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Comfort: The Enemy of Consciousness

Image: Watching, by Hossein Zare

Image: Watching, by Hossein Zare

You know what’s better than talent? Bravery. 

You know what’s more noble than awards and accolades? Fortitude. The ability to persist after the critics have destroyed you, and the public has dismissed you; the ability to persevere and keep moving forward, no matter the terrain, no matter the weather, due to a sense of self that runs deeper than anything the outside world could possibly throw at you.

This is the true meaning of success — not money, not fame, not a place in the history books — but peace-of-mind. When one attains a lasting peace-of-mind  out of which a true sense of purpose would surely flower —  there can be no other definition of success. Fame, riches, even a canonical place in history could very well take place, but all would be a result of that state of resolute and fundamental peace.

Yet this is, for most humans alive today, a pipe-dream. Attaining a state of lasting peace is to attain Mastery, and human civilization has seen very few Masters arise over the course of its long history. We are, for the most part, students in training.

This does not mean, however, that we don't have tools at our disposal. We do. A great many of them. Some of us are even using them, everyday, in plain sight, yet continuing to go unnoticed by the great majority. These are the rare personalities daring enough to risk the humiliation of defeat, knowledgeable enough to derive their self-worth from other than the opinion of the crowd, and sound enough in their sense of purpose to be unafraid of making enemies. And it is these people that are the real heroes, however unsung they may be.

We are so in awe of talent in our culture — behind only sex appeal and money, of course — that those in possession of these actual life talents tend to go unnoticed. Those unique individuals who not only understand some of these fundamental keys to happiness and longevity, but exercise them as well are generally off the flash-and-glitz radar of the celebrity culture we live in. This is not to say, of course, that there aren’t certain exceptions — surely, some of the most famous personalities in Hollywood must have gotten where they ‘are’ today by exercising these tenets, however unconsciously, in a very genuine manner. 

But these are not the people I’m speaking of. Not exclusively, anyway. This is a general conversation, and it applies to any human now pulling breath. We all have our challenges. What determines our success in regards to them is not what we do, but our state of being while the act of doing itself is taking place.

How attached are you to a specific outcome? How worried are you about the thoughts the others present may be thinking, or what their reactions may be in the end? How resentful are you for being where you’re at and having to do what you’ve got to do, instead of where you want to be? Generally speaking, how invested are you in things beyond your control? Because this is a sure-fire recipe for continued discontentment. And if you’re mature enough to recognize at least some of these underlying behaviours in yourself (who among us is not victim to them in one form or another, really?) then you are definitely ready to begin the work of changing them.

Now this can be a very challenging thing to do. Perhaps the most challenging. It goes far beyond positive thinking. We can think positive thoughts all day long for weeks on end and it still won’t stop certain triggers from hurling us, suddenly, back into old emotional states we’ve been carrying since childhood. Real primal stuff: anger, fear, jealousy — and every variant in between. 

Yet it is exactly these emotional indicators — these moments when the mask slips and that society generally, erroneously refers to as ‘weakness’ — that are, in reality, our greatest teachers. These are the shadows we still hold inside, showing up in the sacred sunshine of relationship — whether with a family member, friend, or co-worker — when things get ‘tough’. They only become weakness once they’re fed, and acted upon. Before that, they are nothing but but pure potential — our greatest chance at knowing ourselves — if only we remain conscious enough to observe them without being completely consumed by them.

This in itself presents a huge problem, however. These emotions, when they come up, don’t feel good, and everything we do in this life is an attempt, conscious or unconscious, at feeling good. These terrible truisms instead land anywhere between mild displeasure to full blown panic or rage.  So the normal course, of course, is to avoid them — and the situations that trigger them — at all costs. Yet the terrible irony therein is that we don’t get anywhere through this course of action. There is no growth. The shadows have not left the building. They’re still alive and well, lurking in the corners and waiting for us to stumble into them, no matter how scrupulously we think we’ve walled them off in the architecture of our lives. 

It is an awful fate to submit ourselves to, yet it is one to which most of the waking world has unconsciously subscribed. How else could people, everywhere, resign themselves to lives that kill them with the slow tedium of passionless routine over the course of decades? In many ways, it’s not settling down, it’s giving up. It is a slow and boring death — the exact opposite of what life naturally is: spontaneous, unpredictable, frightening and fun. The worst thing we could possibly do with the gift of our time here is to insulate ourselves under the security blanket of decided mediocrity. What will come of our precious gift of consciousness then? Our health? Our perspective? Our sense of ourselves?

We must face challenges. We must welcome change. If we don’t, we are denied the incredible experience of finding out what’s still inside of us, and learning from it. We are denied the invaluable moments that will bring all of that dark content to the surface — as a result of putting ourselves into unfamiliar places and situations — in order that we may see it, and know what’s there. If we fail to do this, we are denying ourselves the gift of developing wisdom, which can only, ever, come of self-knowledge. We remain in resistance to the very forward movement of the universe itself — to evolution itself — and to do so is to grind the very gears of the only dependable truth we know of, which is, of course, change.