I agonized over my 2020 word, my intention for another year and potentially the decade. It’s April already and I am so grateful for the word I eventually chose.
As I contemplated my word for 2020, I thought about different things. I was opening a little independent learning centre and I was a little nervous. We just installed solar power in our home and our life changed. What word would I pick? What would I like to invite? Power. Lead. _Execute.
My words for the past few years have been so strong. 2019, my word was “BIG” and it was a gigantic year for me. 2018, my word was “GROUND” and we grounded in our new home and on our land and our new family rhythms. 2018 was a year FULL of transitions.
For a lot of people, I noticed that 2020 was going to be a big and transformative decade.
I took stock of my life and looked at those words that I had contemplated. I shuddered. I decided I had had enough earthshaking transformations for awhile. Maybe I should pick a word that was softer. A word that wasn’t going to rock my world again. My life up to this point was a life of living with landslides.
As I kept “feeling” the word as 2020 approached. I was journalling daily the week before Christmas hoping the word would just hit me like a lightning bolt it normally did every year.
One one of those evenings, as I sat on one of our most recent purchases, our cozy couch, writing under the warm light of our outdoor lights, and enjoying the snug feeling of my favorite jogging pants, I thought about the Christmas gift my daughter gave us.
She gave us a beautiful comforter. A luxury item I had wanted to buy on our last visit to Toronto but just couldn’t splurge. So she did. After opening the gift, I immediately spread it over our new sheets and added some pillows and a throw and voila! – a little luxury in our container bedroom. It is one of my little joys, this favourite sight and feel at the end of the day and the first thing I feel in the morning.
It truly lives up to its name: comforter.
Yes. Perfect. I need a little comfort. 2020 was about the comfort. No wonder it didn’t hit me like a ton of bricks. This word only slides around you when you need it most. Until you feel it lightly drape over you, and you hear yourself sigh while your shoulders drop from years of being held up in a tense pose, you didn’t know how much you needed it.
As I look around me today, I am surprised that I did not see how much comfort I have felt despite the changes.
But this was not always the case. If we were to name time periods for our family – 2016-2019 would be “The Death and Destruction Years.” As over dramatic as this era may sound, I can only describe this time as taking a machete to our old life and hacking it to bits.
We had to kill so many beliefs in those years because of our discomfort with the changes in our life. We grieved the old and were resistant to the new. The kids hoping that they could return to the way of life that was comfortable, but mostly they wanted the familiar.
And coincidentally, many people close to us include two of my grandparents, an uncle, and a great-aunt also passed away during this time.
I don’t expect my children to do what we have done but I hope they feel confident enough to know how we were able to do it. Not just live off grid and live in another country. I hope they remember exactly what it took to make this decision – deliberately placing ourselves in a very uncomfortable place.
It’s not sound advice to just tell them to get a piece of land and do what we did. It’s the part about resilience. The root meaning is “the act of rebounding.” It’s an incredibly annoying word for my kids. They are dizzy from rebounding for most of the last four years. Boing! New country. Boing! New rental. Boing! Jungle home, no electricity. Boing! Boing!
How uncomfortable can you BE to respond in ways to create comfort? In other words, when we create discomfort or find ourselves in situations of extreme discomfort, how do we move to a place of comfort?
This is a very uncomfortable time for a lot of people. Plans are difficult to make. Some are living on multiple edges: financial, psychological, emotional. Life is not normal and we are not sure if it will ever get back to normal.
But when you have created enough discomfort in one’s life on one’s own terms, you are more adept at creating comfort at any moment.
It sounds a little backwards: Create discomfort to find comfort.
Life and its paradoxes.
How to create discomfort?
I am a pro at this. Chris and I also call it “setting the bar low.”
Not all of the following on my list will create discomfort because it depends on the person. For example, #3 on the list no longer creates discomfort for anyone in my house. It’s a natural part of life. Point #5, on the other hand, is more uncomfortable for some than others. After seeing a snake the other day, item #4 is high on the scale of discomfort.
- Let them wait. (Wait for electricity. Wait for a fridge…). Cultivating patience is key to comfort.
- Give no suggestions except “Go play.” (Or just “Go.”)
- Turn off wi-fi daily for a specified time period and say, “No screen time for one hour.” Or two or 48. (Or disconnect internet for an unknown period of time.)
- Tell them to go outside and stay there until you say so.
- Give them a stack of classics and tell them to pick one a week to read.
- Tell them to “Make something.”
- Don’t tell them to do anything except be by themselves in a hammock watching what’s happening outside.
- Assign a project that will take at least a month to complete.
- Learn a new skill.
- Or you can live without electricity, running water, and flushing toilets and introduce them one at a time and watch the kids celebrate, while you and your husband high five at setting the bar so low.
