Ever heard of the fairy-tale The Princess and the Pea by Hans Christian Anderson? In the story, the real test of a princess is that she will feel a small, hard pea placed underneath many layers of thick, soft mattresses. If the discomfort of the pea is enough to cause her distress and a sleepless night, she is celebrated as a true princess.
I grew up a middle child, the only daughter, the princess of the family. While I don’t think you need to identify as a princess to develop this kind of attitude, discomfort was something I avoided at all costs. It felt terrible, the discomfort itself felt like an indicator that something was wrong or that maybe I’d made a bad choice. The deep, unconscious belief was that it would feel easy or good if it was right. This was never more obvious to me that the year I moved from South Africa (with my new husband) to live in Canada. To my horror, my husband would regularly go outside in the wintertime without a coat. If you don’t live in Canada, let me say that the winters in our area are often well below freezing! I couldn’t understand it even when he tried to tell me that the bracing winter air (or the sticky, stifling heat in the summer) made him feel alive. Why anyone would willingly put themselves in such an uncomfortable position? 26 years later, I am beginning to understand the importance of being fully present to whatever you are experiencing in this moment – good, bad or just blah – and the power of learning to be with what is uncomfortable. Our discomfort often holds great treasure and deep learning if we are willing to be in its presence long enough to figure things out. When we let go of whatever version we hold of “if it’s right, it will be easy,” we can give ourselves permission to be curious about our discomfort.
I recently heard an interview with Brene Brown in which she said, “You can choose courage, or you can choose comfort, but you can’t have both.” It is at the times we really need courage, that comfort calls to us in a voice that is hard to ignore. Comfort offers us safety, security, what we know – well-trodden paths. It can minimize stress and the feelings of risk. But along with these feel-good things, there is also a cost. There is something about choosing comfort that is static, and if we do it repeatedly, we can end up feeling stuck or living small. The question is, when we subtract the no-go zones of what makes us uncomfortable, how much of life is still available to us?
The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.M. Scott Peck
Thanks to the reader who asked if it was possible for me to attach audio to my blog posts. I am currently working on that.