On discomfort, sadness, and creativity

reflections

I recently reconnected with a teacher of mine, and, as I shared a frustrating experience with him, he reminded me of the importance of being able to tolerate discomfort.

Even thinking about “tolerating discomfort” makes me … uncomfortable. But I was so grateful for his reminder.

I wrote about allowing discomfort quite a while ago, and it’s a theme I revisit periodically. Because I forget: my mind gets busy trying to make things the way I think they should be SO THAT I am not experiencing discomfort.

But: what if the very discomfort I’m experiencing is exactly what I need to experience in order to grow into the place, the self, the life, I desire?

I am not saying that we should tolerate negativity or abuse or situations we can readily change by willingly acting on our desire to change them.

But sometimes there are situations we cannot readily change — they are not so clear-cut, and there may actually be nothing for us to “do” at this very moment. This is an uncomfortable place to be. It is the space of ambiguity, the (sometimes vast) gray area of uncertainty. Most of us will go to great lengths to not be here.

When I am feeling particularly crabby or “off” or I catch myself slamming into a wall again and again trying to make something happen, there’s a good chance that my mind is actively avoiding discomfort by trying to “move the furniture.”

(“Moving the furniture” is my metaphor for those times in life when there is really no clear action to take, but because fear has a hold on me, I try to do something — anything — in order to feel more control. In other words, the room may be perfectly fine and functional, for now, but I am moving the furniture here and there anyway, trying to predict how I’ll want it next month or next year.)

Something I’ve learned in these past few years of working with some very dear clients is that, frequently, when someone says “I’m stuck”, what’s really going on is an unwillingness to tolerate discomfort.

In an emotional sense, the feeling of stuckness is very real, because the unwillingness to allow the discomfort to be there creates a contraction in the body. It’s like rigidly setting your jaw or tensing your abdomen. There’s no flow.

What happens when we give space to discomfort? What happens when we are not frantically searching for the “right option” or course of action so we can get rid of it, but we simply allow it to be there? Just breathe into it, even for ten seconds or so?

I notice that, often, what is underlying my own discomfort is sadness. Just pure sadness.

This does not make me a “sad person”. Sadness, as Karla McLaren says in her book The Language of Emotions, is “the watery emotion.” It is about letting go and moving on.

We may feel a hint of sadness even about small “letting-go’s”, like finishing a book we’ve dearly loved reading, or donating some clothing we no longer want. And let’s face it, there’s not a lot of space for sadness in Western culture.

But these small sadnesses are part and parcel to letting go, moving on, sorting through what needs to be processed and integrated so we can allow movement and flow into our bodies and our lives.

Speaking of flow, I am experimenting with allowing tears more in my daily life. Obviously, not all situations are appropriate or safe for the expression of tears, but sometimes, tears are a totally good thing when I might normally stifle them, and I’m finding the expression allows people to feel closer to me and creates more real connection.

(I don’t mean I’m going around bawling. I’m just allowing the tears to come forth rather than forcing them back. Like, after I saw Hello, My Name is Doris last week, I let myself be all teary and emotional coming out of the theater, because I loved the character of Doris. In the bathroom, I looked over at the woman at the sinks next to me and saw that she, too, was wiping her eyes, and we shared this lovely, appreciative smile.)

***

Creativity is, at its most essential, the life force moving through us. If we are not allowing discomfort, if we are pushing it down and analyzing or strategizing in order to avoid it, there will be a deadness to anything we attempt to create.

You’ve probably felt it when something you’ve created is a little too “sterile” or “perfect”, with not enough feeling, not enough oomph!, not enough flow. Any chance you were trying to avoid discomfort in some way there? I know I’ve done this in my writing many times.

What do you notice about allowing space for discomfort in your life? What happens if you try it for ten seconds? I’d love to hear your experience.

Do you need support in making your creative work a priority in your life, in a way that works for YOU (not the way you think you should do it!)? I’d love to help. Find out more, here.

Above image © Gjs | Dreamstime Stock Photos

12 thoughts on “On discomfort, sadness, and creativity

  1. Beautiful refections, Jill. Your words resonated deeply with the human experience of allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and finding strength in that vulnerability. Thank you!

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    • That is beautiful, Marian. It’s interesting how we sometimes so quickly get in touch with emotion from the past. And so important to allow the tears. Thank you for reading!

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  2. This deeply resonated Jill, and there is so much I could say here…but I’m going to share one reflection. I was recently on a retreat which included spending time contemplating the quality of equanimity, and one of the phrases we were offered to reflect on was ‘I allow you to be where you are’. This brought up a lot of emotion for me, I was fighting it, resisting it, determined to cling on to an unhelpful belief that said I should always be doing something, anything, everything to ease suffering/discomfort where I find it. And I feel, profoundly at times, the yearning in my soul to grow, to learn, to stretch…and I know that doesn’t happen when I’m too comfortable…and as with everything, there’s a balance, and a fine line – too much discomfort isn’t helpful either…but too much ‘comfort’ is perhaps just as life denying, because it’s stagnant, and life is not, so if we stay too comfortable we’ll get left behind and build walls of fear to protect ourselves from a world that’s grown too far away from our comfort zone…oops, sorry – I’ve gone on! Thanks as always for your warm wisdom, blessings – Harula xxx

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    • Harula, thank you for sharing this experience — so interesting! I once had a teacher say to me that “comfort is the enemy of growth” — and I knew what he meant — but I do feel that there is a “right amount” of comfort that ALLOWS growth. Like you said, too much discomfort is not helpful either — it can cause us to shut down in order to protect ourselves. And so, yes, there’s a fine line between allowing the discomfort and too much of it. I notice for myself that there is a link between comfort and a feeling of emotional safety — so allowing discomfort needs to happen in small doses, in a way that feels safe enough, if that makes sense.

      I always so appreciate your sharing, Harula — it sparks so much for me. Thank you! 🙂

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