The Princess and the Pea is one of my favorite childhood fairy tales.
If you’ve forgotten, this is the story of the princess who felt the single pea placed beneath twenty mattresses by a prince who wanted to find a “real” princess. To him, someone who was sensitive enough to feel a tiny pea hidden beneath all the soft bedding was such a princess.
To me (or maybe at this unique period of time) this story represents something different.
I see this story as a metaphor for the willingness to feel and acknowledge the discomfort which hides itself beneath a mountain of fluffy comfort.
Whereas those who went before her allowed the separation from the source of the discomfort to prevent them from acknowledging, let alone feeling, the pea, this woman knew that something wasn’t right. She couldn’t name the source, but she knew something was off. She trusted her feelings and experience were real.
That this woman noticed her discomfort despite the ruse is a testament to her high degree of consciousness. She could not be fooled.
The “pea” in this analogy, represents our personal and/or societal discomfort.
Personally, it can be pain, loss, confusion, or anxiety. A single pea might be an old, unhealed story, or it could be an uncomfortable truth. It could be something that we can’t claim about ourselves—perhaps because it is our shadow side, but just as likely because it is our light.
For some of us, there’s not just a single pea of discomfort hidden beneath the mattresses, but many. Busy in our lives, we’ve tucked our uncomfortable feelings, thoughts and emotions, hidden away and eventually forgotten.
But they’re not gone.
Collectively, the pea represents the discomfort and pain felt by our families, groups, and society as a whole–the pain of those who have been marginalized and stigmatized. Those who are homeless or hungry. Those who are heartbroken, sick, lost, or lonely.
PERSONAL & SOCIETAL MATTRESSES
In this analogy, personal “mattresses” represent our titles, roles, responsibilities, or the many other “skins” we wear that make us feel we are good enough, safe enough, worthy enough. The mattresses are our social calendar, our busy work life, our sense of importance. They represent all that keep us at arm’s length (or a 20 mattress depth) from our pain.
Sometimes, our mattresses come courtesy of other people—in ways such as validation, praise, or even a sense of purpose. As The Washington Post puts it in an article: “And we’ve lost a little bit of ourselves. An essential part of our identity is rooted in how we relate to the people around us, how we situate ourselves within the social hierarchy.”
Cultural “mattresses”, or those things that keep us from feeling societal pain. It can be television, social media, sugar, shopping, alcohol, or dysfunctional relationships. Cultural mattresses are the “us” vs. “them” rhetoric, which covers up or ignores the pain of anyone in the “them” camp.
With “mattresses” in place, we can maintain quite a distance from our own and other’s discomfort. Perhaps for our entire lifetime.
Mattresses keep us comfortable through creating false distance and separation. And, most detrimentally, they keep us away from ourselves. Especially our true, naked, authentic, undressed self.
The Coronavirus epidemic has drastically ripped our mattresses out from under us. And now, we’re lying on a bed of lumpy, uncomfortable peas.
Whatever distance we’ve maintained from our own personal discomforts is gone. Whatever false distance we’ve maintained from our societal discomforts has disappeared.
Our society has trained us from childhood to seek quick relief from discomfort. From uncomfortable toe seams on our socks to digestive ills to uncomfortable emotions to pain management, we expect to not have to be uncomfortable for any length of time.
We learn to avoid all kinds of pain—even temporary pain—at all costs. Even pain that would strengthen us. Even pain necessary for healing and growth. Commercials and marketing succeed because they point out a “need” (discomfort) we may or may not even know we have, and then sell us something to ease it.
What do we do when we have no access to easy, quick ways to get comfortable again? We’re about to find out.
What happens now, when we can’t go to a restaurant to break up the evening, or congregate for live music to raise our energy, or send our kids to school? What happens to us when discomfort is not only our current state, but may be our state for some unknown period of time? When the discomfort is here to stay for a while?
QUESTIONING IN THE DISCOMFORT
This time, there is no pill we can all take, easy button to push, or appliance we can purchase to rid us of our discomfort. We are here, together, for the foreseeable future. So perhaps we can ask ourselves some questions that might now rise from beneath the constant movement and noise of our lives. Questions such as:
Who are we, without our busy lives? Without our social calendars? Without our sporting events? And some of us, without our paychecks?
What is our purpose, and are we fulfilling it? Have we lost our vision along the way? What could we do to bring it back?we
How is our physical health, and do our bodies need anything?
How is our emotional health, and is there something we can do to strengthen our connection with our emotions?
What about our mental health? Can we do to ensure we establish healthier thought habits?
What do we value, and does that show up as we look around our home and our lives? If not, what small changes can we make to ensure that our life and our values match up?
What will we each do, if/as this crisis continues for weeks and months? Will we look out solely for our own benefit, or will we look out for others?
EMBRACE THE DISCOMFORT
Our egos are programmed to seek comfort and relief. In this situation, ego will, or probably already has, tapped awake our amygdala, which triggers our fight/flight response.
Thus, ego works side by side with fear, the human emotion most averse to pain, as well as to change, both of which we will all experience in degrees.
This environment calls both fear and our ego into action.
But we don’t have to take that route.
If we let ego lead us down a single-minded path to rid ourselves of this discomfort, our responses and reactions will be knee-jerk and spontaneous. They will be reflexive. They will cause us to buy toilet paper en masse. Probably, we will make choices we’ll regret later in life, when things are more comfortable once again.
Our souls are far wiser, and far more able to navigate this time than our egos are.
This is because our souls do not fear discomfort. Our souls know that sometimes, only discomfort can bring about the necessary changes and evolution in our lives.
Our souls know that discomfort has an important purpose for us as individuals and as a society. Discomfort is the reason we move out of a relationship, or a job, or a home. We don’t move if we’re comfortable. From comfort, complacency grows. We stop asking. We stop learning and growing and deepening.
Being comfortable can be like putting our life on cruise control: it might seem easy, but without our hands on the wheel we can easily drift further and further away from our center—our integrity, values, purpose. Discomfort, on the other hand, is like driving down a bumpy road with two hands on the wheel. It provides regular motivation and opportunity to be present in our lives—making adjustments, staying aware, living fully.
At some point, we will emerge from this epidemic.
Let’s choose to emerge stronger, wiser, kinder, and more whole.
With our souls leading us, and with our hearts open, let’s embrace our current discomfort and go deeper into our understanding of ourselves and this world. Let’s emerge with a stronger connection to our own souls, as well as to each other.
There’s no better time than now to dive completely into our discomfort and see what changes.
No more mattresses, only peas.