Leroy is crazy jealous of my new rescue puggle, Joey. He does not want to share his mommy or his toys or any aspect of his perfectly spoiled poodle lifestyle. Joey stretches into Downward Dog, asking Leroy to play with him, but Leroy stubbornly turns his head, sniffs and walks away. He is acting snobby but I can tell Leroy is conflicted and suffering, because sometimes he flirts with Joey and lets him share the favored spot on the sofa. Then, abruptly, he changes his mind and growls a little bit to show who is in charge.
It’s all so heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time. And the cold pinch of honesty makes me admit that I recognize this little control drama — we’ve all been there. Comfort zone issues!
Current common wisdom is that it is good to break out of your comfort zone. We know that being stuck in our protective cocoon prevents us from fulfilling our Vast Potential. It also occurs to me that just as practicing the exact same asana sequence every day can lead to
repetitive stress injury, we can also develop emotional or psychological repetitive stress injuries when we habitually close down our minds, harden our beliefs, or once again, get hooked by fear.
Fortunately, just as there are therapies to relieve and repair physical injuries, we can use our dharma practice to re-align the exercise patterns of our mind, replacing our worn-out grooves with new directions. One of these big new directions can be the very notion of what it means to be comfortable.
A few months ago I posted the following tweet, which was retweeted so many times that I realized it had struck a chord:
Where is it? Inside? Outside?
Is your home a certain person?
Your yoga mat? Your breath?
This whole beautiful planet?
Home is something we all understand and long for, and yet it is not so easy to define. Perhaps our sense of home shifts during our lifetime. I know it has for me. That’s why I’m grateful for my Buddhist and yoga practices, which have expanded my ability to be relaxed and open within a wider range of experiences.
Thinking about this, I decided to google Comfort Zone. Wikipedia describes it as mental conditioning that creates a false sense of security. In other words, our comfort zone is like a cocoon where we can curl up and feel buffered from anything which threatens that false security.
This is where the dharma comes in. Wikipedia says: “To step outside their comfort zone, a person must experiment with new and different behaviors, and then experience the new and different responses that occur within their environment.”
Yes! Stretching our comfort zone is not necessarily pleasant, but, it is the only way to expand our CZ.
Yoga newbies, finding themselves schvitzing and quivering in their first yoga class, say things like, “I thought this was supposed to be relaxing!” And beginner meditators might say, “Watching my mind is even more stressful than ignoring.” They haven’t yet learned that the relaxation benefit shows up later — as better sleep, and also in wakeful times, when we surprise ourselves with newfound patience, balanced discipline, spontaneous generosity.
That’s when you know your comfort zone is expanding. What once might have pushed your button, now becomes an interesting wake up call and an opportunity to step back. Or you could say step in, step in to what is happening without trying to change it, manipulate it or panic in any way. Can you imagine what it would be like if nothing was outside your comfort zone?
All OMmies everywhere are familiar with The Dedication of Merit.
May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.
May all beings be free from suffering and the causes of
May all beings never be parted from freedom’s true joy.
May all beings dwell in equanimity, free from attachment and aversion.
But do you know why it is also called The Four Immeasurables? Because by doing this practice, we are developing our own Vast Potential to have compassion for all being everywhere all the time. The teachings say that we are born with immeasurable and unlimited ability to care for all beings because our nature is goodness. Not badness. Goodness is always there inside. Always. We practice yoga and meditation just so we can remember that. When goodness becomes our go-to place, our default setting, our comfort zone will have no boundaries.
We know this in our heart. So does Leroy and that is why he is trying to take baby steps in that direction, even though it is stretching his poodle mind. He is actually wise to take it slowly Just like stretching hamstrings, it’s not good to go too far too fast. You can get hurt or more confused. Each of us has to find our own way toward the feeling of home being everywhere.
Joey has tried, too. His beagle element hard-wires him to chase deer and last night, he broke off his leash and ran after one. In a finger snap, he was gone into the night. We called and called him but he was just gone. Finally, we had to give up and go home.
Standing at the kitchen sink, doing the dinner dishes, I worked to hold my mind stable. What good would it do to go into fear fantasies? It wasn’t the first time he’s run off. I know that he needs to run, to follow his nose. It seems that is part of Joey’s comfort zone. But my heart was still trembling. Just because he was found and returned to us before, it might not happen this time. He runs so fast. He could be anywhere by now. I tried to come back to feeling of the water and soap, making a meditation out of washing the dishes.
Twenty minutes later, I heard something and then there was Joey, at the back door. He came back home all by himself! Maybe his comfort zone and new sense of home has expanded to include licking my face and then falling sound asleep next to me and Leroy.