Exhausted and deliriously homesick, with a locked bank card and a phone about to die, I sat stranded in the Iceland airport trying to figure out how I was going to get to my hostel. I had been backpacking for exactly one month at this point – some of it with family, some of it not – and the previous day the exhilaration of the freedom of adventure had faded. I’d been in Scotland, cold and wet, admitting that I was terrified of the journey I was embarking on. Not only was I going to be alone in the unfamiliar for the coming months, but I knew this trip would have a resounding impact on who I am as a person. And suddenly I didn’t feel ready for that.
I thought about how easy it would be to not get on my flight to Iceland and fly home instead to the October that was familiar and comfortable. And I knew I’d hold it against myself for the rest of my life. With my first couple days in Iceland being a bit of a lonely and inefficient disaster (if you know me you know I don’t do well with inefficiency), I sent my aunt an emotionally distraught email, and this was what she said:
“I am so glad you are staying with the discomfort, rather than running away. When you consider what is most important to you, you have to look inwards as well as out and you become more curious, flexible, and creative as a result. When you step out of your comfort zone and acknowledge your values and why you are on this journey, it boosts your resilience. You will end up having a stronger sense of self and be more capable of dealing with uncomfortable feelings.”
When you allow yourself to move with and through your discomfort, you extend yourself. And that is terrifying. You are breaching new ground, inviting new things in, letting go of what is known and familiar in both your interior and exterior. You grow. Allowing oneself to grow takes courage. It means shedding what has always been.
But oh, to be curious. To seek, to want to know, to follow that little nagging voice and discover what it has to teach you.
To be flexible. To listen to your instincts and allow them to take you where your mind never thought it would want to go. To reform this anxiety into an opportunity.
To be creative. To be inventive, spontaneous, to take this emotional turbulence and turn it into a forward action, into art, into a gift.
Think of how magical that would all be.
Don’t shut out discomfort. Sit with it. Literally sit. Wherever you are, just plop down, stop all movement. When we’re uncomfortable we become unbalanced. We get anxious, we get panicky, we often act rashly or succumb to the voice that wants us to retreat back to safety and lock up. So stop. Breathe. Cry. Breathe some more. Then observe.
Allow yourself to become curious, to wonder. What specifically are you so uncomfortable with and is it so terribly important that this remains so?
Consider what is most important to you.
Is it within the boundaries of your comfort zone? I often feel we find the answer to this question far outside it, but that’s speaking from my own experience. What are those boundaries and how can you move beyond them? What would it mean to move beyond? How could it make you grow, make you better? What blessings could moving beyond this barrier bring into your life?
I sat, I cried, I let myself have a terrible couple of days, and then I hopped in a car and spent the next week with only myself and the sky. And things began to fall into place. I allowed myself to be curious and the world opened up.
Note: You are more likely than not going to hate it. It’s called discomfort for a reason. But consider this…
Discomfort is like a hug. No, stay with me, I promise I have a point.
In order to really relax into a hug and have it weave maximum comfort into the fibers of your being, you have to get past that uncomfortable and awkward stage of “This is a long period of physical contact, are we done yet?” They say a good hug has to last a minimum of 20 seconds. Twenty full, long, potentially awkward seconds. It’s only after you get over that hump that you properly experience the blissful release a hug can provide.
It’s the same with discomfort. You have to get past that “Is this almost over?” hump – where you feel squirmy and self-conscious and want to step back from it too soon – and over to the other side where the spiritual work can settle into place. And after you’ve done that once, it does get easier the next time. Today I arrived in central Stockholm exhausted, alone, the next few days no more efficient than when I arrived in Iceland, and I took a deep breath, stepped out of the train station, and embraced the gifts the universe has to offer.
You will end up having a stronger sense of self and be more capable of dealing with uncomfortable feelings.