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Does your comfort zone become a prison?

Can your comfort zone become your prison cell? Now that is an interesting question isn’t it? It’s one I’m giving some thought these days because the older I get, the more I desire to stay in my comfort zone.

It’s that place where life feels — well — comfortable. You know the routines. Things are in their proper places. Big changes don’t live there. Unfortunately, I’m giving consideration to the idea that learning doesn’t live there either.

I started thinking about this after watching a video clip of Pema Chödrön, an American Tibetan Buddhist who is an ordained nun, talking about moving from our comfort zone. For some of you, I’m betting the words American Tibetan Buddhist pulled you right out of your comfortable place. Sometimes we don’t want to hear stuff from people whose lives and belief systems are different from ours. That is uncomfortable, especially if it challenges us.

In her talk, this American Tibetan Buddhist (think I’ll use those words until they feel more comfortable) points out that it is challenge that brings about learning. She says that, unfortunately, the older we get, the more we want to live only in that comfort zone. The result is it gets smaller the more we refuse to step outside of it.

I think this struck me because I find myself leaning in that direction. I mean the world is a big old challenging place right now. Nothing seems to stay the same for very long. Technology moves so quickly. The newest innovation today is outdated tomorrow.

What experts say is good for our health regularly gets turned upside down and replaced with opposite ideas. Old is out. New is in, but then before you adjust to the new, the newer arrives.

No wonder there is a whole bunch of people who want to stop and make a big u-turn back to some golden time when life felt more comfortable. Problem is that life doesn’t move backwards and while nostalgia is a nice place to visit, it’s almost impossible to live there. Moreover, attempting to live there might be  how comfort zone becomes a prison cell.

Oh but change is scary. It makes us confront challenges we’d rather not confront. Sometimes it forces us to look at ourselves and our choices and do a reboot. And, we know how painful it is to reboot.

Nope, there is a part of me that just wants to snuggle up with the past and stay right there wrapped in the sweetness of how it used to be. Don’t ask me to change a thing because I’m comfortable in my little cocoon.

The problem with that is a butterfly that chooses to stay in its cocoon dies. Now, we don’t die physically if we decide to try to live in our comfort zone all the time, but maybe part of us that finds joy in new experiences will cease to exist.

Another thing, life is change. Challenges come no matter how hard we try to stop them. Change is inevitable as long as we are breathing. Living eventually cracks open even the tightest cocoon. If nothing else, aging forces us to face challenges we’d rather skip.

So, I’ve been thinking about how to navigate change comfortably because there is no great time from the past returning to become this huge comfort zone that envelopes us all. That American Tibetan Buddhist had some good suggestions on how to move forward.

Start, she said, with small changes, embracing bits of changes. For example, if you have a hard time letting go of things, try giving away one thing that you think you can’t let go. Change one thing in your environment that makes you a little uncomfortable. Maybe consider one idea that is the opposite of what you think.

That, says this Buddhist nun, is how we begin to expand our comfort zone to include more possibilities. That, I think, is how we keep our comfort zone from becoming our prison.

Nancy Blackmon is a former newspaper editor and a yoga teacher.