Tuesday, September 20, 2005


We have to take our comfort where we find it—and we have to be consciously seeking comfort. Who can live without being comforted? They take our benkie away when we start kindergarten and give us what? A title? They call us “grown up”? As though “grown ups” don’t need to be comforted?
Comfort is the eternal need of the human soul. We cannot face what faces us without being comforted. If we don’t seek it deliberately in wholesome, healing ways, we will seek it somehow. They don’t call it “Southern Comfort” for no reason. All of our addictions serve us as avenues to comfort, and solace, and consolation. We cannot live without being soothed and comforted.
Two things spin off from this point. One is the importance of tuning into our need for comfort. We have to know when we are distressed. We have to feel it in our body. No, we do feel it in our body. We have to be aware of our body’s signals announcing distress, crying out for comfort. What physical sensations signal the need for comforting, caring presence? How do we know we need a soft spot, an oasis of soul and spirit? We have to develop our sensitivity to how our body is reacting to our experience of life. We have to begin to commune with our body.
Illness may well come upon those who are “at one” with their body-response to experience, and have been throughout their lives. And, it may also indicate a “breakdown in communication,” a disruption of communion, between our body and our intellect, between the ship and what drives the ship. I don’t know if “communing with our body” is a way of staying healthy longer, or a way of staying healthy at all. Maybe illness is not an indicator of anything more than a viral, or bacterial, invasion, or a cellular breakdown. On the other hand, if we don’t listen to and take care of our bodies, if we develop unhealthy lifestyles, if we keep taking our bodies to places that aren’t good for them, and giving them toxic chemicals in small doses, and feeding them saturated fats that clog their little arteries because we like it, or because we are acutely distressed on an emotional level and must comfort ourselves somehow, even unconsciously and maladaptively, well, we will pay a price. We are killing ourselves by not recognizing our distress and by not seeking comfort in conscious, healthy, helpful ways.
This is the second thing. We have to know where to go to be comforted in ways that are good for our souls, ourselves. We have to have safe places to be. We have to have the solace of comforting, caring presence. We have to have the emotional equivalent of a soft lap and a rocking chair. Who are the people, where are the places, that are for you a comfort for your soul? Woe be unto us without those people, those places.
Who knows how to be a comfort, these days? Who knows how to sense distress in others and alleviate it? Who knows how to listen gently? Receive warmly? Accept deeply? Who knows how to witness and acknowledge the reality of distressing agonies? Where do we go to be heard, to be seen, to be known? To share with others the truth of how it is with us without being told to “grow up”?
There are not enough “hospitals of the spirit,” and so, we keep building the other kind. We try to cure the body without soothing the soul, and do not understand the nature of the unity that needs healing. Soul is not just along for the ride! Body is not just a tour bus transporting soul to the sights and sounds of life in the physical universe! Soul-body, body-soul, together, at-one, in the experience of life in the world.
And, that experience has an impact. There is no intimacy without vulnerability. We cannot open ourselves to the experience of life without bearing the pain of that experience, and we cannot bear that pain alone, without the comfort and consolation of soft places, gentle presences. We need kind, compassionate witnesses who can acknowledge the truth of our experience and its impact on us. Only then can we gather ourselves and begin to formulate a response that is appropriate and wise. We cannot live toward the good, consistently, reliably, without being comforted in our losses and sorrows. We have to step back in order to step forward. Where are the consoling presences, the comforting places? We have to find them, and turn to them, in order to recover and go on.
I take as much comfort in the half-and-half and the Splenda as in the coffee and the chicory. But if you took the “coffee experience” away, I’d be crazy in a week, or, at least, radically unfun to be around. And, if you removed the writing, and the photography, well, you could just shoot me and get it over with. And if you ruled out conversations with sensitive presences, I would have nothing left but the dry dust of the daily grind from which to build a life. I would dry up myself, and blow away. We have to know where the life is, where the comfort is to be found, and go there often. Else, there is only dust and wind.

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