Tolerable Discomfort

In the physical practice of yoga, you might have heard the instruction “lean into the discomfort.” It is a simple, yet powerful suggestion that explores our capacity to test our limits.

The idea is, if we can tolerate being uncomfortable physically, then emotional and psychological discomfort will be more bearable.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately. You see, my eight year old foster daughter's mother died after a 10 month battle with cancer. She was 34.

The families story is sad, tragic even. But my foster daughter has been in my home for more than 3 years. She has healed from PTSD, among other things. She is a happy and loving member of our family.

And my sweet, happy girl lost her mother. For the sake of this story, we'll call my foster daughter “A”.

The day before traveling to Florida to attend the funeral, A's therapist suggested that I help her stay within “tolerable discomfort”.

So this became my mantra.

When we arrived at the funeral home and were confronted with family she did not recognize (but they recognized her), she demanded to leave.

Then my mantra became a question.

What is tolerable discomfort?

When asked to participate in a traditional Chinese ceremony, my foster daughter clung to my arm and hid behind me, whimpering and whining.

What is tolerable discomfort?

When asked to enter the room and bow at her mother's open casket, she stood wide-eyed and demanded to know why her mother looked so different, again, asking to leave and pulling me out the door.

What is tolerable discomfort?

When asked to observe the burial ceremony, she again demanded to leave. This time with volume. This time in a dramatic expression of raw anger and grief and sadness and frustration.

From the front seat of the car (where we watched the burial), she screamed at me for “making her go to the funeral”. She kicked the console and yelled some more. She buried her head in her hands and cried. Hard.

I sat silently with my hand on her belly and I held the space for her grief.

Because what is tolerable when your mother dies?

What ends up being intolerable, in the long run, is not feeling the feelings.

A was given the opportunity to feel her feelings. All of them.

She was not protected from her grief, because her grief was valid.

She was not told to calm her anger or lower her voice.

She was not allowed to leave.

(Nobody wants to be at funerals, I assured her. Nobody.)

She was asked to have the experience, whatever that was for her.

To look it in the eye, and be uncomfortable, to be sad, mad, frustrated and whatever else.

Because only when we truly experience what life is offering RIGHT NOW can we feel true joy and happiness.

I wish that for her with all my heart.