Leaning Into Discomfort


We stretched at the end of our weekly workout, faces on the mat, right hands ex-tended, left arms stretched under our bodies, kind of in child’s pose. I’m sure there’s an official name for this stretch but I don’t know it. I do know it feels awkward and amazing, all at once. Just as the stretch feels more awkward than amazing, our instructor encourages us saying, “Lean into the discomfort while still being kind to yourself.”

Anyone who has taken any sort of yoga or workout class has probably heard something along those lines — lean into the discomfort. After an hour of movement, I often want to skip the stretching. I want to stop, change into clean clothes, move onto the next part of my day, and check off the box of healthy living. But that wouldn’t be kind to myself—mentally or physically.

But taking the time to stretch and lean into the discomfort is what allows me to healthfully go on with the rest of my day. It’s this kindness that keeps me from getting hurt and is why I keep coming back to class, week after week.

I’ve been thinking about this phrase in other areas of my life lately. How am I leaning into the discomfort of life as I stretch my thinking? How is that discomfort preparing me to take what I’m learning and go back into my daily routines?

I’m in a creatively quiet season right now. At first, when the words were hard to find, I welcomed the space, knowing that sometimes we need to stop and listen be-fore we can produce. But months have gone by and that quiet is turning to discomfort. How long will this last? I’m starting to push against the discomfort, questioning my abilities and purpose.

When I take time to step back and reflect, I catch glimpses of some of this creative block. The past three months have been filled with a lot for our family. From a medical emergency to a life-changing pilgrimage to leaving our church of ten years, I’ve had a lot to process. I can feel all of the lessons churning and the roots starting to take hold but I’m not seeing the sprouts of spring.

Leaning into the discomfort of dormancy is something I know is part of life. Whole books have been written about the need to let ideas churn and compost; that boredom and apathy are opportunities to lean into the quiet voice of God; that work is happening below the snowy soil in preparation for spring. Beautiful metaphors of this experience abound!

But leaning into the actual discomfort is a much different experience than reading someone else’s reflections of it. And without kindness, this discomfort can feel hopeless.

I know that spring is coming. Soon, we’ll start turning our compost to prepare for our summer kitchen garden. In Colorado, the snow will become thick, wet, and heavy but will also melt by afternoon, soaking into the ground. There will be an abundance of everything, from blooms to weather.

Right now, we’re still in February. The ground is dry, the snow on the north side of our house has turned icy from lack of sun to melt it. And rather than push against it, I’m remembering to lean into the discomfort.

This discomfort looks like less outward production and more inward reflection. It looks like putting aside must-read books that will deepen my understanding of cur-rent issues in favor of well-written novels that require me to use my imagination. Discomfort looks like taking classes about how our classrooms can better represent Indigenous Voices and letting all that new information settle in. Discomfort is saying goodbye to a community that shaped our early marriage and parenthood for a new one for this next season.

In a perfect world, these discomforts would last a short time and then I could move on to successes and celebrations. So often, this is not the case. Leaning into that discomfort is long and tiring and boring.

I have a feeling I’ll look back on this time and recognize all the ways that things were actually happening and growing. For now, I’m stretching my muscles, preparing for life on the other side. I have no answers or great takeaways from this stretch of quiet, which is a big part of the discomfort as well. But I know this sea-son will end. Seasons always do.

I’m remembering to be kind to myself in this process. That last part of the imperative is so easy to forget. Just lean into the discomfort. It will be fine. But really, kindness is the key to stretching, otherwise it can be detrimental. Lean into the discomfort while still being kind to yourself.

I might not learn the lessons I hope to learn right away but as I lean in and stretch, I know that this discomfort is healthy and is making me stronger.