You really have to be honest with your discomfort. For example, I am not going to lie – the heat of the tropics, large flying cockroaches, and potential dengue-carrying mosquitoes doesn’t make me as uncomfortable as it does others.
However, living in extreme cold and hiking through a forest in winter weather was uncomfortable for me for most of my life. Having to layer just to go sit outside was not my favourite thing but I did get used to it. I didn’t love being cold to the bone for six months of the year but I did it for 37 years.
For some, -25 degrees is now in their comfort zone. I see a lot of friends in Canada posting beautiful photos of their walks in the woods, reveling in the Winter Wonderland. Clearly, a comfort zone now. Some remark that they couldn’t come and do what we are doing because of the heat and the bugs.
You get used to things very quickly. Humans are a beautiful species. Thanks to our innovative and creative minds, we can adapt to a lot which is why you can find our species all over the globe in all types of weather as opposed to other species.
Don’t get me wrong. I love being comfortable at this moment in my life. I have spent a lot of my life in uncomfortable situations, pushing and expanding my comfort zones. I mean, we lived without electricity for two years. Now that we have it, the rainy periods give me a little anxiety. In this way, I am comfortable to an extent. I fully know how our solar power doesn’t guarantee unlimited electricity. I am comfortable until I forget we are running low on sawdust and may have to improvise. I am comfortable in my bed under my comforter until the next raging tropical storm or earthquakes comes to shake me a little under that flimsy security blanket.
Instead of worrying about the next uncomfortable moment, I choose to find a comfortable thought right now.
Comfort can mean complacency. It’s a fine line. When we are too comfortable, we become afraid of the novel and new experience, the unknown. Sometimes it is in that space of leaping without looking that we learn the best part of ourselves.
The lovely Brene Brown said, “we need to cultivate the courage to be uncomfortable and to teach the people around us how to accept discomfort as a part of growth.”
But maybe it’s also ok to be complacent sometimes. To stop swimming upstream. To pause between growth periods. To take a moment before meeting life head on again by letting go. The origin of the word complacency means to be satisfied with one’s self, to be pleased. When did that become a sign of lazy? In a culture of more And busy and productivity, pleasure gets a raw deal.
I am all in for comfortable pleasure.
Now, our home may not be synonymous with those two things as we may not have all the amenities and live quite rustic, much to the chagrin of my eldest daughter who is finding a way to relax into our life here, but one thing we have is a lot of space. A comforting commodity when you are confined with your family.
My children have their own practices of daily meditation and I asked my eldest if she had meditated today and she said that she doesn’t feel the need to practice when she is here. In the city, it’s a different story. There are so many busy thoughts and competing energies that pull her in a million directions. Here, it is easy to be present. In fact, it is in your best interest to be present here.
Our life is not the most luxurious or even comfortable for most people, but it keeps one HERE. Like one of the first nights she was back and the cat greeted her with a dead mouse or the massive locust that landed on her while we were watching a movie. Or poo buckets with sawdust.
You don’t take anything for granted here especially when you reach for things in places you can’t see. Or when you lift up the toilet lid. Or even going for a walk requires presence. The rocks can be slippery. There may be a snake lying across the road. There may be butterflies you have never seen before and may never see again.
Life out here barely becomes comfortable or even “the same.” Nature is the majestic player who maintains control and the only way to be on comfortable terms with her is to give up control.
The things that we have lost: pets, attachment to pristine cleanliness, convenience, a routine that is not weather dependent, sometimes routine all together, and our sanity.
The things we have found: mold, the darkest dark that a new moon can give, presence, an ability to surrender, what is essential, and our sanity.
Recently we were home bound for four days because of vehicular restrictions for Easter Week. In a house with no internet, no flushing toilets, and no hot water, we still found comfort in our home. Comfort in meals together, in our farm community up here, in solitude, in music, and in our individual agency over how we used this time.
I contend that comfort and discomfort are two sides of the same coin. And creating comfort wherever you are and in whatever situation is a skill that can be practiced. Find the small joys – from comfort foods to comfort clothes. I have found ways to quickly create comfort when and where I can because frankly, there is too much energy spent on being uncomfortable.
When I announced that I had my word for 2020 to the family, they all held their breath. Living with me is probably the most uncomfortable thing in their life. I push when it’s easier to pull. And I always want to take the scenic route that has unexpected dead ends and takes twice as long. But boy did they collectively exhale when I told them my intention this year and I think there were a few high fives and chest bumps. Ok I get it, you all have had enough of me pushing my comfort zones.
And so I commit to comfort. Comfort without control. Comfort in the ordinary. Comfort in the unexpected blessings like all seven of us living in our home. Comfort in writing here.
Tomorrow…more on writing here and a declaration of sorts…