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.