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Comfortable with Discomfort
How do people get comfortable with discomfort?
How do people engage mindfully with challenging discourse, differences of opinions, aggressive interactions, and high emotions whilst maintaining a joyful, resilient and open heart, but a strong backbone?
It’s something I have been consciously practising this year, partly to develop my ability to stay in discomfort with a level head, but partly because I have had no choice. It’s been spirit-ruffling, enlightening, uncomfortable, and stretching. I always think I am doing crap and very often FEEL crap, when I also instinctively know that I am doing the best job possible.
The need to work with integrity drives this desire to engage with the challenging, but it doesn’t come easy. I am often caught at a crossroads when I find myself the only one standing with one side of the opinion, and the rest of the people around me swept up by the momentum of the argument, or a personality which bulldozes. I am not a bulldozer. Words have meaning and merit to me. What simply is “shooting the breeze” or “meaningless rubbish” and falls by the wayside for others affects me until I make peace with it and decide I am done. I am not a needless “hanger-on” person; words and feelings simply have purpose, merit and meaning to me. In fact, I am working hard to let go when conversations are done and expired. And the relief is immense. It’s healthy and wholehearted. But again, never done carelessly without necessary attention and thought.
How do I then learn to walk in integrity, connect with the challenge knowing that it will affect me deeply, and repair myself that I may walk into difference + disagreement with a calm and clear head?
Many of my friends, colleagues and family members think I can do this instinctively. But it doesn’t come naturally for me. If anything, it comes particularly unnaturally, with me having to sit in excruciating discomfort as I work through the framework of each problem and decide what action I need to take. Not what I WANT to take, not what would feel nice and comfortable for me. But what I NEED to do.
It’s times like this I HATE having a moral compass, because when you have stuck with this north-facing pin of integrity, you do not feel RIGHT until you’ve arrived at the course of action which you know is right. And often, the right decision affords personal peace, but it comes with an emotional mountain to climb first; a conversation which requires rehearsing, losing 3 hours sleep, spending the day before dipping in and out of worry, going back over ideas and ground until you are satisfied. There is no easy way to coexist with a moral compass and be a vulnerable, joyful person of integrity.
It WRINGS THE FUCKING LIFE out of you.
But there is no other way.
You need to do it.
So here’s the question: How does everyone else get comfortable with discomfort?
I’m not talking about deodorising a workplace or situation where everything is hunky-dory and annoyingly, superficially “fine”. I don’t buy in for that. I welcome safe discussion and discourse. I WANT accuracy for where I stand and what I do. But too often, pride and ego get in the way, and safe discussion without incidental power-over is impossible. And it breaks my heart, because I am no weakling. I just don’t want to be unnecessarily hurt by thoughtless, pride-driven conversation.
What I am talking about is when integrity does NOT win the day, and you watch as mud-slinging, bulldozer personalities and power-over get top spot? HOW do other people practise being resilient and courageous in this environment? How do you make peace with having to walk into battle, when you didn’t ask to walk into battle? How do you become more capable warriors in navigating shit-storms, without losing yourself? How do you keep your energy levels up? How do you learn to let things go after they are done? When do you know that they are done?
I don’t want total agreement. I want a safe place to put ideas on the table, the be deeply seen and valued, to not have my intrinsic work questioned when I am discussing difficult topics. It’s how we all want to feel.
Seen, valued, and heard, with worthiness which affords us the courage and audacity to have different opinions and creative ideas.
I know that I have instinctively walked this more challenging path all my life, because that’s how I was raised, that is what I am made of to the very core. I am so LUCKY to be lifted in heart and spirit by family and friends, who know me, and know what I do. They know my humility, they know my faults. They know where a should be fighting harder, and they also know where I am gentle in my strength.
For me, I know the cost of this walk of integrity. And I am tired from the heaviness of responsibility. As you know, this comes as UNNATURALLY to me as possible, yet I must do it. How do the great leaders of the world do it? How did Barack + Michelle Obama walk through their presidential term and maintain warmth and humanity, whilst making the hard decisions to guide and shape a nation? How did Nelson Mandela make wisdom and peace from hardship, over and over? Not just for a mere day; but when he least felt like it?
I am asking for some momentum and wind beneath my wings, some advice + wisdom, on how to continue to sustainably walk into challenging situations and understand how to chart a course of action without apology, but without sacrifice.
Day 28: Auckland to Melbourne to Adelaide, my home.
And I am HOME, and my heart overflows!
There is NOTHING like the heart-flip of flying home. 😊
Thank you for every experience, feeling, discovery, connection, moment, joy and opportunity on this trip.
Thank you for the love + connection back home lifting me onwards and doubling every experience, and the love + connection of family + friends renewed during my travels, which I come home brimming over from. 🌟
Day 25: Vancouver, with San Francisco reflections.
And it feels like I have E X H A L E D.
I have loved every moment of this trip, and been inspired and had my senses heightened by all that I’ve felt, seen, experienced, smelled, lived.
