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.
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?