A long time ago I wrote a piece about how frustration and tension are part of a writer's journey. I never did anything with it and forgot about it for over a year. I then pulled up the file and reread it. I realized that everything I'd written applied to much more than what writers go through.
It reminded me of how people feel as they begin a process of growth in their lives. Often times as we get to the threshold of "I'm ready for more" we feel like we're exploding with frustration. Sometimes this is when we feel we can't take our job anymore. Other times it's when we feel ready to awaken spiritually. It seems that no matter what the thing is we're striving for, there's this period of unbelievable frustration that comes with it. I sometimes think to myself, "Shit is hitting the fan. Therefore, something amazing must be about to happen." They really have seemed to start to go hand in hand for me over the past few years. Just when I feel I'm about to turn into a green monster and hulk out of my shirt I suddenly see the light at the end of the tunnel. I'm going to make it. I'm going to turn that corner and see the rainbow after the storm.
But why is there that period of intense angst that seems to come before it? In the piece I'd written, I had gone into how a violin creates music. Here's an excerpt:
It’s often easy to forget that tension and pressure are what create some of the most beautiful things in our world. How does a violinist create music? You have a string pulled to the point of tension, and then by putting pressure on the string you create a disturbance in the air. None of these things sounds very pleasant: tension, pressure and disturbance. But the sounds created by a violin are powerful and often times stunning. There are other example of this, such as the pressure on carbon that creates diamonds. And let’s not forget a diamond takes billions of years to form. A novel or work of art of course doesn’t take billions of years, but it is important to remember that to create something takes time. Most writers and artists are incredibly hard on themselves if they don’t reach their goals in a specific amount of time. And even worse is feeling you suck because sometimes you’re just really frustrated or tense. I can’t manage these feelings perfect yet myself, but I am attempting to gain a little perspective on them and see if in fact there’s beautiful music attempting to be realized.
I believe one reason we feel so tense just before we grow into a new place is because we're pushing on our invisible walls. The walls of where we're comfortable are being torn down so that we can expand into a totally new place which is both exciting and scary.
If you've ever seen a wrecking ball smash into a real wall you know it's not a pretty site. You can't tear down the old in a neat and orderly way. You gotta do it chaotically, dirty and with a lot of power. When the ball hits the wall there is a massive tremor that goes through it, followed by cracking, crumbling and eventually an entire collapse. But there is no other way. Otherwise you're just wasting time and delaying whatever new thing is ready to be built.
Just imagine you go to smash down that same wall with a sledge hammer. You first approach it gently. You take a few swings. You're pretty relaxed. You stop and eat a ham and cheese sandwich. But as the hours go by you're getting annoyed. This is taking too long and you're getting tired. You've barely made a hole big enough to put your head through. You want this over with, you've got places to be and things to do. Your annoyance turns into anger. And now you're swinging hard. Now you're pissed off and you're knocking chunks out the size of basketballs. Your anger is fueling you to go faster and to get it down as quick as possible. You probably don't look glamorous or graceful in that moment. It's the same way when we're striving for something and hit a point where we're being driven by wild emotions. It's always hard to see ourselves lose control, and worse to lash out at people around us.
When I started to ask myself about why we get frustrated and tense I never set out to ask myself what we can do to not get to that point. I don't believe in that. I don't believe in hiding from emotions. Usually we hide from them because we're embarrassed of them or even afraid of them. I don't like when people see me storming around with a glower on my face, but I also don't like hiding from what it's trying to work out in my life.
Often times we end up feeling frustrated, tense, or just plain pissed off about where we're at. We've been sitting around eating ham and cheese sandwiches, picking at the plaster of our walls, and we're done with it. We're ready for real change. So we get mad and we get moving. The key here is to not be overtaken by these feelings. The key, I believe, is to get your momentum going and then let the anger go. You don't have to be afraid it showed up or be ashamed of it, you only have to let it go before the energy it fires up grows out of control. You can even thank it for showing you how much you want something and then peacefully send it away. Just don't get trapped in it. Don't get trapped in the feelings that might be trying to thrust you forward. Let them show you what they need to show you, and then allow the beautiful music to arise.
And if it doesn't arise? Then ask your frustrated feelings why. I don't mean sit in your head going "Why? Why? Why?" I mean to sit and directly address the feelings in the same way you would a friend, with the intent of listening without judgement. I know this sounds weird, but you will get an answer. You created the feelings, they're yours, so somewhere inside you you know why they're here. Just sit quietly and think to yourself, "(insert emotion, i.e. fear, sadness, anger), why are you still here? What are you trying to show me?" Listen to whatever comes up. You'll have to trust yourself here, and you'll have to trust the first thing you here. If you can, keep going. Keep going until you feel you're at a solution.
So it might go something like this, "Frustration, why are you still here? What are you trying to show me?" and then you'll hear: You're blocking yourself because you're afraid to succeed and you're frustrated over it. So you ask it more, "Frustration, why am I afraid to succeed?" And then you'll answer yourself again: Because then you'll be heard, and you like to hide. "Why do I like to hide?" Because it feels safe. "Why don't I feel safe?" And so on, until you get to the seed of what's generating all this gunk and cement that's blocking you. It's all coming from somewhere. Isn't it time you just got to the source of it and resolved it? And once you do, you'll see the light at the end of your tunnel. You'll see you can let go of the anger and frustration. You'll see a way through.
I know it's strange to sit and have a conversation with your feelings like this. But if you're at the end of your rope, and we've all been there, then you deserve some resolution. You do, you deserve to have peace of mind and to get through all your obstacles. And frankly, if doing what feels normal got you where you are, then doing what feels strange is probably going to be a big help. Albert Einstein said it best when he said, "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." So if this sounds too strange, then here's another question to ask yourself also: What's more important, doing what feels normal or doing what will lead you to your happiness? For me, I got to a point where I kept saying to myself almost daily, "Are you happy?" and the answer was no, and then I would ask myself, "Well then who cares if you do something weird? At least you'll have some variety in your life."