aid, succor, support . In a bad sense: to encourage…
that which is evil. ( Oxford English Dictionary )
A ship is safe in harbor, but that's not what ships
are for . ( anonymous )
The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. ( Jesus'
admonition about temptation; Matthew 26: 41 )
It's a given: our current American culture has never provided so many comforts for mind and body. Perhaps the best was to quantify this is by recalling the countless number of compelling advertisements for comfort products and pleasures we see in the media. But far be it for this writer to part company with several of his compelling comforts. Yet as a journalist who years ago surrendered a brief sybaritic lifestyle, he feels obligated—and somewhat qualified —to report a few opinions he has gathered about the dark side of comfort .
In the article, "Why Comfort Is Actually Bad for You " ( http://HuffingtonPost. com ) , Joe Robinson writes : "As marketers have known since the days of toga sales, humans love their creature comforts. Tempur-pedic beds and cinema-sized TVs are nice, but researchers tell us we’re a lot happier when we can tear ourselves away from what makes us feel cozy. It turns out that what our brains and bodies really want isn’t comfort. It’s engagement. Comfort is your enemy…. The science shows, though, that it’s just the opposite of the velvet cocoon that gratifies us. Our core psychological needs are satisfied not by how comfy we feel but by breaking out of the force field of routine. The two key factors in long-term life satisfaction are novelty and challenge, says brain scientist Gregory Berns of Emory University School of Medicine. The plush life doesn’t make us happy because, like all external metrics, it doesn’t do anything for you internally, where the real arbiters of gratification live….
" A study led by Australian researcher David Dunston found that watching TV more than four hours a day is associated with an 80 percent increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease. Alpa Patel, of the American Cancer Society, who studied 120,000 people and their sitting habits, says that people who sit too much cut two years off their life…
" If you want a memorable life, the research is very clear: You have to live a life worth remembering….
" We cling to comfort zones because they offer perceived safety and keep the threat of change from our doorsteps. And they’re easy. They require no effort. We’re led to believe that non-exertion is the way to happiness, but our brains hate being on idle, looking into the window of life. We wind up with a hollowed-out life of spectating and learned helplessness, without the initiating skills essential to self-worth and a well-lived life. It’s self-determined actions and experiences that provide the gratification we need. Your core psychological needs — autonomy, competence and relatedness, the social connection — can only be satisfied through participation, not cushy observation….
" The goal isn’t to avoid lifting a finger on this planet, but to dig in with both hands to the wisdom of uncomfortable places. "
More about Comfort Zones
On the office wall of Deacon Paul Schmidt hangs a sketch of a beached and battered rowboat which sole reason for being there is that the boat is empty. Paul occasionally looks at the sketch to remind himself of those simple fishermen who, when called by Jesus to be His disciples, immediately left the "comfort zone " of their boat and followed Him.
"This empty boat reminded me years ago to get out of my comfort zone and do something for people, " said the 71-year-old deacon during our interview . Paul, a deacon at the St. James Catholic church in Arlington Heights, Illinois , left a life of comfort for what he'll tell you was a more meaningful life baptizing babies, counseling couples about to marry, and comforting people at funeral wakes—not to mention working fulltime as business manager of another church.
Last March , Sr. Joanne Fedwa of Sisters of the Living Word in Arlington Heights, helped celebrate a Lenten holy feast day with the theme "Mary's Move from Comfort to Courage. " Mary "needed to muster up a lot of courage" to say yes to becoming the mother of Jesus, " the 87-year-old nun asserted . "She was likely in shock when asked by the Holy Spirit the give up a simple life of virginity. If she hadn't been willing to leave her comfort zone, it would have been a sad situation . "
Years ago , Sr. Fedwa worried when asked to give up her comfort zone to accept a mission assignment to teach in a small rural , Afro-American community in Arkansas. But "it turned out to be a positive experience ," she said , and she stayed 13 years.
What can happen when one has too much comfort? I asked her. Her reply: " We then tend to forget the most important things in life, like our relationship with God."
And what do you really get when you're willing to step outside of your comfort zone? asks Alan Henry in his posted blog " Mind Hacks " ( http://lifehacker.com/the-science-of-breaking-out-of-your-comfort-zone-and-w-656426705 ) . Some of the major benefits he mentions are:
Ø You'll be more productive. Comfort kills productivity because without the sense of unease that comes from having deadlines and expectations, we tend to phone it in and do the minimum required to get by. We lose the drive and ambition to do more and learn new things. We also fall into the "work trap," where we feign "busy" as a way to stay in our comfort zones and avoid doing new things. Pushing your personal boundaries can help you hit your stride sooner, get more done, and find smarter ways to work.
