Middleway Medicine Blog

Expanding Your Comfort Zone

by Clark Zimmerman, LAc.

Years ago, my wife and I spent some of our honeymoon in Fiji.  Most of the time we stayed in a small village called Lavena that was on the edge of a large jungle forest preserve.  Though the village had no running water or electricity, the villagers were some of the most content people we have ever met.  In so many ways Lavena was the picture perfect paradise that you dream of when you think of a tropical honeymoon getaway.  The jungle was wild and alive, the ocean was an otherworldly aqua, and the water was so clean that you could drink it straight from the creek as you swam underneath the waterfalls near the village.  However, about a week into our three-week stay, we had a rude awakening: there was a massive hatch of a tropical fly.  Suddenly flies were everywhere.  It reminded us of videos we had seen of people in impoverished areas of Africa, where the flies would cover peoples faces, crawling in their ears, mouth and eyes. All of the sudden everything we did seemed like an invitation to be covered in flies.  It was nearly too much to bear.  The locals didn’t seem to even notice.  Since they had lived with this as a part of their reality, they had developed the ability to go about their life with minimal bother.  It got me and my wife thinking about how specific our comfort range had become.

Traveling to undeveloped countries makes you truly realize how spoiled most of us are in the United States.  We live in homes with running water and electricity; we heat and cool our rooms and our cars; we eat food that suits our particular tastes; we sleep in comfy beds; we bathe and wear scents to cover our odor; we wear headphones to hear what we want to hear and earplugs to block the things we don’t want to hear.  We control just about every aspect of our environment to make life as comfortable as possible.  Most of the time this makes life easier.  But what happens when we can’t control our surroundings?  For most of us, if something feels uncomfortable, we fixate on whatever isn’t just right.  A picnic becomes too hot to enjoy; a walk in the snow becomes too cold;  food is too spicy or unappetizingly bland; too much noise or silence can overwhelm us.  We have narrowed our range of comfort to a point where almost everything feels uncomfortable.  It makes me wonder sometimes if all of these comforts are more of a blessing or a curse.  I am not suggesting that you disconnect your air conditioning, but just as you stretch your muscles to keep them flexible, it is a helpful exercise to stretch your comfort zone from time to time.  Stretching your comfort zone can be helpful in a few important ways.  It can make you more appreciative of all the comfort you enjoy.  It is like when you go backpacking and sleep on the hard, cold ground and eat instant food.  When you get home your bed feels like heaven and a simple meal can taste like a gourmet feast.  It can also help you maintain resilience so you are better able to withstand times when things aren’t as comfortable. 

No matter how much you try to control your environment, things periodically will not go according to plan.  If you don’t occasionally practice being uncomfortable, the slightest deviation in your day can ruin an otherwise beautiful moment.  You can do this by letting yourself get a little hot or cold, fasting part of the day or getting up extra early and watching the sunrise.  Just ask yourself what discomfort you are the most adverse to and lean into it once in a while.  The benefits will most likely outweigh the cost.

It took a while, but my wife and I finally settled into the flies in Fiji.  Once we stopped complaining about them, we figured out times when we could go out when they weren’t as thick.  Then after a few days, they thinned out and became much less noticeable.  In the end, we thanked the flies as reminders to keep continuing to expand our comfort zones.

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Waiting for the Blossom

by Clark Zimmerman, L.Ac.
 

My daughter calls herself “the flower girl.”  She loves walking around our garden and picking flowers to share with the fairies or to turn into a stew.  She especially enjoys collecting the petals of roses that are just past their prime and showering them on her mother and me.  The other day she spied a rose bud that was still bunched tightly and began to try to pry it open so she could smell the fragrance and then collect the petals.  I stopped her before she could pull it off, and took the opportunity to explain to her that you can’t force a bud to open or it kills the flower before it can blossom.  She relented and we continued our garden tour.  The experience got me thinking about the value of patience.

We live in a time that is greatly influenced by speed and convenience.  Computers have made most everything available at the touch of a button.  The global economy has made it possible to have fresh, summer fruit in the middle of winter.  While it serves to give us more of what we want when we want it, it comes at a cost: we are quickly losing the ability to wait. Like a muscle that atrophies when it is no longer used, patience is disappearing in the modern age.  Even when we are forced to wait, we rarely watch the clouds, listen to the birds, or introduce ourselves to the person sitting next to us.  Instead we play games on our phones, check social media, or do a little online shopping.  We are constantly finding ways to pull our attention somewhere else to make the waiting feel “less boring.”  Patience doesn’t necessarily mean that we just sit and do nothing.  Sometimes patience means getting ourselves ready to receive whatever it is we are waiting for.  If we are waiting for the right time to plant a seed, we should make sure that the weeds have been pulled and the garden is ready for planting.

The key to everything is patience.  You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.”  Arnold H Glasgow    

If we distract ourselves to mask the wait, sometimes we miss an opportunity to discover a new perspective on an old idea.  If we are waiting with something in mind it becomes a period of incubation where new ideas arise; new thoughts are often born of the space that exists between things.  If we are always rushing from one place to another, from one thought to another, there is less of a chance for things to unfold in an organic and living manner.  We cast away the ability to stay present in the living moment, always chasing something that is of another time and place.  It is as Henri Nouwen says: “A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.” 

After our experience with the rose, my daughter and I continued our garden walk.  We came across some firewood that I had cut to dry earlier in the year–which I started to stack in the back of the woodshed–when my daughter wisely advised me: “Let the wood dry in the sun or it won’t make a good fire.  Just be patient daddy.”  My impulsive, headfirst flower girl again proved herself to be my greatest teacher.

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Taking Shelter

by Ann Zimmerman, LAc.

Over a decade ago, my husband and I moved from Portland to Talent. We were seeking more nature and a smaller community where we could enjoy a slower pace of life. Living in Talent has provided us with opportunities to be inspired by beauty and to spend less time driving; but what has truly given us the peace we were seeking has been the practice of taking shelter/refuge.

Often when a patient shares with me their feelings of being overwhelmed or burdened by stress, I often ask, “Is there a place where you go to sort yourself out?” Many times there is blank response on faces and many times there is a resounding “YES” as they remember their special refuge. For some people the idea of doing something creative while under stress feels like a burden, they prefer a TV episode, glass a wine and bag of chips. This response feels good in the moment but often leads to the same feeling after the episode is over.

Taking refuge is the practice of getting in touch with your deepest self. The practice helps you calm your mind, so that you can be present in the moment and experience the pulse of life within you and all around you. Your refuge can be a physical location-a favorite tree, meditation corner, backyard, or bathtub. Or it may be taking refuge in a another person: a lover, a mentor, or friend. Some take refuge in repetitive action such as jogging, walking, or chanting. Or it could be playing music, praying, dancing, or playing with children. Each of us needs to know how to take refuge. If you do not have the habit of regularly taking time to clear your mind then you likely will feel as if you are on a treadmill of bills and obligations.  

Dedicating 20 minutes a day seems to be the magic number for gaining the optimal benefits from your shelter time. Less than 20 minutes and you may miss the restful recharge you are looking for. Anything beyond 20 minutes is the cherry on top.

Committing to a regular practice of taking shelter and having a reliable way to unwind and drop into the moment will help you find new clarity, inspiration and stamina for life’s challenges. Regardless, of your specific way of taking shelter, the importance lies in the regularity of taking the time and the intention to remember and reconnect to your essence. Taking shelter is the practice of remembering that you are not your thoughts. It is the letting go into the grace all around you. Choosing to take time daily in refuge makes us all better people.

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