Breaching Your Comfort Zone and Making Art

“One of the deepest longings of the human soul is to be seen.”
― John O’Donohue

Being seen? What a terrifying thought. It’s so much easier to hide within our comfort zones instead of flinging our hearts across the bow, leaping out of the water and taking the risk to see what happens when we share ourselves.

Have you ever wondered why we describe hiding as a comfort zone? If you stop and contemplate what the experience of concealing yourself really is, you just might discover how uncomfortable your comfort zone actually is.

These comfort cocoons we spin with our minds not only rob us of clear seeing, they also require a ton of mental maintenance. So much so, there may be little energy left for the things that matter most. Comfort zones can serve a protective purpose for awhile, but in the long run can keep us from accomplishing our dreams, finding fulfillment, and empathizing with the imperfections in ourselves and the rest of the world. Sometimes the more we run from discomfort, the more it pursues us.

It’s time for a rebrand, a reframing, and relabeling. Warning, Will Robinson! You’re about to enter your discomfort zone–a place created by fear that keeps you from creating the possibility for the abundance and joy you were made to feel.

So why do we do this? Why do I do this?

The way I see it, life is a vast relational sea which is as intensely beautiful as it is painful. We want more than anything to take refuge–to find a safe harbour for ouselves. But there are tidal waves of injustice, undertows of unfair judgement, and Bermuda Triangles of perceived offenses that mysteriously trip most of us up.

There are no guarantees for smooth sailing which, let’s face it, is frightening. It’s no wonder we seek to create mental constructs of comfort.

Eons ago, when I was but a pup in second grade, a cheeky boy whose name escapes me galluped up on the playground and kissed me on the cheek. You’d think my first kiss would have been sweet and innocent, but an obnoxious toad on a teeter totter happened to bear witness and broke out in a humiliating rendition of Sitting in a Tree,
K. I. S. S. I. N. G! 

Within five or six excruciating seconds the ENTIRE second grade population of Francis T. Evans Elementary School on Andrews Air Force Base was mocking both of us. But really, it felt like they were mocking just ME.

A shy kid by nature and experiencing what felt like a nuclear attack on my well-being, I did what any introvert would do–I ducked and covered. Kisser and kissed dropped like potato sacks onto the frozen playground. As the singing got louder, a stunning Lord of the Flies circle formed around us and I frantically pulled my polyester “wooly bear coat” (I remember that’s what I called it) over my entire body in a vain attempt to conceal myself.

Thank the Lord above for Wooly Bear Comfort Coats. 

It seemed a decade had flown by when Miss Romansky literally yanked me up from the dirt by my collar, disheveling my hair and pulling my pom pommed winter hat off. She was clearly annoyed by the disruption and I remember feeling I had done something terribly wrong. No one had tuned me in on how tribal acts of playground humiliation could spontaneously erupt.

And so began the Age of the Submerged Whale which spanned just three and a half years but whose underwater echoes have reverberated ever since. It was the first of just a handful of wonder years embarrassments–a memory that resides in a cluster of sweaty-palmed synapses dancing around somewhere in my cerebral cortex.

As unique as my particular story is I don’t think I’m alone–not by a wide margin. You probably have a completely different yet similar story that is wholly, vulnerably and weirdly annoying. We all have good reason to jump into the deep end of the pool and wait for the mob to move on to the next unsuspecting victim. The problem is, the mob that invokes our real time anxiety has long since retreated. In this present moment, my Lord of Flies Greek chorus no longer exists.

As my brother wrote to me recently, “The past is in the past and was what it was.” Which got me thinking about how we get to choose and create what the past is to us, right now.

We can’t change what happened, but we can choose to stop dragging the past into our present and suffocating our future with it. We can choose to stop holding our breath as long as we can like amphibious bottom feeders and instead, use the energy we still have to flip ourselves out of the ocean to see and create everything we’ve been missing.

Oh my GOD! The boat I’ve been swimming beneath has PEOPLE on it! And.. OMG! I just made a big splash and, HOLY COW! They’re all laughing (in a good way) and cheering for me! Did I just make their day? All it took was doing what I naturally do? If I can do that what else can I accomplish?”

– “Channelled” from Helen the Humpback Whale a couple weeks ago in the Sea of Cortez, Baja California Sur

If, like me, you have a tendency to hide, I implore you to just stop it. Instead, you can take comfort in the fact you are not alone. Hiding serves a purpose, but it’s not your highest one. When you speak up and share your heart, it’s not your self that is seen, but your soul lighting the a path that leads to true recognition.

Which is why I’m issuing a Call to Action that the world needs creators like us to get the hell out of our own way and embrace the fact that no matter what we do, life is going hurt. It’s time to embrace that, to touch the ground of our being and show up like the creative conduits the world really needs.

“Please stop sitting around. We need you to make a ruckus.”
― Seth Godin

In Seth Godin’s book, The Icaraus Deception, he shares how the story of falling to one’s doom by flying too close to the sun was handed down with the best part edited out. It turns out Icarus was also warned about flying too low and too far beneath the radar. The surface of the sea, it turns out, would ruin the lift in his wings. If we don’t take a risk, we end up feeling depleted and drowning.

After years of telling myself I didn’t have the time to share the beauty my camera sees, that the work I crafted for my clients was enough, that I didn’t have time for my own artistry, and my voice wasn’t tuned enough to share something of true value, I know what creative depletion is.

But I’ve found that whether I fly high or low, my inner troll is usually strapped right beside me, or at least within earshot. It makes zero sense to choose to play small if the voice of terror is there regardless. If you don’t believe me, ask Georgia:

I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life – and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.
– Georgia O’Keeffe

Are you as tired as I am of having this inner troll as your significant other?

I hope you are and I hope you come back and partake in this new website as it grows wings and quite possibly, soars higher.

Photo credits: First Breaching Whale, Sea of Cortez in Baja California Sur.  © 2018 Susan J. Preston, all rights reserved.