The Practice of Being Uncomfortable

The Soul of a Pilgrim, chapter 5

Reading and reflecting

In the Practice of Being Uncomfortable, Christine Valters Paintner says that when we are able to stay present – to not run away – in uncomfortable circumstances, we open a space to grow spiritually. We must learn to “dance at the edge” of our discomfort.

Reflect: Think of situations in which you are typically uncomfortable. What would it mean for you to “dance at the edge” of your discomfort? What would that look like?

Paintner stresses pilgrimage as a way of moving toward what is uncomfortable. She reminds us of the Desert Mothers and Fathers who sought the wilderness where they sat with their discomfort and paid attention to their inner life. When we accept discomfort, we widen our threshold of tolerance and become more capable of living life, says Paintner.

Reflect: Think of a time when you felt like you were “in the wilderness.” Looking back on that time, what did you learn? Where did you grow? How were you widened?

Our culture teaches us that we deserve to always be happy. On our pilgrimage we may feel that we should always  feel hopeful or filled with joyful anticipation. But our lives are made up of many emotions and many circumstances. To live whole is to experience joy and sorrow, happiness and sadness, certainty and uncertainty. We must show up for all of it.

Reflect: What helps you manage times of sadness and uncertainty? How are you able to stay present long enough for the spirit to teach you what you need to learn?

Getting lost is an inherent part of the wilderness experience, says the author. We allow ourselves to be out of control. What is needed is to be able to stay with the uncomfortable feelings without trying to fix them or change them.

Reflect: Think back to the last time you were lost – and that could be physically, mentally, or emotionally. Where did you seek stability? How did you manage your anxiety? What did you learn? What might you do differently next time?

To Practice this week

Following the directions on page 95, take a contemplative walk this week with or without your camera (See the book’s explanation of a “photographic pilgrimage” on page 30.) Take an unfamiliar route. Maybe try a new park or walking path. Investigate a  new landscape, try a new perspective.  What stands out for you? What attracts you? (But don’t do anything foolish like walking alone at night.) If you take photos along the way, spend some time with them when you return home.