By Mike Rosen
This week, the featured post is authored by MenLiving facilitator, Mike Rosen. Mike is a father, a 4th grade teacher and has been the lead on our Tuesday night seperation / divorce meeting since its inception.
I recently finished a book called “The Comfort Crisis” by Michael Easter. The subtitle is “Embrace Discomfort To Reclaim Your Wild, Happy, Healthy Self”. No one told me I lost my wild, happy self, but before the cover was even cracked I felt better knowing I would soon be reclaiming it!
Michael Easter is interesting to me, maybe because I can relate to him as an active, white, middle-aged Dad, trying to figure it all out. He’s the former Editor in Chief of Men’s Health magazine and he writes a blog called the 2%, which refers to the percentage of people, when given a choice to take the stairs or the elevator, choose the stairs.
The gist of both the book and the blog are very Wim Hof-like i.e. it’s our constant state of comfort–whether it be temperature, hunger, overall physicality-these are the harbingers of all our ills. (If you’re unfamiliar with Wim Hof and his approach, dive into the metaphoric ice-cold water here.) We awake each day in our climate-controlled homes, sit in our climate-controlled car to arrive at work. We park as close as possible to the doors, briefly walk (to the elevator) to get to our job, where we sit in climate-controlled comfort for hours at a time. Sit while we drive home, etc., etc. Rarely are any of us willingly and voluntarily in discomfort. He opines most forms of discomfort are tremendously beneficial and cites the myriad of reasons why.
One example of discomfort–the topic of death–is uncomfortable for a majority of Americans. One study showed that 92% of people believe talking with their loved ones about end-of-life care is important, yet only 32% of people do so. Spoiler Alert–it all ends the same for us! Everyone! What are we all so afraid of?
Quick aside—I also read a tremendously transformative book called “The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully by a man named Frank Ostaseski. I highly recommend and invite you to dive in with him. But that’s for another blog post.
There’s an excerpt from Michael Easter’s book in which he describes an interaction with a monk from Bhutan. They discuss the concept of ‘mitakpa’, loosely translated to mean ‘non-permanence’. The idea, aligned with many Buddhist teachings, is that nothing is permanent. Nothing. As Americans, we uniquely crave and pursue permanence–in our careers, in our near-relentless efforts to consume, achieve, measure. Achieve, consume, measure, now compare! Repeat endlessly, in any order, until we can’t. I judge the irony and foolhardiness of it all remain the same. None of it matters in the end.
To back that up to this moment, which is all I have, the more often I can think about my death, the more I can remind myself that the minutia I’m focused on now–the jackass in front of me and the absence of turn signals (deep breaths Mike. Deep breaths.) the more I can remind myself that my colleague’s painful overuse of the word ‘literally’, the more I can remind myself that the story I make up about my feelings towards the upcoming election–if I can enjoy a brief respite, a moment when I can contextualize it, it makes it all just a bit more bearable.
Mind you, I’m not suggesting or inviting you to ignore all that’s around you. Burying my head in the sand to avoid or distract the immediate likely won’t help and the efficacy of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ has repeatedly proven to be a poor choice for me in the long run (can you say City of Chicago parking boot?)
I’ve now set 3 daily alarms with the label ‘mitakpa’. When they go off, I may not always be able to immediately pause and reflect on my own impermanence. “Umm, Mr. Rosen. What are you doing?! We were talking about the Revolutionary War.” says a room full of 4th Graders. But the daily reminders are precisely that, reminders that in the end, nothing is permanent and the current moment–whether it’s filled with joy, frustration, pleasure, annoyance, laughter, irritation, comfort, or DISCOMFORT…is fleeting and likely to end soon, whether I want it to or not.
The outcomes for me are increased gratitude, higher degrees of presence, and an appreciation for the impermanence of it all. I’m growing more comfortable reflecting on the uncomfortable, my death specifically.
To bring some permanence and finality to this post, I leave with two semi-related questions upon which I invite you to reflect…. How might you embrace the idea of mitakpa AND when were you last voluntarily uncomfortable?
I’d love to read your reflections and answers in the Comment section below!