Two kinds of urgency


Have you ever gone through an extended period where nothing felt clear to you, where everything seemed muddled and off and you wondered if it was ever going to end?

I’ve been there — many times (and if you’re going through this right now, I send you so much compassion. Yes, it’s hard.)

Way back when, I thought going through these periods meant there was something wrong with me, or that I just wasn’t trying hard enough. Uggh.

I now know that these periods of sluggishness, lack of clarity, and downright suckiness are simply part of the process of change. They’re what happens when we’re letting go of a version of ourselves that no longer fits, but we haven’t yet stepped into whoever it is we’re becoming.

These are liminal periods, and I’ve written about them quite a bit on this blog (click on the Categories list to the right, particularly Transitions and Letting Go, to read more on liminal periods).

Another term for these transitional periods, which I learned while I trained to become a life coach with Martha Beck, is “Square One.”

During Square One, a kind of urgency can rise up in us. It feels like we’d better do something, now! We’d better get out of this crappy place! We’d better make some kind of decision, now! (Even though usually we have no idea what it is we’re deciding, because one of the hallmarks of Square One is a lack of clarity on what we really want. We know what we don’t want, and the rest of it feels like one giant slog through toffee.)

A frequent reminder that I, and the folks I work with, need while in Square One is this: The faster we try to get out of Square One, the longer we stay in it. It’s the ultimate paradox. Square One needs to be fully processed, fully felt. Yes, it sucks, but it’s the only way to get truly clear.

When we rush forward because our period of transition is so uncomfortable, we inevitably end up in more discomfort.

That’s because instead of moving toward what we want (because we’ve gotten clear on it), we’re moving away from discomfort and confusion because they scare us. And where do we end up? Right back in the discomfort and confusion, scared out of our minds. Wherever we go, there we are.

So, if you’re going through a transition, or approaching one, right now, and it feels scary and like you’ve completely lost your footing, the best path to peace is not to hurry out of the scary place.

It’s to slow down, remind your panicked brain that there is no true urgency here, and realize that (in the ultimate irony), you’ll actually move through this icky transition place much more quickly by embracing an easy, one-day-at-a-time (or, on the worst days, one-hour-at-a-time) pace.

Now, there’s another kind of urgency, too. That kind of urgency is a bit different. It’s what I’d call a “transmission from your soul.”

This kind of urgency has a kind of ache to it. It contains a yearning you can’t stave off or press down, no matter how many months or years you try to do just that.

This is the urgency that recognizes that life is relatively short and there are things your heart longs to be or do, and you’re not being or doing them yet. And you’re tired of putting them off.

Or, it’s the kind of urgency that tells you a certain situation isn’t good for you and it has to stop. And that if you don’t stop it, you’re going to keep on feeling this particular ache.

This kind of urgency is the urgency that signals you’re ready for change. Not ten years from now, but as soon as is humanly possible.

Yes, I know: I just contradicted myself. I suggested that if you’re feeling urgency, you need to slow way down, not speed up. And then I said that if you’re feeling urgency, you need to act, now!

Both are true. Can you allow your mind to wrap itself around that? It’s hard for me, too.

But notice my descriptions of the two kinds of urgency. One kind is about moving away from discomfort. And the other is about moving toward what you want. (An ache or longing points us toward something in us that wants to be born.)

We can feel both these kinds of urgency on the very same day! In the very same hour! And we can accept, and work with, both of them.

The tricky part is that, when we’re feeling a lot of the first type of urgency, we need to come to a place of peace before we take any action.

Otherwise, our actions are likely to be fueled by panic and a need to escape discomfort. (Have you ever quit a job, or left a relationship, and found yourself, almost magically, back in what seemed like the exact same job or relationship six months or a year later? That’s because your actions were fueled by a need to escape discomfort, rather than movement toward what enlivens you.)

So how do you know which urgency is driving you? You might want to share what’s going on with someone you trust, or jot down the thoughts you’re having in a journal. Then ask yourself (or let someone reflect back to you): Does what I just said (or wrote) come from the part of my brain that is strictly concerned with my physical and/or social survival? Or does it feel like a mandate from my soul?

Whichever answer you get, the next step is acceptance. And remembering that fully processing what’s going on for you is, in the long run, the fastest way to actually create what you truly desire.

What do you think? What have you noticed when urgency comes up for you? I’d love to hear, in the comments.

Image is “Time’s Up!” © Nspimages | Dreamstime Stock Photos

8 thoughts on “Two kinds of urgency

  1. Hi Jill,
    Lately, I’ve been experiencing both pathways that you describe … I love that: two kinds of urgency … and thinking a lot about what Jungian analyst Marion Woodman called “holding the tension of opposites” … then last week I was directed to a post by Steven Pressfield on Resistance and Self-Loathing who writes about resistance as a natural phenomenon and not personal (that blew my mind … in a good way) … after reading your post … I’m thinking about the TV show “Criminal Minds” that uses the language of “evolving” and “devolving” … so after reading post I can locate these urgency’s, the first as being in my lower gut and the second in my heart … which at the level of consciousness-raising makes sense, I think or I feel. All this confusion and certainty to communicate, thank you for shedding some more light by sharing how moving from what we don’t want toward knowing what we do want can go if we are more compassionate than critical with ourselves. A good thing to remember especially on Remembrance Day. Thank you.


    • Hi Lee! The tension of opposites — yes! And I love how you are noticing where the two types of urgency are located in your body (lower gut and heart) — that is such an important distinction and I’m glad you brought it up. They really do *feel* different, physically (the body always points us to the truth!). Good point about Pressfield and not personalizing resistance, too. It’s so easy to personalize it and when we do, we can remain stuck there. Your comment gives me more food for thought. Thank you so much for reading! 🙂


  2. Wow, I have tears in my eyes and my insides are doing funny things. I’m the middle of both of these, and it’s been too long and its driving me half crazy. My trouble is, the second one, I can feel the essential quality of the direction my soul is yearning for, but I have no clue, no clear vision of how that looks on a day to day level, how that might play out in terms or work, relationship, physical home etc…so that’s how it feels like I’m in with both of these at the same time, and I’m not used to it. It’s never happened to me for so long before, with both at the same time. But I do recognize the truth of the line, ‘The faster we try to get out of Square 1, the longer we stay in it.’ Ok, keep breathing and keep writing. Thanks Jill for this very clear, compassionate and wise piece. Blessing and gratitude, Harula xxxxxx


    • Thanks so much for sharing this, Harula! I hear you — when we’re in this place it sometimes does feel like it’s been “too long” (but I often notice in retrospect that what felt like it went on for too long was actually the perfect length of time to get me where I needed to go!). Yes, keep breathing, keep writing — and I would suggest paying extra-close attention to any urgings, insights, anything that sparks your curiosity — and follow up on it in whatever way feels right. Those tiny changes are like bread crumbs — the start of the shift we’re so wanting … Hugs, and thank you for reading! 🙂


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