Everyone of us has things they like and things they don’t like. Some things we do not only dislike, we even have aversions. But why? What can we learn from that? And can something positive be found in aversions? Cami Ostman – marriage and family therapist – thought about “Aversions and Dislike” and tells why it can be a good deal for you to risk the confrontation with the things you don’t like.
Don’t be afraid, give it a go.
Aversions and Dislikes
article by Cami Ostman
I’ve been thinking lately about the term “aversion.” Webster says aversion is, “a strong feeling of dislike, opposition, repugnance, or antipathy.” The website viewonbuddhism.org defines aversion as, “an exaggerated wanting to be separated from someone or something.” You know this feeling, I’m sure. It’s more than a feeling; actually, it’s an entire body experience in some cases. My husband has an aversion to Lima beans and at the mere mention of this legume, he visibly shudders.
When I first started running, I had an aversion to running in the rain, to hills, to mud, to running alone, to energy gels, to blowing my nose on the side of the trail, and to other runners who said, “Good for you!” when they ran past me. I had so many aversions, in fact, that every run was an act of great planning as I watched the weather reports and searched for flat routes with restrooms along the way so I could find tissue to relieve my stuffy nose.
As time passed and I gradually exposed myself to the all of the things I was trying to avoid, my aversions began to loosen. I often forced myself out the door in my rain gear on a wet day just to see if it was really as miserable as I imagined it would be. And do you know what? It was—sometimes! In my misery, I learned to notice my feelings. “Miserable, cold, unhappy,” I would say to myself, as I kept moving through chilly, even heavy, rain.
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I began to notice that if I named my feeling, let it exist without judging it, and kept running anyhow, the feeling eventually dissipated. All on its own—without spending so much energy on my numerous avoidance tactics. This noticing and naming is called “mindfulness.” Mindfulness is the idea that you attend to, with compassion and non-judgmentalism, whatever your experience is in any given moment. You can allow each moment to exist without evaluating it or trying to make it go away. And in so doing, the burden of your aversions (and the energy you spend on trying to prevent experiencing negative things) lifts.
To me, practicing mindfulness is different from just gutting through something hard. I do that too. There are plenty of rainy days when I make it through my runs with the force of sheer willpower and feel cranky and cold the rest of the day. These are the times when I feel unhappy, then feel mad that I feel unhappy, and then feel guilty for being mad at myself for feeling unhappy.
You know what I’m talking about, right? There is a negative spiral that can happen when you judge every feeling you have as being insufficient or unworthy. In the interest of being kinder and more compassionate to yourself, try this:
Think about something you hate. Is it a food you detest? An activity you cannot stand to do? A type of film or music you are disgusted with? Now, go give that thing a try. Just one little try, not a whole mouthful of lima beans, just a bite. And as you proceed, pay attention for your aversions. What do you really feel? What do you dislike? All you have to do is recognize and name your thoughts and feelings—physical or emotional. Bitter. Irritated. Complaining.
But while you’re at it, also notice your positive thoughts or feelings too. It could be that you find the food you hate actually has a nice soft texture, even if you don’t love the way it tastes when it slides down your throat. Or maybe the music that irritates you also features a lovely violin in the background. Go ahead and name everything. This is how we grow.
Do you remember Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Suess? Sam-I-Am asks the main character (who is unnamed in the story) if he likes the dish green eggs and ham, and the main character replies with an emphatic NO! In part, he states,
I would not like them here or there. I would not like them anywhere. I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-Am
But do you remember what happens at the end of the book? He gives them a little nibble and has an epiphany: He loves green eggs and ham, gosh darn it! It turns out he loves them so much, he plans on eating them in a boat, with a goat, in the rain, on a train, and in a tree. Furthermore, he’ll eat them in a box, with a fox, in a house, with a mouse, and here or there!
He could just as easily have discovered that he DID actually hate them, but without a mindful taste, he would never know for sure. What do you have in your life that you need to bring some mindful attention to today? Don’t be afraid, give it a go.
Cami Ostman is the author of Second Wind: One Woman’s Midlife Quest to Run Seven Marathons on Seven Continents (Seal Press). She is a licensed marriage and family therapist with publications in her field. Cami has been featured in several publications, including the Mudgee Guardian in Australia, The Bellingham Herald and Adventures Northwest in Washington State, La Prensa in Chile, and, most recently, in Fitness Magazine (November 2010) and O, The Oprah Magazine (January 2011). She completed her seventh continental marathon by running in Antarctica in March 2010. Cami lives in Bellingham, Washington and you can find her blogs at 7marathons7continents.com, psychologytoday.com, or on Facebook.