Imbolc: When the Changes Are Still Mostly Invisible

Lots Going on Underground

Lots Going on Underground

Here in the magical MidAtlantic, the period just around Imbolc is when Nature is very busy, but almost all of the work is done out of sight. A quick scan of the horizon shows trees that still look dead, ice on the Potomac, and leaden skies. Yet, in the mountains, mother bears have given birth to their cubs and are no longer hibernating. They’re staying in their caves, but there’s activity there. Foxes are building dens for the kits that will be born in a few weeks. Bulbs underground are growing green shoots that will soon pop out of the Earth and then begin to make buds. Trees and shrubs are covered in tight little buds. You can see them, if you look carefully, but it’s difficult to imagine that, come September, that hard bit of stuff will be, for example, an apple or a fig, much less that it will be a blossom in May.

And it is often the same way with our own growth process. We may have been working with our Word of the Year or List of Goals for a month now, but it can be difficult to see much progress. And that’s when it starts to seem as if it might just be easier to forget the whole thing.

Here’s a good post (hat tip to: @druidjournal) that provides some outstanding advice for exactly this time of year. For example:

Of all the skills I’ve learned in the past 7 years of changing my life, one skill stands out:

Learning to be comfortable with discomfort.

If you learn this skill, you can master pretty much anything. You can beat procrastination, start exercising, make your diet healthier, learn a new language, make it through challenges and physically grueling events, explore new things, speak on a stage, let go of all that you know, and become a minimalist. And that’s just the start.

Unfortunately, most people avoid discomfort. I mean, they really avoid it — at the first sign of discomfort, they’ll run as fast as possible in the other direction. This is perhaps the biggest limiting factor for most people, and it’s why you can’t change your habits.

Think about this: many people don’t eat vegetables because they don’t like the taste. We’re not talking about soul-wrenching pain here, not Guantanamo torture, but a taste that’s just not something you’re used to. And so they eat what they already like, which is sweets and fried stuff and meats and cheeses and salty things and lots of processed flour.

The simple act of learning to get used to something that tastes different — not really that hard in the grand scheme of life — makes people unhealthy, often overweight.

I know, because this was me for so many years. I became fat and sedentary and a smoker and deeply in debt with lots of clutter and procrastination, because I didn’t like things that were uncomfortable. And so I created a life that was deeply uncomfortable as a result.

The beautiful thing is: I learned that a little discomfort isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it can be something you enjoy, with a little training. When I learned this, I was able to change everything, and am still pretty good at changing because of this one skill.

Master your fear of discomfort, and you can master the universe.

The entire post is well worth a read.

And it’s true, isn’t it? Lots of growth does feel a bit uncomfortable, especially at first. Change isn’t always easy. And when the change is still happening underground and outside our field of vision, the discomfort can seem to be a lot greater than the reward.

One of my tried-and-true tactics for dealing with the kind of discomfort discussed in the post is (no surprise here) breathing, grounding, centering, coming back to my true self. When I do that, it’s much easier for me to remember why I’m putting myself in an uncomfortable situation in the first place. A second strategy is to personalize the discomfort. Give it a name, an appearance, a personality. And then talk to it. Invite it in. Acknowledge it. Ask for its help on your journey (you did read fairy tales, right?)

For one of my goals this year, my discomfort is the Woodwose from the Wildwood Tarot. We’re developing quite a relationship. I wouldn’t call us friends, exactly, but I do think we have a healthy respect for each other. I’m learning to recognize him even when he hides as my tiredness, busyness, appetites.

What does your discomfort look like? What does s/he say when you invite hir to come in and sit down? Is it easier when s/he doesn’t always have to hide?

Picture found here.

3 responses to “Imbolc: When the Changes Are Still Mostly Invisible

  1. THANK YOU! I needed to read this! I am very much intending on going to a lunar Beltane ritual to dedicate myself for a year…and need to focus what I will be dedicating myself to… is becoming clearer and clearer: right livelihood, and your post above and quote hit a little too close to home…..while I have worked hard on changing what I eat, and ALWAYS need my helping of vegetables at my dinner meal, having seriously reduced most of the processed salty products and generally weaned myself away from them except maybe in occasional weak moments, the rest is very close to the truth…..
    -In Sisterhood,

  2. I am beginning to be disinclined to comment here, because everything I say is so contrary to what you have written.

    But I read stuff like this and I just…

    I come from abuse and neglect. I spent my entire childhood and a good deal after that in profound discomfort. I’ve done that, and personally I find nothing redeeming about it whatsoever. In fact what I’ve been trying to do, as part of my Work, is to find my way *into* some kind of comfort zone, and maybe, hopefully, learn that as the new default. And then maybe I can step outside of that. Or maybe not. But I’ve *done* discomfort.

    All this kind of attitude does for someone like me is make me feel worse. Like I should be doing something more. It doesn’t take into account that other people have other experiences with discomfort; it asserts that we are all lazy and stupid I guess. I mean I get it; this is modern America after all. But I read a passage like that above and I hear a man (I’d bet good money that was written by a man) who will never think he is good enough. I just hear self-hatred underneath it. I mean it’s that time of year, I know, but still, it doesn’t strike me as being in the least bit healthy.

    Also equating fat with lazy and unhealthy is really not helping things. For one thing it simply isn’t true; for another it’s no less bigoted than saying for example that black equals lazy and unhealthy.

    It also strikes me as requiring quite a lot of privilege to assert that some discomfort would do all of us a bit of good. Personally I find I’m most inclined to actively pursue growth if it’s towards love, and kindness, and yes, comfort. I wouldn’t call the other direction growth, frankly.

  3. Thalia, I hope that you never stop commenting here. I really value your insights.

    First, I hear you about your background and the need to find a level of comfort before even thinking of moving into an uncomfortable situation. But I think of the work that you and your sister have been doing to clean up your yard after your abusive father left it a disaster. I’m sure that’s not exactly the easiest way to spend your time. It would be easier to stay in and watch tv or nap. But you put yourself through the “discomfort” in order to get to a different place, to achieve your goal.

    My take on what the author of the linked post is saying is that, sometimes, in order to change, we need to be willing to move out of our comfort zone, something that, as you point out, can be very difficult when we’re already coming from a place of being wounded. I think he’s urging people not to give up immediately but to be willing to live with the uncertainty and discomfort long enough to allow the changes to happen.

    That said, if the analogy doesn’t work for you, by all means, ignore it and go with what does work.

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