Michael Ashcroft

February 9, 2024

I'd rather be uncomfortable than numb

Some feelings may suck, but at least they mean I'm alive

Indulge my whimsy for a moment.

Imagine that there is some other plane of existence filled with conscious entities that can peer into our world. And imagine further that these entities are formless. They have no bodies, which means they have no capacity for sensation. No pleasure, no pain, no anxiety, no excitement.

Knowing nothing else about them, I wonder if they look upon our capacity for feeling with a formless version of yearning. What must it be like to feel jealousy coursing through the belly? How delightful might the sensations of confidence be as they ripple up along the spine and penetrate out through the eyes?

My little fantasy about these watchers is that they would be quite different from most of the humans they 'envy'. Where most people crave sensations that feel good and push away sensations that feel bad, these entities might deeply savour all the sensations the way you might savour a nine-course Michelin-starred tasting menu. While some flavours might appeal less than others, there's still a real enjoyment that can be found in that bitter chicory leaf or the slimy texture of the jellied eel.

(As an aside, I can only assume I read a story like this somewhere and forgot about it. Let's assume it's definitely someone else's, and I just don't know who came up with it, because it's too good to be mine.)

I've invested a lot of time and energy into running from feelings I don't like and, on reflection, my returns haven't been great. After decades of numbing, distracting and avoiding, I've learned that all that gives me is a feeling of ever decreasing aliveness.

Aliveness is what matters to me. Do you know what it means to feel the searing hot and freezing cold sensations of grief, anger and embarrassment cascade through my body? It means I'm alive. It means that I am a vulnerable and complex mass of flesh, nerves and perception having an encounter with a similarly complex and vibrant world.

Now, when I encounter a feeling I don't like, I find it easier to enjoy its raw sensations as a portal to my aliveness. I welcome and celebrate how, even if nothing else, I am blessed to be having the experience at all.

This doesn't mean tolerating discomfort without seeking to improve the circumstances causing them, nor does it mean creating conditions that will create suffering. It's just a way to step back from the automatic resistances that, ironically, keep the unpleasant feelings stuck. The moment I stop resisting and welcome them fully, they burn through me, transform and, oftentimes, leave.

Being in a position where I can almost look forward to intense feelings, either way, makes me much less likely to avoid them in the first place. I don't like the idea that the path of my life might be strongly influenced by the set of emotions I can't be with.

Bring on all the feelings. Come what may, I am alive.