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Normalize Discomfort

When you think of living a Zen-inspired life, you might imagine it will lead to better times. You might have read impressive stories about people practicing Zen who have had extraordinary breakthroughs, and enlightenment experiences. 

So when things arise in your practice and your meditation that disturb you, you may easily get discouraged. This isn't what you signed on for. So I want to suggest that you normalize discomfort; that you proceed by allowing and acknowledging that suffering is part of your life and to walk on a spiritual path means to engage and transform this suffering, but not to avoid it. 

When I was seven years old, I used to sit by the heater in our living room and try to read the Bible. I talked to God and told him that if he would give me a sign, I surely, I would believe in him. But he never did give me a sign and I remember being quite disappointed and let down. 

Now I am turning 68 in a few months, and the body is not what it was so long ago. It's getting tired. I've developed a pinched nerve in my right arm which is stubborn and difficult to heal. And once it heals, it comes back several months later and plagues me for 3 to 4 months, making it difficult to even sit meditation. 

I can't say that I've always approached this pain with great equanimity. Sometimes I am frustrated and grumpy about it. But I take it as an opportunity to learn something. Pain can be a great teacher if you don't fight it. When I fight the pain, it gets worse. 

So I suggest that you normalize discomfort and then when it arises in your life, as it surely will, you won't be so upset. Our practice is to bear witness to both the joys and the sorrows of life. May your life be rich with both. 

Roshi Robert Althouse

Robert Althouse

Zen Life & Meditation Center, Chicago, 38 Lake Street, Oak Park, IL, 60302