What moving across the country taught me about comfort.
Comfort is one of those things that fills our hearts and grounds our mind and body. The concept of “comfort” is a powerful idea when you think about it. It embodies freedom. It energizes us. It can fuel creativity and positive thinking. It ensures our safety. It drives our mood and so how we choose to live our lives.
Imagine if we could have control over “comfort.” Imagine if it were not limited to our direct surroundings — our neighborhood, our home, even our work. Imagine if we did not think of it in terms of food or people or particular places that become familiar and nurturing in themselves.
Well it turns out we can. And this was something that occurred to me after getting through my first year of college across the country.
I was in a new environment. And surely, I thought, there was no comfort in that. Yes, after months, I did feel adjusted, but the element of “comfort” felt as if it would forever be absent or at least never entirely whole.
After traveling home for a break in December and returning in January, it took me weeks to become once again integrated into my environment, to feel any inkling of comfort. While it may be easy to pass my experience up as an ordinary student making the college adjustment, the pain was very real and unusually long-lasting. I felt lost when I did not feel that direct connection to home, to what was familiar and loved.
So I began to try to examine this burden on my mental clarity, this gaping hole in my sense of completeness. I was confident in my decision to move away for school, so what made this hole deep and overwhelming? This was not just your typical homesickness. There was something in my mind vying for power, that wanted me to feel every ounce of uncertainty and distress I fed it.
Realizing power through redefining comfort
When I thought about home, I thought about comfort. I thought about security, peace, freedom. Yet the more I thought about this concept of comfort and the more I realized it was tied to my home on the other side of the country, the more I discovered the power many of us tie to this concept. And the more I realized that comfort is just an idea.
We choose how we want to define what makes us comfortable. I choose what it means for me to sense comfort and all that it brings along with it into my life.
If you were to ask me today what brings me comfort, I would tell you that it lies within my desire to learn and to grow. To develop my understanding of the world, its people, and its potential. To find a way to leave the world just a little better than it was before me. This is my idea of comfort in its most complete sense. Yet, every day there are different ways to define it to tailor it to specific goals and strengthen it in the context of challenges.
One of the most liberating aspects of this idea of comfort I learned is that it is malleable. I can change it without breaking. I can fine-tune it to fit who I am, what I like, and where I want to be without wrecking my heart or soul. And that is power, a new means of living I never knew was possible until this past year.
A freeing mindset
While I am lucky to be able to enjoy returning to the place I grew up, my synonymous identification of it with comfort always made the trips back difficult. Before, I was reluctant to travel home. I knew how much pain the transitions would cause and how long it would endure. I wanted to avoid that at all costs. Even if that meant seeing my family less often or skipping out on fun times spent in an environment that was not “school.” But over these past few weeks, I have adopted a new mindset. A mindset that reflects how I can define what makes me feel empowered, what makes me feel free, what makes me feel grounded.
So no, you do not have to live as a nomad or really abandon anything at all in your life in order to disengage with normal perceptions of comfort. You can create your own. I discovered that I can allow my new definition to work in alignment with my own sense of purpose, to strengthen who I am, to acknowledge how far I have come and what I want to achieve.
How you can redefine what comfort means to you
I started by asking myself, “What do I think about when I think about comfort?”
Then I tried to dig deeper, “What brings me peace, purpose, and happiness?”
I tried to understand what lies at my core. What am I really after? And I told myself to accept it for whatever it is. Even if I did not have a clear answer, I told myself that is okay. All I needed was one small puzzle piece I could feel confident in.
I did what I could to realign my idea of comfort with my answer to that second question. And I recognized the more specific I could get, the more I could find satisfaction in where I was and target my future.
This new definition has made me open to enjoying shorter trips back home after months at school. It has allowed me to discover resilience within myself.
I am able to escape the pain of leaving home by knowing what comfort really means to me. It is not a place. It is not contained in bodies. It is within me.
Of course the realization that I can define “comfort” in my own terms will not ensure I feel that sense of comfort with unwavering intensity or fundamentally change the way I interact with the world. But more than anything, it has allowed me to understand how much strength I can gather from within myself. That I create what I believe. That some things are only in my mind and so can be captured or dismissed.
How we orient our experiences, our world, in our minds may not be everything, but it sure comes as close as any single thing does. So I challenge you to consider digging a little deeper into yourself and redefining comfort.