Addiction to Comfort & Spiritual Growth
Are you addicted to comfort and does that effect your spiritual growth? Are you addicted to taking the easy road so that you don’t have to face uncomfortable sensations? Is that bad? Is there something wrong with choosing pleasure or comfort?
There is a wise phrase in the Katha Upanisad that is often mistranslated as meaning that pleasurable experiences are the opposite of good… that they are bad. That if you chose pleasure you are a bad person in some way.
‘Both the good and the pleasurable approach a person. The wise chose the good over the pleasurable.’”
-The Katha Upanisad, a text of Vedantic Yoga.
However, many people disagree with that interpretation and recommended to replace the word pleasurable with comfort.
“It’s not pleasure that opposing good, it is addiction to comfort. This is an important idea that comes from the Mussar school, a system of ethical wisdom training in Jewish tradition. A wise person will choose good over the merely comfortable. In other words, a wise person will choose effort and depth over laziness and superficiality.” -Sally Kempton; Yoga Journal
In other words, a wise person understands that the uncomfortable path requires effort. That effort will bring more contentment than the superficial path, in the long run. So, they will choose the path of effort and ‘good’ intention instead of what is comfortable and easy.
So how does this apply to our spiritual practice of Yoga?
I chose not to eat meat, this aligns with my value of Ahimsa (non-violence). Sometimes it would be easier to have the comfort food of Chicken and Dumplings that my Mom used to make. I still want that Chicken and Dumplings! It takes discipline and work to choose something different, to stay true to my ethics. I chose the ‘good’ over the pleasurable. I chose my ethics over the comfort food… and that’s not always easy!
On the yoga mat, I chose to keep coming back to the mat time and time again even though it would often be more comfortable, to skip that practice. The effort brings long-term contentment instead of the fleeting comfort of staying in bed.
This ability to choose the uncomfortable when necessary is not about causing ourselves pain and suffering (that would be Himsa/violence).
Also, yoga is not against comfort or pleasure! Our second Chakra, Svadhishthana, is all about pleasure and fulfilling our needs. The second chakra is about being able to truly enjoy this beautiful life. Having a balanced second chakra is necessary for a full human experience.
However, enjoying pleasure and being addiction to it are two different things. Addiction to comfort and ease can be a road block on our spiritual journey and cause us more pain in the long run.
If we always chose the easy, where is the growth?
For example, if you have the time in the evening for a meditation practice but you chose to watch Netflix instead then you are choosing the path of comfort and that will hamper your Spiritual growth. However, does that mean you can never watch your favorite show and enjoy that pleasure? Does that make you a bad person if you chose Netflix? I don’t think so.
For me, this wisdom in the Upanisads is just that, wisdom. The Upanisads teach me about this all-important connection between addiction to comfort and spiritual growth. Awareness is always the first key.
Once I’m aware of that connection I have the choice, I have the power.
What I chose is my responsibility and it is on me.
If I want a deeper connection to spirit then I sit down and meditate. If I am stressed and sad then maybe I sit down and meditate. Knowing that the comfortable choice of Netflix won’t help me in the long term helps me to make wise choices for myself. And if I chose unwisely, then I chose unwisely, and my spiritual growth will be affected.
So how can we tell the difference between pleasure in a healthy and sustainable way and addiction to comfort that disrupts our spiritual growth?
I think it all comes back to intentions, ethics and addiction. What is your intention for the choice you are making? Does it align with your ethics? How will you feel after you make the choice?
And lastly, are you addicted to the comfortable or easy choice?
When I have chosen to eat meat I feel horrible, it doesn’t align with my ethics.
However, when I chose comfort on the yoga mat and chose to modify a pose that doesn’t serve my body then I feel great, it aligns with my values. Choosing the path of comfort, or pleasure, during Asana practice can be a wise choice.
I also know that I often chose the option that requires effort so I am not addicted to the comfort. I can choose pleasure knowing that it is not coming from a place of my inability to make the effort.
There is no judgment in this. Judgement doesn’t help anyone and it puts up a direct wall in the middle of our yogic path. I am a human, walking a human path, doing the best I can to find contentment and help others.
There is no judgement in this wisdom, it’s just a fact. The Upanisads are just teaching us a law of the Universe.
Understanding this law helps me to make wise choices and ultimately find more peace within.
The wisdom is clear, if you truly want spiritual growth and connection than you have to let go of your addiction to comfort. You have to choose the option that requires effort and makes you uncomfortable.
Here’s to being uncomfortable (while still enjoying pleasure in a healthy way)!
PS- It's important to note, that only you can decide to chose comfort or effort. It's an individual decision. So, as a yoga teacher I can't not know when it is best for a student to choose the path of effort over comfort or if that will even help them, only the student knows. They have that power.
For more on that conversation check out last weeks blog 'Get out of your Comfort Zone to grow.' I say rubbish!