When I started writing this I had more questions than answers. What is comfort? Where do you get it? How much does it cost? When do you seek it out and when does it seek you out?
There are two aspects of comfort: mental and physical. You might find comfort in reading a good book. You might also find comfort in a bed with clean sheets. If you are so inclined you might combine the two and read in the freshly made bed. How extravagant!
Comfort can be found in familiar places and things: a well worn pair of jeans broken in to give in all the right places but still hold together, or a beloved family member’s home with its smells and quality of light which never seems to change.
The familiar comforts tend to be free. Or the cost was sunk when the jeans were bought and the comfort grows unrelated to the market value. The house exists and it’s open for you to visit so comfort can be found there with little investment.
Do you seek out those familiar things?
I think we all do. But sometimes it’s hard to think clearly about what comfort we need or where it is. Sometimes the distraction of life’s work is difficult to get clear of. Sometimes those ever-present tutelary spirits — who live on each shoulder — whisper to us about what we should be doing with our time. In those times it’s nice to have friends who consider our needs. Sometimes comfort finds you.
Remember the last time you were sick? Not just a cold but a high grade sniffling, sneezing, aching, coughing, stuffy-head, fever, you can’t get out of bed sick. Maybe a friend came to visit you and made you soup. When comfort comes to you, soup in hand, you have a choice. Invite it in. When it feels your forehead and offers to read Tom Robbins to you, marry it.
Let’s go back to seeking physical comfort. How do we know when we need it and how do we seek it?
I ask because I want to know for myself.
In the winter of 2009 I woke up in pain. My hands were balled into fists and I couldn’t uncurl my thumbs. I called in sick, although I didn’t want to say that I couldn’t use my hands because I was afraid I’d lose my job. Working at a computer had caught up with me and my body couldn’t take it anymore. I went to a doctor in Seattle and he gave me two choices: change careers or get endoscopic carpal tunnel release surgery.
I chose a third option and went to a naturopathic doctor at Bastyr University. I learned about the condition and treatment. I started a new regimen of stretching, eating anti-inflammatory foods, taking supplements, exercise, and massage. I tried contrast hydrotherapy, energy work, homeopathic flower remedies, creams, lotions, ointments, Gua Sha spooning… anything I could get my hands on short of drugs that affected my focus. Of course I wanted to find some combination of treatment that would help me stay in my career and avoid surgery.
When I was in pain I learned what I needed to do to reduce it. I often don’t do what I need to do and the pain comes back. Why would I want that? If there is a formula “Do X and you will receive Y” where Y is relief from pain, why would I not do X? I have excuses: too expensive, too time consuming… Sometimes the pain has to get bad enough that it out weighs the effort to deal with it.
If you know what to do to get comfort, why don’t you do it?
The Atlantic just posted about this in Self-Control Is Just Empathy With Your Future Self
The article describes the famous (if you were a psych major like me) 1960’s Marshmallow Test. If you haven’t heard of it go read the article… I’ll wait.
What the test shows is how well a child can handle temporary discomfort to accomplish a long-term goal . This is difficult for adults too. The temporary discomfort may be too much to bear. Like soaking my arms up to the bicep in buckets of ice water: it relieves the pain as well as ibuprofen but it is quite uncomfortable.
Is comfort extravagant?
“We come here (literally) reaching for intimacy and love. But it seems soon after our arrival, we’re made to believe that they’re luxuries, not necessities.”
― Rashod Ollison
I guess that depends on what kind of comfort we’re talking about. The first time I smoked a cigarette while soaking in a hot bath I may not have found the peak of extravagant comfort but I surely had discovered a topographical prominence.
Today I’m more interested in the discussion of baseline comfort. Feeling free of distracting pain is what I strive for. My baseline comfort requirements are less pain on the physical aspect and less distraction on the mental aspect.
Let me call your attention back to that iconic destination for comfort: home. I think one thing that makes the familiar comforts so reliable is just that – they are reliable. You can trust them. You can trust them to bring you comfort because they have so many times before and, baring some catastrophe, will likely continue to do so.
Comfort hinges on trust.
You can’t lay down and rest if you have to keep one eye looking over your shoulder. On the mental aspect, I find that I have a hard time trusting my future self. I barely know that guy. I also have a hard time forgiving my past self. He isn’t always very kind to me. My present self might have trust issues. I believe that one way toward improving my relationship with myself is to become a familiar comfort. To bring myself the figurative soup every day and get to know my future self well enough to know what he’d like to read when he’s feeling uncomfortable. I think I deserve it.