But I have to confess, coming from the grittiness + contrast of San Francisco, from the wide expanse of sea along The Embarcadero, the buzz and rush of the city, and the stark reminders of human suffering and homelessness, I found myself on edge a little more. Just a little more alert.
My compassion rises up and I know that I must do the best I can to meet in the middle. Sometimes, I go quietly about my explorations, I do not stare or judge; other days I found the courage to buy a small contribution of food for someone in need. The most courageous? Looking these people of hardship in the eye and truly SEEING them. If I had fallen upon hard times, would someone have the courage to do this for me?
I am lucky beyond belief. Again, the tears well up fast and unbidden.
When I landed in Vancouver yesterday, it was like coming home. Half-way home, literally, and figuratively. I felt the weight lift off my shoulders, and the edge come away from me. I realised how much of a forward-motion, street-wise stare I had accumulated whilst exploring some parts of San Francisco and Washington.
With no disrespect to any of the places I have explored, I feel more at ease.
And I’m ready to go home.
Day 24: San Francisco to Vancouver
I’ve had 2 moments of “sassing” recently that I’m low-key proud of.
1. The Monks at Golden Gate Bridge.
While crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, there were a whole heap of monks milling about the foot of the walkway. One serenely approached me, offered me a blessing and then gently tied a string of prayer beads around my wrist. With a beatific smile on his face, he told me his brothers were building a temple, would I please make a donation? Then I NOTICED; the sneakers, the overly-crumpled yellow monk’s cloak, the glimpse of jeans under the cloak.
Old me would have paid the $5.00 donation and then been pissed off for the rest of the day.
Current me smiled a matching beatific smile right back, took the prayer beads off my wrist, said “Thank you SO much, I wish you all the best for the temple, but I’m really sorry, I’m not into prayer beads!”, and strolled off with a grin.
While on my success strut, I noticed another couple getting a similar treatment. I walked up, said hello to everyone and told them, “Hey guys, you’re getting fleeced. There’s a whole heap of them!”
“Oh, wow! Thanks so much!”
And to the “monk”, “Sorry dude, nice try. We’re done here!”
2. The Drama Queen at Bloomingdales
An AMAZING colourful striped dress caught my eye in Bloomingdales, and I went to go have a look. From behind me, in the most overly-dramatic, drama-queenly exasperated exclamation rang out, “WHY do people ALWAYS have to go for the things on the RACK?!”
I think he thought I had no English and wouldn’t understand, but it put the fire in my belly!
I used that teacher voice which is the deadly combination of “overly-sweet-but-don’t-you-DARE-eff-with-me” and just kept taking AT this rude man: “Well, it’s SUCH a totally GORGEOUS DRESS, and I LOVE colours. I’m travelling from Australia, and this is my last week abroad, and I was really looking to splurge on something beautiful to take home. I’m SO SORRY that I inconvenienced you by looking at something on the rack, but it just absolutely caught my eye, and it’s even the right size as well! But I’d better not inconvenience you by asking to try it on, so thank you SO MUCH for making me feel so WELCOME!”
Dazed, he pulled himself together and stammered, “Are you sure you don’t want to try it on?”
Me: “OH. NO. THANK. YOU!”
Strutting that strut OUT!
Day 23: San Francisco
“I hold my heart by the hand, together we’ll wander, endlessly.”
I love you, Mum + Dad.
My Dad gave me the sea. The salt and sting of Henley Square, the freshness, the soothing, the unrelenting storms all flecked with sand, the heavy dullness of dawn in summer. My Dad gave me this. He gave me the very edge of the sea that I may travel. He has a nomadic daughter with strong wings, but with a heart that overflows, overwhelmingly so, for home.
My Mum gave me the earth. The place that is my home. All that is wok-smelling, incense-filled, real, small details, family life at its most poignant and rushingly beautiful. All the tiny moments matter to my Mum, magnified over in joy, ache, sadness, worry, anxiety, and happiness. The small moments are her world. The big picture is wondrous to her, but she cannot live there. Her spirit is most happy with an anchor point; her family.
My beautiful parents, who are so fragile and strong, I love you so much.
Here, on the other side of the world, I think of you, and I love you with all my heart.
I am so sorry that I couldn’t give you a grandchild, or grandchildren. I have cried so much over this and every day, my heart cries. I wanted to give you grandchildren more than I wanted to have children of my own, and I dearly, dearly want children. A family. A husband. An anchor point.
But it is not written in the stars for me.
And I cry, raw tears.
But I cannot live a life in apology.
So I travel. I take flight. Glorious, uninhibited flight.
Not because I am running away, but because I am embracing. I will LIVE my life, all of it, and show you the all that I see. I will show you Montreal and San Francisco, Toronto where your son + daughter-in-law are, and the beauty of Prince Edward Island. I will show you Vancouver and Washington, and the uncut gritty beauty of New York. I will show you everything that I see, and share with you my world.
Hear me please, I will LIVE my life.
I love you both so much.
Day 7: Toronto
My last day full in Toronto, and it’s a family day! I am catching up with my other sister-in-law, the energetic + gregarious Steph and finally meeting her partner Sam. Who is like an instant sunshade for me when I finally meet him!
