The industrial revolution drastically eased our lives in western countries recently. Most of us do not have to worry anymore about feelings of cold, heat, and even hunger. We live in super cozy houses with running water and amazing machines helping us out with our daily chores. And that’s absolute luxury, since the less time we spend to worry about satisfying our basic needs, the more we can invest in higher-level and meaningful endeavours.
However, modern era came with a cost on our bodies and our minds: we barely feel discomfort anymore. We now live in highly controlled environments to prevent us to feel uncomfortable. Heating or air-con is switched on the very moment the temperature doesn’t suit us anymore. Food in the fridge has never been within such easy reach. We get almost instantly rid of our headache with a magic pill. And we tend to take for granted all these technologies that nobody could even dream of less than a century ago.
We might have built up an intolerance for discomfort. We now consider unacceptable to feel pain or environmental conditions beyond coziness and stability. And by extension, it might have decreased our tolerance for strong body feelings and psychological pain. Indeed, instead of staying with a transient uncomfortable feeling or state of mind until it simply passes, we became needy for the instant fix, and the resulting short-term gratification. We became to some extent less resilient to life adversity, less tolerant to challenging and ever-changing stimuli from our environment, and became weaker mentally. In other words, we might have become more fragile and dependent on technologies for willing to always reach states of ease, and psychological/physiological balance.
I am wondering whether it is also impairing our capability to open up and explore spiritually, since we get less opportunity to stay present with whatever is in the present moment, and surrender without resistance to our environment. These technologies also give us much more control over our environment, and reinforcing our egotistical illusion that everything is under our human control, even nature by extension.
Physiologically, our bodies are also less exposed to short-term environmental stressors that triggered healing reactions in our bodies in the past (e.g., look at the growing evidence of the impact of exposure to cold on the immune, nervous, hormonal systems, or about water fasting).
And this issue has a significant negative impact on our personal growth. We might become less willing to tolerate uncomfortable body feelings instead of exploring what they could teach us about ourselves, our past traumas, our unconstructive social conditioning patterns. We might become less willing to face our fears and step out from our comfort zone, where growth resides.
Therefore, it is important to embrace discomfort. And I believe that consciously seeking for it is a great practice. It will make you stronger, more resilient to adversity, and develop your warrior archetype that you need to foster your growth.
Consciously seek discomfort.
For me, it is nowadays mainly about taking cold showers regularly (check this post about cold water exposure), or approaching women in the street. Or signing up for challenging workshops and group experiences. There are many ways to do so.
And it also has to be a long-term commitment. No escape, no excuse.
Which brings us to another principle from David Deida’s book that I already introduced, “The Way of the Superior Man“:
Lean Just Beyond Your Edge.
In any given moment, a man’s growth is optimized if he leans just beyond his edge, his capacity, his fear. He should not be too lazy, happily stagnating in the zone of security and comfort. Nor should he push far beyond his edge, stressing himself unnecessarily, unable to metabolize his experience. He should lean just slightly beyond the edge of fear and discomfort. Constantly. In everything he does.
I love this principle, since it fully captures the strongest mindset of the mature warrior, here applied to life-long commitment to personal growth, something that resonates deeply in me.
And there is also a crucial aspect of Deida’s statement here that I really realised when I read the book, which is the idea to “not push far beyond your edge”.
Indeed, during many years in the past, I tended to push myself too hard. I wanted to self-validate the fact that I was a fucking tough man, and that I could endure heavy physical or psychological pressure with hardcore will-power. In whatever I was trying out, I wanted to crack it right away as hard as I could. For instance, when I initially experimented with regular cold showers, I pushed myself hard to do it first thing in the morning always with the coldest possible temperature. I was waking up scared knowing that I had to face this too ambitious challenge. And I strongly thought that the toughness of my challenge was not negotiable, i.e., I didn’t want to expose myself gradually to the cold, and accept that it takes time for my body to adapt to the process. No. “My tough man” had to fucking kill it.
Well, after a while, I was burnt, and completely dropped the practice. It turned out it was too hard and not sustainable. A perfect example of “the obsessive” approach when learning new skills that I already described in a previous post: the obsessive path can be seen in childish and too ego-focused men, restlessly looking for the magic pill, thinking they are too important to have to do the work, and accept the time it takes. I believe that this behavior might also have been rooted in an unbalanced search for external validation. By comparing my own performances with others, I wanted to convince myself that I was better than them.
And I realized that my childish shadow pattern of pushing myself too hard and too far in several directions at all time actually negatively impacted several aspects of my life as well.
So, once you made this commitment to live beyond your edge in order to foster personal growth, then bringing awareness to the practice is crucial for a proper and mature warrior implementation of a process on the long run:
- Be aware of your current edge when you are pushing yourself, because your edge’s boundaries are changing from one day to another, from one moment to another, depending for instance on your current energy levels (e.g., it’s perfectly fine to take a tiny bit warmer shower than usual when you are tired, as long as you are just beyond your edge in the present moment, you’re good),
- Compete only with your own edge, not with other people’s (it is not about external validation, it is about comparing your performance with your former self),
- It’s a long-time commitment, more like running a marathon than a sprint, so you can’t rely only on will-power for a proper long-term implementation, you need to find ways to increase feeling of love for the process.
On a final note, I believe it is also about finding a balance between the masculine and the feminine. The masculine is about doing, pushing the limits, moving forward. The feminine is about being, about awareness of our body and mind states, so we are conscious of where we stand in the present moment and act accordingly. And about taking time to integrate our experiences.