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Confronting our Discomfort

I've had so many conversations lately about boredom and frustration with staying home, the loss of freedom and the way things were, and the anxiety and fear associated with uncertainty.  In short, there's a lot of discomfort out there.

I'll be honest, at first I watched our collective discomfort with detached judgment, critically observing how many people around me were taking up new activities in which they'd never before shown interest. I kept thinking 'Wow, what are we all avoiding? Why are we all so uncomfortable with not doing anything?' or 'Wow, people really struggle to let go of their need for certainty.' I felt wise and superior, until I realized that whenever I feel wise and superior it's precisely because I am avoiding something myself.

It took me about ten unfocused drafts on this very topic, all written as if I were some omniscient force immune to discomfort, before I realized that I was writing at an arm's length for a reason: I've been sweeping my own discomfort under the rug. Instead of doing the work, I've been adding unhealthy numbers of cat accounts to my Instagram feed, mastering the art of baking giant stuffed cookies, and doubling down on noble-sounding activities like reading and writing. None of these activities are bad in and of themselves, of course, until I questioned why I was doing them.  If I were honest with myself, all were avoidance mechanisms. I also realized the that I'd started sweeping my discomfort under the rug long before the pandemic. All the pandemic did was flip up a corner of the rug to show me just how much dust had gathered underneath.

It wasn't pretty.

The roots of my own discomfort, and my avoidance of it, got me intensely curious about others' discomfort. I look around and see friends, colleagues, and total strangers, all seeking ways to fill their time. I wonder if all our sourdough starters, organizing, and gardening are ways to avoid processing our boredom, frustration, fear and anxiety. I also wonder how many of us were living with these emotions long before the pandemic, only we were too busy to be consciously bothered by them.  Mostly, I wonder what would happen if every single one of us got intensely curious about our discomfort.

Underneath our discomfort live big questions: who are we when we just being an not doing?  Where do we find our sense of safety and certainty? How can we learn to sit with stillness and quiet? These are the questions that we can only answer if we stop sweeping our discomfort under the rug; if instead of reaching for our phones, turning on the TV, baking a cake, or vacuuming for the third time this week, we just sit in the stillness and the quiet and let ourselves feel the discomfort.  And it will be uncomfortable. Our egos will scream at us to get up and do something, anything that will distract us from whatever is at the heart of our own discomfort. But we can choose to sit with the discomfort anyway.

And then we can get even more curious about our discomfort. We can pay attention to where we hold it in our bodies, in the tightening of our chest, in the tensing of our shoulders, or in the shallowness of our breath. We can observe the parade of thoughts marching through our heads, just noticing them without judgment or a desire to change them. We can chuckle at our ego as it pops in every once in a while to tell us how this is a colossal waste of time.  We can choose to be curious and compassionate even when our discomfort grows to levels we don't think we can handle.

We can handle it.

Because what I've noticed about simply sitting with my own discomfort is that, if I commit to sitting with it without trying to change it or avoid it, the energy behind it eventually dissipates. From behind the discomfort emerges a voice that speaks to me with certainty and clarity, not about what's happening in the world around me, but what's happening inside of me. I can let go of the discomfort. It may bubble again, but each time I rinse and repeat this process until I've swept all the discomfort out from under the rug. In the wake of this, I become okay with just being.

I believe we can all find that inner voice if we bravely confront our discomfort.  We might see that every single one of us has the strength to be calm no matter how much the sea is storming, and it is certainly storming right now. We may find that we can simply be, without always having to do.  We might see that we never really had any certainty outside ourselves, but we do have tremendous certainty inside ourselves. We might find that the freedom that we think we've lost was really inside us all along.

But the only way we will know for sure is if we are brave enough to stop sweeping our discomfort under the rug. Instead, access your courage to shake that rug out, and I mean shake the hell out of it, until every last speck of discomfort can be accepted for what it is, before being lovingly swept up and let go of.

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