I’ve been giving a lot of thought recently to the idea of staying within or moving beyond our comfort zones. By definition, a zone is an area that is delineated by fairly hard edges. In some cases these boundaries do not move at all, while in others they may vary under certain circumstances. Plant hardiness zones are definitely shifting north, for example, and a zone defense in basketball might need to collapse onto one player if he or she happens to break through it. Time zones, on the other hand, have remained rather constant, with the exception of the ongoing debate about daylight savings, but that has very little to do with the zone itself. I think we could say with a high level of certainty that comfort zones tend to shift as we get older, or if we experience some kind of a trauma, with both of these being something we might be willing to work beyond. When I was young, I loved roller coasters; the bigger the better as far as I was concerned, especially if it was one of those wooden ones. Now, they terrify me. At one time I loved to fly, but I had a bad experience on a plane after talking off in a thunderstorm. Needless to say, I am now an apprehensive flyer. Yet I have, on occasion, pushed against these self-set limits in order to experience the momentary thrill of a really good roller coaster or the extended exhilaration that comes from traveling somewhere amazing. In both instances, I have been willing to stretch the edges of my comfort zone.
There is nothing unique or earth shattering about the examples I shared above. We have all had many moments such as these when we acknowledge our willingness to feel a certain level of discomfort. For the most part, this is because we anticipate that whatever we’re about to experience is ultimately going to be positive and beneficial for us, even if it begins with a wince or a grimace. Initially we push back against the stretch, holding there, until we eventually allow ourselves to yield to it. Something as minor as riding a roller coaster might fall into this category, or it could be as cataclysmic and terrifying as a major life change. We are equally familiar with the flip side of this particular coin where we will never allow our boundaries to soften regarding certain behaviors or issues. We draw that hard edge. There is a tragic history of drug addiction in my family, so I personally find fault with substance abuse of any kind, legal or otherwise. That will never change for me. Sometimes we find ourselves engaged in spirited disagreements over the places where we will not yield, but that is to be expected. The boundaries around our comfort zones are highly personal, as are the reasons that motivate us to change them in any way.
Let’s consider, for a moment, how comfortable we are with the concept of doing nothing. As I said in last week’s post, we are a society that is driven by measurable action. We feel the intense need to always be moving, accomplishing the items on our to do list, while steering clear of the idea of rest or relaxation, unless it is wrapped up within the comfort zone called vacation. Even then, we want to say where we’ve gone, or what we’ve done, or what entry we’ve crossed off on our bucket list, and we post it all on social media. We hesitate to take a personal day when we need a minute to breathe or recharge, and quite often we won’t even take sick time when we should be home tending to whatever is wrong with us. We find it difficult to say no to social obligations, despite the fact that we would benefit so much from a night at home alone. Even when we permit ourselves to have such time, we often fill it with distractions, rather than allow ourselves to sit in the stillness. The edges of our comfort zones redefine such quiet as boredom or laziness, and we push back as hard as we can, refusing to yield.
A few weeks ago, I read a post on a blog I love called The Marginalian entitled “The Art of Lying Fallow,” in which Maria Popova discusses the ideas that British psychoanalyst Masud Khan puts forth in an essay in his collection entitled Hidden Selves. The concept of fallowness has its origin in a farming practice that allows certain fields to remain uncultivated for one or several years to boost soil replenishment. As human beings, there are times when we need to let ourselves lie fallow in this same way, so that we may find the restoration that we need to balance the often harried pace of our modern lives. We may arrive at this state of fallowness in moments of any given day, or in longer periods if that’s what is needed, but we must adjust our comfort zones to accommodate the idea that such inactivity is fundamentally necessary to our mental health and happiness. Popova quotes Khan as saying, “Lying fallow is, above all, the proof that a person can be with himself unpurposefully.” Indeed it is. In the state where we are not attempting to find purpose, or interact socially, or succumb to distraction, we can only hear the voice of inner wisdom whispered in the language of intuition, with words that soothe the soul, comfort the mind, and ready the body to return to the fray.
For today’s cocktail, I began with a little herb called santolina that was the final ingredient added to a syrup I made last fall to mimic the taste of Coca-cola. It has a fresh, clean scent that reminds me of laundry day, but not in a soapy kind of way. It’s more like the smell of fresh cotton sheets. Symbolically, santolina represents clarification and is used to help us remove spiritual blocks, embrace our shadow side, and cleanse what no longer serves us, all ideas which seem to fit the context of this post perfectly. I used the herb as the base of simple syrup infusion that also included a lemon and orange peel. I paired the syrup with an Irish gin that I recently discovered called Drumshanbo with flavors of gunpowder green tea and what the distillery calls a “hint of Sardinian citrus.” How I could I resist?? Green tea is highly symbolic of ritual and the practice of calming the mind, and citrus represents cleansing and purification, as well as the energy of the sun, particularly in early summer. It is no accident that I am writing this post just as summer vacation begins for so many of us. I rounded the cocktail out with a bit of lemon and grapefruit to balance the sweetness. While its construction is fairly simple, each of the drink’s components is layered with more than one flavor, making it far more nuanced than it appears at first glance. This subtlety reminded me of all the things there are to learn in the quietest places of our minds. Cheers everyone. Happy Saturday! I hope this summer brings you many opportunities to lie fallow.
2 oz Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin with Sardinian Citrus
1.25 oz santolina citrus simple*
.75 oz lemon juice
.25 oz grapefruit juice
Long shake over ice.
Double strain into a cocktail glass.
Garnish with a santolina sprig.
*To make 12 ounces of simple, I infused three santolina sprigs and small peels from an orange and a lemon into 8 ounces of sugar dissolved in 8 ounces of water. I allowed the infusion to rest overnight.
To listen to an audio recording of today’s post, click on the link below.