What Is Discomfort?

There are times when I can sum up the present theme in my life with one word, and this month’s word is: Discomfort. Chris and I are in the process of moving right now (scroll to the bottom for more on this) which is bringing with it a U-Haul truckload of discomfort. I have a million fun and clever ways to avoid this feeling, which have all come out lately, but last night, in a moment of stillness, the question bubbled into my mind: What actually is discomfort?

I’ve been working on a new design the last few weeks, and getting frustrated and impatient that it’s not finished yet. The fact that it wasn’t resolved was driving me crazy aka I was feeling a lot of discomfort. I wanted to wrap it up with a nice neat bow and move onto something else, but the design was resisting me. For a few days I tried to force it, to push through and just keep working and working until I wrangled into submission. And guess what? It didn’t work (does it ever??) So even though it made me uncomfortable, I put it away, released the pressure to finish it right now, and shifted my focus to something else. As soon as I did that, I started getting new ideas about where the design could go—inspiration images, concepts, color schemes, the whole shebang.

Moments like this teach me, again and again, that discomfort arises when we are trying to staunch the flow. It happens when we are trying to force something in a direction it doesn’t want to go, or control something that needs to roam free, or mold something into a shape it doesn’t want to take. It’s happening for me right now, trying to over-plan our move instead of allowing room for the natural element of chaos that exists in every transition. And it happens in our life and creative practices when we get scared of letting things change.

When I bump up against this discomfort, it helps me to imagine creativity as a spring. It flows up from a place so deep we cannot see it, and yet it keeps flowing. If we keep it clear, if we allow it to bring us new ideas, inspiration, visions for a better future, it will keep doing it. That’s what it is meant to do. So when we feel this discomfort—feel ourselves wanting to hold too tight, over schedule, push too hard—it is an invitation. Take a deep breath, close our eyes, visit the spring in our mind, and see what we can clear away to make room for it to flow.

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