The Art of Friction

We have a new grandchild. I have recently shared with our daughter, a first time mom, the stories and thoughts I remember from that busy over-whelming and often nerve-wracking period when I often thought I wasn’t doing anything right.

One strong memory I had was that babies, toddlers and kids are often very irritable before they make a big cognitive or neurological leap: learning to roll over or crawl, walking and talking. I wanted to comfort my daughter that just because baby is miserable even after you’ve done all the feeding, cleaning and cuddling it may just be that uncomfortable space in the developing human brain between what he has and what he wants.

That friction between what is and what could be is the emotion that fuels all the growth.

It looks pretty awful. Tears, angry tantrums, inconsolable hours… and that’s just the baby.

Parents can look at that miserable infant and make it mean they are somehow incapable and not meeting baby’s needs or they can hold the little one and just trust that this is a part of the process of all those new neurological wires firing in magnificent new ways. Two ways of telling the same story.

It doesn’t end with learning to walk, or riding a bike, or Algebra II. The discomfort goes on for as long as we are growing, developing, and evolving, but the uncomfortable emotions become more subtly nuanced and at some point we start to judge them as being a problem or an indication that we are wrong, victimized, defective, or incapable.

The friction between uncomfortable emotions and how we think we should feel continues throughout life. We can welcome those emotions as indicators of new growth or we can judge them, resist them and make them mean something is wrong with the world, other people or ourselves.

The discomfort can send us to the fridge or the liquor cabinet to soothe ourselves. We may numb out a bit with social media, online shopping, binging on the news, or a Netflix session. We may choose to deflect that nagging discomfort onto others with blame, anger or resentment.

The Art of Friction is to notice the ugly emotions and the uncomfortable feelings and realize that they are indications of some potential growth that is available to us. Before trying to get rid of that feeling of hot shame, heavy discouragement, buzzy anxiety, or tight dissatisfaction, what if we took the opportunity to get curious. What’s up with me right now? Why now? What am I thinking ?

Where is the friction between what is and what I want?

Human suffering always comes down to that space.

It should be different.
I should be different.
They should be different.

The Art of Friction is to decide that whatever is, is the way it should be because it is the result of all the facts, thoughts, feeling and actions that came before.

It is what it is… and now what?
How do I show up? How do I take responsibility? How do I grow or get stronger?
What do I need to learn. How can I trust that what I am seeing as a problem is showing me exactly how I need to develop right now?

It feels bad, I grant you. But if we can meet that feeling head on we can grow in ways we never thought possible. Babies have only a couple of options. Happy and comfortable or miserable and crying. As adults we have access to the full range of human emotions, sub-emotions and self-judgment that the poets have worked for millennia to describe with all their nuances and the way they resonate in the human body.

Sadness, anxiety, dread, disappointment, grief and frustration are the privilege of the human and are what allow us to revel in joy, expectation, hope, anticipation and triumph. Don’t waste a single emotion by repressing or judging it. Feel those feelings and let them show you where you want to go and where you want to grow.

Let the gift of having feelings allow you to write the next chapter with you as the hero – the person you want to be. It’s all just a story. Pain doesn’t kill us, in fact as adults it can be the best way to point us in the right direction. Let’s write a story we are proud of.

I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.
-James Baldwin

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