Steps taken: 15,982, which is surprising since I feeling like I spent more time outdoors today than yesterday.
One memorable meal or food item: The Nanaimo bar, a Canadian speciality. The bottom layer is a biscuit + coconut crumb base, the second is custard-flavoured butter icing, and the top layer is chocolate ganache.
One special photograph: The group photo of my extended family, all miraculously in one place. It felt like we were the Weasley family from Harry Potter, all safely marked as “AT HOME”.
One decent coffee: The delicious and refreshing cold-brew at Boxcar Social along the glorious Toronto waterfront.
Off the beaten track: Today began with a struggle. I had to get my head back into school-mode and draw on my courage and integrity to deal with some decision-making I didn’t agree with. While I’m diligent, it’s so hard to make these decisions where you are away on holiday and wanting to be present here, and you find yourself drawn back into work-mode against your will, despite having put a firm boundary down before leaving. I feel like I am being pulled into a decision I absolutely don’t agree with, and I am missing family, friends, and colleagues back home to talk it through. Luckily, I had my brother and sister-in-law, Robs + Em, to help get me back into equilibrium. I had to work through the issue, step-by-step, all the while anxious and frustrated I wasn’t there in person to be able to give voice to my opinions. I HAVE to trust that my judgment is right and that my decisions, always based in integrity, will have merit.
An unsettling start to the day, which made me so very grateful for the joy of being able to spend it with family, new and old.
And thank you also, wider universe and everyone who loves me, that I work from a place of love, courage, and integrity. It’s such a hard path to walk sometimes, but it’s the only way I know how to be. And this is the case because I have learnt this example from all the people who have played a part in shaping me.
Please let me be at peace with all that I have done, and let me know that my true worth will shine through. Let me trust in this and continue to take joy and delight in my travels.
Because I absolutely must!
Life really IS what you ask of it.
How you look at a minute, and what you decide to do with that minute, those 60 seconds, dictates what you get out of life.
It’s not advantage, or opportunity; and it’s rarely just luck. It’s what you choose to ask of that pocket of time. What you choose, with perfect clarity, to use that moment for.
There is such a fine line between existing and living, and as I get older and walk more steps, the more completely I realise this. Comfortable and engaged is so easily accessible. It’s SO comfortable, that you don’t realise sometimes that you are not really living. Not really asking all you can of a moment. However, squeezing a moment for all it can give is not living, either. Chasing down a goal, a dream, and aspiration, and beating it into submission MAY get you want you want, but there is no truth, no light, no life-blood. It’s an inert and lifeless achievement, empty as a shell when you get there.
The difference between a life of existing, a life of living, and a life of demanding is quite simply a breath. Smallest width of an eyelash. The flutter of a butterfly’s wings. In order to SEE it and KNOW it, you need to be alert and alive in the soul, every day.
There are no easy answers. You simply have to WALK. Deliberately, joyfully, honestly, completely, fully.
I look at those who are happy and hardworking, and I realise that they have not received a better deal in life. They live a unique combination letting go but holding on and valuing. They do not labour a point, but they BRING UP points that need to be brought up. They love with a fierce intensity, and yet they can open their fingers and let go with grace the moment that it is needed. They do not have a guarantee for anything, and yet they seem to make value from the small moments. They have no materialistic backlog of memories, they simply HAVE memories, fully-formed, lasting, and real, to celebrate their humanity.
I love so many things, and I’m afraid of so many other things. I find it easy to be joyful each day. Yet I wonder if this attitude to life will change when I get older, when I have to rely more on others, when I am not as capable; will I become irrelevant, or will I be misunderstood? More importantly, will I have the grace and the courage to know when I need to move on from one mindset and embrace another? Those who live a full life know when one chapter has ended, and they need to go forward into the next. They do not grieve change, but rather they learn about it, embrace it, study it, live it, laugh and struggle with it, BECOME it. They do not look back at what was, or mourn what they “should have, could have, might have” been, they simply ARE.
Again, you won’t know until you hit that path.
There are no easy answers.
There is no guarantee.
All you can do is WALK FORWARD, ready to embrace each day.
I had seriously the GREATEST moment today.
Was heading over to the parklands with my Year 11s for Rungie Cup House Soccer, and another private school (who shall remain nameless) were packing up after their PE lesson.
One of their senior-ish girls walked by and, thinking I was out of earshot, said cattily:
“Oh, GREAT OUTFIT.”
Oh, the immediate fire in the belly! I was just about to turn around and throw back an overtly saccharine and totally cutting, “Yes DARLING, it’s FABULOUS, isn’t it?! So NICE of you to say so, since you have NO IDEA WHO I AM, and you’ve never MET me!”
But I didn’t have to.
One of my Year 11 Kennion-Miller kiddies took up the slack:
“Yeah, it’s GREAT, isn’t it? She’s OUR tutor group teacher, and she’s AWESOME. And she’s not even TRYING today; you should see her when she rocks the full-on stripes and spots.”
I dunno where the hell it came from, this kid is not normally sassy.
Having said that, I was B A S K I N G I N T H E S A S S, man!