We humans tend to not like uncertainty, discomfort, fear, instability, drastic change, or chaos. That’s natural and understandable. But our habit of running toward secure and comfortable choices can lead to some fairly common difficulties.
Procrastination is one common response. This usually means running from the uncertainty, discomfort, and fear of a difficult task to the comfort of distractions.
We may also put off exercising, eating healthy, meditating, decluttering, and other healthful habits because they push us into discomfort. Instead, we seek comfort.
One of the more severe consequences of running from discomfort is addiction. Addiction results from constantly using pleasurable—comfortable—things as a crutch when we’re facing discomfort.
We might put off adventures, doing the work we love, and learning new things because they bring uncertainty and fear, and instead opt to stay in our comfort zones.
Sometimes, we even lash out at people when we’re angry because of fear—of being criticized, of losing our good self-image. Or we withdraw from them. This hurts our happiness and our relationships.
Avoiding discomfort or uncertainty may also manifest as putting off connecting with other people because we’re afraid of opening our hearts to strangers. This leads to loneliness, a craving for connection, and so on.
Financial problems, health problems, work problems, relationship problems, happiness problems—all can stem from this tendency to run from discomfort, uncertainty, and instability to comfort and security.
What if we were able to try a different way? What if we explored the “Way of Openness”?
It could open up a world of change and possibilities for us, helping us to find freedom from our addictions and procrastination, and tame our lashing out and our fears.
The Way of Openness
The opposite of running to comfort and security is … not running. Instead, it’s about the following:
- being open to uncertainty
- being curious about discomfort
- getting in touch with fears, and staying with the physical feeling of fear
- being present and facing the moment in front of us with openness
- embracing the unknown—the unstable—as being full of opportunity and learning
- finding curiosity in every moment
- welcoming all feelings with friendliness, rather than running from them
- smiling at fear—at other people’s fears—with an open heart
- stepping into uncertainty with courage
The Way of Openness is about embracing, welcoming, and being curious about whatever is in front of us, staying in touch with our feelings, and being open to the constantly changing nature of what comes at us.
This way isn’t easy, but neither is the life of running from discomfort and uncertainty, as we’ve seen.
This path takes practice. It takes courage. It takes love.
But the result, I’ve been finding—and I’m still a beginner—is that we’re capable of any kind of change, that we can open our hearts to people in a way we never were able to before. And once we do so, we realize we’re free from having to run and find something to keep us busy.
So how do we cultivate this Way of Openness?
Practices for Being Open
This is a lifelong practice, to be honest. But here are some things you can practice. Pick one each day instead of trying to do them all at once, and constantly come back to practices you’ve tried before.
Recognize when you’re procrastinating, seeking distraction, going to addictions, lashing out, withdrawing, or doing any kind of harmful action toward yourself or others. Try to see the fear or discomfort that you’re running from. Notice what your go-to distractions or comforts are.
Stay in Touch
Once you understand your mental patterns, notice when they’re starting up, and instead of allowing yourself to run to comfort, stay with the discomfort. Locate the physical feeling in your body, and stay with it for as long as you can. Get in touch with the feeling of fear—not the mental story about fear—and keep your attention on it. See if the fear relaxes once you give it curiosity and loving attention. Welcome it as you would a friend.
Be Open to the Present Moment
As you go about your day, check in on the moment in front of you and notice if you’re rejecting it for any reason. If you are, see if you can embrace it instead. Be curious about it. Be friendly toward it. See the moment as it’s changing, and develop an open heart toward it.
Step Into Uncertainty
Can you challenge yourself to move into uncertainty and discomfort each day? Staying in meditation, learning something new and difficult, facing difficult tasks or projects, putting yourself in a vulnerable place with others—these are all great practices. As you do them, use curiosity, an open heart, and a friendly smile as your tools for staying present with the uncertainty.
Open Your Heart to Others
For many of us, our habit is to reject things about other people, to lash out or withdraw from them when we reject things about them. Instead, practice not rejecting—and practice curiosity. Embrace the things about them you would normally reject, and find gratitude for them. Open your heart and be vulnerable, and see what happens. Be open to seeing their rejection, their anger, or their fears. Stay with the feelings of fear or anger that might arise in you, and practice letting them go.
Find Gratitude for Everything
Instead of rejecting things about others and the present moment, find a way to be grateful. This helps us to embrace and be open to everything.
And keep at it.
I’d say that’s a good start. You could spend a year practicing with these ideas. Once you’re good at them, find other areas where you’re blocked or holding back, and practice opening up there too.
In the end, this is about whether we want to go through life running from what we find, or discover the courage to be open to everything and finally be free of the running.
In the end, we’ll likely discover that there was nothing to be afraid of after all. It’s a wonderful place to be, this changing, uncertain, uncomfortable, and miraculous world.
Leo Babauta is the author of six books and the writer of Zen Habits, a blog with over 2 million subscribers. Visit ZenHabits.net