Buying An Umbrella: On Control and Discomfort

I went for a walk in the rain today, holding my tiny $10 umbrella I just purchased online a few days ago. This is the first time I walked in the rain, previously refusing to go outside when it has been anything other than clear, sunny skies. Stubbornly, I would complain about the weather to others without even thinking about ways that I can adjust how I am responding to it.

“You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.”

Pema Chödrön

And it dawned on me today how I let the weather outside control my daily choices: Will I go outside on a walk? Will I venture out to go to the store? Will I stay inside and complain about the weather?

So, as I walk in the rain today with my umbrella, I am reminded of how we can’t control what is outside of us. The weather, other people, circumstances, and more.

We have no control over what happens outside of our home and, honestly, we also have very little control over what happens in our homes. Our pipes leak, our pets pee on the carpet, our kids color with crayons on the walls, our spouses accidentally overcook a turkey in the oven and cause a fire alarm to go off. Hell, we have no control over what is happening in our bodies: what hormones are being released, what molecular events are happening, what is happening to our vascular system.

If we are being brutally honest with ourselves, we have very little to no control in life. All we have are the choices we make and the actions we take.

And this idea of not having control is life is the very goal of attainment many of us chase after in life.

We respond to our need to grasp control by trying to control everything and everyone in our lives. We try to control what we eat, where we live, who we are friends with, who we marry, what job(s) we seek, and we even extend this need for control beyond ourselves to controlling what our spouse and kids are allowed to do, what our employees and colleagues can and can’t do, and the list goes on.

But even in our endless pursuit of control, the inevitable happens no matter how hard we try to control the outcome: we go through a breakup/divorce, our kids leave the nest, we lose loved ones, we lose our jobs, we get sick, our financial situations change, and so forth.

We may find ourselves continually asking the same questions over and over again, “How did this happen? How did I not see this coming? What could I have done better?”

For some of us, this endless encounter with the reality of not having control causes us to spiral into self-blame, self-criticism, and despair. We replay stories in our minds, convincing ourselves that we could’ve had the power to get a better outcome if only we did this or said that instead.

We are afraid to face the discomfort of not knowing what the future holds.

We are afraid to face the discomfort of being consumed by uncomfortable feelings.

We are afraid of the “meaning” we associate to things not going our way.

But, my love, I am here to remind you that a) you don’t have control of what happens in your life and b) you don’t need to control everything or everyone in your life to find a sense of purpose, fulfillment, and meaning.

I’m here to remind you that there is so much beauty in being both an active observer of and participant with the natural unfolding of your life.

I heard Tara Brach contemplate recently in one of her dharma talks about how it takes more energy to resist than it does to surrender.

I couldn’t agree with this more, just by reflecting on my own life. How I feel so drained when I “work so hard” try to force things to be as “comfortable” for me to handle as possible–at the detriment of my intuition, my health, and my well-being . How I feel more relaxed and content when I surrender to what is present in my life, even if the circumstances are experienced as painful, uncomfortable, and scary.

By surrendering to the unknown and to the inevitable discomfort we face in life, we allow for more depth in our human experience. What a joy it is to be able to be a human with feelings. To feel the deepest love, to climb up from rock bottom, to celebrate the birth of new life, to grieve and mourn the loss of a deep love.

By choosing to buy an umbrella instead of waiting for the rain to stop, we are able to both observe and dance with the circumstances of the Universe. An umbrella symbolizes our surrender with the discomfort that is present. It’s like that one quote you hear a lot:

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

Vivian Greene

While we can’t control the weather, we can choose to dance with it–to be both an active observer and participant with it. We can buy an umbrella and/or rain boots when it rains. We can wear thermal underwear, a heavy coat, a warm hat, snow boots, use skis, and/or use a sled when it snows. We can wear warm layers when there is wind. We can bring a flashlight if it is dark. (DISCLAIMER: I am NOT encouraging anyone to drive, walk, or be outside in dangerous weather or environmental conditions!)

An example of how to dance with our discomfort is when the emotion of sadness arises in our life. Instead of seeing it as an intruder on our “perfectly good day” prior, we can sit with this emotion as a welcome guest. We don’t need to make it go away immediately. We can imagine our sadness as a living being (human, plant, animal, etc) with their own qualities: What do they look like? What color are they, if they have a color? Are they small? Are they big? Do they have an associated temperature? Where are they present in our body?

Through gentle mindfulness practices like the one above, we start to befriend the discomfort that arises instead of seeing it as an enemy that is “ruining our mood”. With gentleness and patience, we can learn to transform our discomfort from a nuisance to that of a cry for help from an upset child that is coming to us for comfort and to be witnessed. We can start to develop a compassion for that part of us that is afraid/sad/angry/etc and is seeking comfort and soothing.

It is important to note here that I am not referring to traumatic experiences and/or dangerous & very real situations that require avoidance and/or escape. As a trauma survivor myself, I often don’t know where discomfort begins and a trauma-related trigger begins, which can be a whole other blog post. What I am referring here is of the inevitable discomforts and ups-and-downs of life that we face as humans: not having things go our way, an unexpected change in life circumstance, experiencing what we would call an “unpleasant” day, experiencing conflicts with/being confronted by others, etc.

I invite you to, instead of asking, “How did this happen?”, ask yourself, “How can I dance with this situation as it is?

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