The Mental Shift Of Dropping Your Illusory Comfort Zone
One of the great benefits of beginning to see one’s mind as an instrument rather than as one’s “self” is the ability to recognize patterns and to make changes. While the question of “who” is actually making any changes (free will) remains a mystery—or rather when it becomes a mystery, amazing things can happen.
I have lived (or rather I had lived) in Los Angeles for 35 years, having moved there from the east coast in 1979 to pursue a fantasy of fame and fortune in the film business. Over those years I had made friendships, some that dissipated and others that strengthened, and gotten extremely comfortable with my environment – I lived in 3 apartments and one condo within a square mile area near my park and tennis courts, restaurants, dry cleaners, doctor and so on.
But the cost of living in LA, particularly rent, and my own changing circumstances, made me reconsider this comfort zone. And in fact the prospect of leaving caused me some anxiety—the “voice in my head,” in trying to protect me insisted that I was “safest” by staying put. In fact at my lowest point even travel seemed scary.
But I remember a Skype session with Ben Smythe, a teacher who travels widely who made me aware that my sense of control within my comfort zone was an illusion. It was the habit of familiarity that made me feel safe but the future was still completely unknown and by no means guaranteed.
Life Begins At The End Of Your Comfort Zone
Much of the work of neuroscientists today suggest that one of the best ways out of depression, for example, is to “do the opposite” of your habitual tendencies—to literally create new grooves within the brain. These new neural networks serve to somehow “create” a new set of experiences which is, in many ways, a new “you.”
And again, in my work with Michael Jeffreys and the Eckhart Tolle group in Santa Monica I had come to first hand experience how detaching from a concrete sense of self reduced suffering and also led to a wide range of new experiences.
So it was that several months ago I explored the possibility of moving to Las Vegas. I had several friends in "Sin City," which already made it attractive and serendipitously another close friend had just moved there when I took several trips to investigate potential new digs –either buying or renting a new residence.
I might mention that on a purely conceptual, fantasy level I had “priced” potential homes online—fantasizing about gorgeous places with pools and gardens at a fraction of my current rent. But through my work I recognized that these were mental games. I had to see what actually existed. So I ended up going out and making an offer on a house I did not get, but instead found an age restricted community (over 55) that had separate homes that I could rent for a third less than I was paying in LA.
First however, I had to get my mind around the “fact” of actually moving. As I drove around Vegas I liked it more and more, but mentally LA was “home.” It was what I was used to and where my cat was. But I also noticed that through several trips out to the desert my mind began to get more comfortable with the possibility of actually living there. I finally applied to rent a home in Sun City, paid a deposit and began to plan my move.
The Mind's Resistance
It was still a fantasy until I sent my first month’s rent and security deposit off by Fedex. It was at this point for me that as they say, the sh*t got real. And lo and behold, my mind rebelled. Resistance came up almost immediately. I ran into a girl in my building who had just moved back from Vegas having hated it. I had many new details to take care of—setting up services and Internet and cancelling those in LA and figuring out the logistics of moving.
Day in and day out as the moving date approached I wondered if it was worth it and whether I was making a mistake. But my process allowed me to question both the source of the resistance, and “who” it was that was making problems.
I finally put a picture of my rented house on the desktop of my PC so I could look at it, and have it reinforce the prospect of change for the better. Was this a "vision board" technique? Perhaps - but it was just another tool that allowed me to distance myself from my habitual mental processes and take my surroundings of 35 years less seriously.
Attachment To What?
As boxes filled up my apartment, and I lived in chaos, resistance continued—suddenly it was clear that within days I would be away from my customary tennis game and several close friends would be 5 hours away, not minutes. But I recognized that my attachments were mental –things that were discarded did not matter and the energetic connection to people who mattered remained but I did not need to cling.
On moving day I got up as I had on other days, meditated and told myself that this series of present moments would be challenging but within 24 hours I would be in a beautiful new house with my cat.
After the movers had loaded most of my stuff into a truck I packed up my cat. On the way out of my apartment the cat carrier broke and she scurried away in panic. We retrieved her and put her back in and I set off, but she cried and moaned on the first hour of my trip, probably panicked that she was going back to a shelter.
The trip was surreal and it became clear to me that the journey had become feasible because I had begun to dissolve the sense of a separate self “moving” elsewhere but had simply accepted the inevitability of change as the stuff of Life. The mountains and desert were no longer an external set of material objects but simply a new “set” in which my continuing dream would play out.
A Fresh Start & A Lingering Mind
I had become familiar with my new neighbourhood and within days had discovered a tennis partner and takeout restaurants. And yet I was also aware of something else. My mind continued to rebel –its comfort zone tendencies did not embrace these new surroundings. Driving toward the mountains with no traffic seemed eerily odd but I could recognize it for what it was—a disturbance of habitual patterns that had no further reality.
Michael Jeffreys and I had often debated his statement that “Russia doesn’t exist” (unless you are physically there)—in the meantime it exists only conceptually, as does everything else.
As I drove past new and unfamiliar scenery my chattering mind asked "why" and when would I be back in my easy chair in West Los Angeles--with its 35 years of grooved conditioned memories?
Now it was a bit disorienting to consider that Los Angeles did not exist—except on Facebook or if I picked up the phone, and even then only as pixels on my computer or sounds in my receiver. But loosening the grip of physical, material reality had allowed me (or Life) to abruptly change my circumstances, and while a bit odd, they were wonderful.
When I walk out of my house (I had never lived in a house before) I am surrounded by the vastness of an open sky with no large buildings or cars but vistas of mountains and the colours of the desert.
Anxiety about having sufficient resources for retirement (which was not entirely voluntary in this economy) were abated, and I felt suddenly charged with energy and excitement in exploring this new “comfort zone.” But the sense of a permanent physical center has been further broken down and against the habitual patterns of my conditioned “self”, the result is fascinating and exhilarating.