Ø You'll have an easier time dealing with new and unexpected changes. In his article in The New York Times, Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, explains that one of the worst things we can do is pretend fear and uncertainty don't exist. By taking risks in a controlled fashion and challenging yourself to things you normally wouldn't do, you can experience some of that uncertainty in a controlled, manageable environment. Learning to live outside your comfort zone when you choose to can prep you for life changes that force you out of it.
Ø You'll find it easier to brainstorm and harness your creativity. This is a soft benefit, but it's fairly common knowledge (and it's easily reproducible) that seeking new experiences, learning new skills, and opening the door to new ideas inspire us and educate us in a way that little else does. Trying new things can make us reflect on our old ideas and where they clash with our new knowledge, and inspire us to learn more and challenge confirmation bias, our tendency to only seek out information we already agree with. Even in the short term, a positively uncomfortable experience can help us brainstorm, see old problems in a new light, and tackle the challenges we face with new energy.
In one of his homilies at St.James during this past Lent , Fr. Derek Ho quoted Pope Benedict XVI , who said , " The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness. " A week later, Fr. Derek wrote the following reflection in the church bulletin:
" Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor in Auschwitz, noticed that the first people to die in the concentration camp were not those who died due to a lack of food or water or medicine. The first people to die were those who lacked purpose and meaning. They were enduring a massive amount of suffering but could not find the meaning behind it. And so they gave up…
"Jesus’ experience in the desert is meant to serve as a reference point for all Lenten resolutions. He chooses to suffer as we choose to suffer, not simply for suffering’s sake, but to detach ourselves from the comforts offered by the world (and the evil one) and to allow our desire for God to grow ever deeper. "
What Can We Might Learn from Growing Pecan Trees
While living on a ranch in Arkansas , I not only learned why a pound of pecans is a costly grocery item but also something ( perhaps trivial to the city dweller ) which remains in my mind about the benefit of discomfort .
One day while I was planting three pecan tree saplings, a neighbor strolled over to me …I remember our conversation but not his name .
"You planting for pecans ? " he asked .
"Right, " I replied. " Where they'll get plenty of sun."
"Might take ten years before you pick any, you know. Maybe even fifteen."
I looked at my neighbor with disbelief and waited for an explanation.
" But some , I'm told , have lived for 300 years. " He laughed . I did not.
For the next five minutes, my neighbor recited facts about pecan trees. Though his knowledge about these trees was credible, it did nothing to halt my thought of returning the saplings to the nursery . Really, they should have screened me for unlimited patience before I purchased them!
" But listen here now ," my neighbor continued. " You-all come over to my place . I got five pecan trees growing there . Been giving nuts for years. But I had the good sense not to plant them in the sun. No sir . Planted then in a shady spot. Forced them to grow, reach for their sun. Three—not ten, mind you—years later I had me great pecans . Wife put them on ice cream for us and the kids. Delicious ! "
Nowadays I think how analogous was my neighbor's pecan anecdote to us humans "planting" our bodies and minds where they will not wilt or get flabby from too much comfort ; rather, we should plant them in our life's work and love so that when we get lazy and flabby— sheer will power or passion can only do so much , you know—we'll be forced to keep reaching for the sun which God's grace shines on us in all weather.
Now in my senior years, when I find myself looking for a shortcut to heaven by sitting with eyes half-closed in my favorite chair and listening to a CD of meditation music, I am reminded of the exhortations of the Apostle Paul , who seldom seemed to experience physical comfort. In 50 A.D. , he wrote this to the citizens of Corinth , a wealthy Greek city know for everything depraved, , dissolute, and debauched : " Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things…Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave …" ( I Corinthians 10: 24-27 )
Lyn Metter in her National Catholic Register article ( April 2, 2017 ), " Penance Promotes Peace ," quoted these words from Fr. Mitch Pacwa , a host on the EWTN television channel : "Abstaining from many of the easy and comfortable things in our life…aid a person in becoming free of these attachments. "
She also quoted 31-year-old Jonathan Conrad of Indianapolis, a member of Exodus 20, a fast-growing fraternity of Christians seeking spiritual development: " The pleasures of this world are not fulfilling—period. They are all short-lived and leave us longing for something more. Something as simple as a cold shower teaches you the discipline of control over your most primal sensual urges. If you can't control those, you have no hope for anything greater. "
Here are a few words from Saint Catherine of Sienna, a woman whose spiritual writings have for centuries been contemplated world-over : " We become fearful…because we have set our love and trust in something weak, something completely unstable and inconstant, something as passing as the wind…" And lastly, a conviction of the British martyr, Sir Thomas More, God is a Christian's only comfort.
All comments are welcome.
© 2017 Robert R. Schwarz