fork. But are you actually experiencing the cuisine as it should be experienced or are you manipulating the experience to conform to you? To me this is an example of taking the unfamiliar and pulling it into the already known.
Now, what if you changed your perspective? What if instead, you saw the dexterity of your fingers as the provider of strength and the source of nourishment? What if the utility of the fingers was meant to enhance the potency of the food, to regulate its temperature and to place the proper amount of food on the tongue? What if you allowed the oils from the skin to fuse with the flavors of the food to enhance the delicacy of the ingredients? Then the fingers are no longer a fork but hold an entirely new meaning. The once uncomfortable situation is now being seen, not as a lacking, but as potential to redefine what we know. This is how we can use wisdom and insight to transform our experience of discomfort.
I know that this example may be a bit silly, but I promise you that this reframing will change the way you experience ife. It will eradicate the pain and struggle that is often found in normalizing situations. I believe this is why you either love India or you hate it. You either embrace the culture by moving towards it or you battle to make sense of what it is not. Just like this article, life will write itself when you are able to approach discomfort this way.