Why Artists & Seekers (& Meditators & Monsters) Need Frustration


Maybe you haven’t noticed it (so I’m being punk a little bit – you’ve totally noticed it) but in spirituality speak there’s a good lot of the word ‘peace’ getting tossed around.

Learning the peace, teaching the peace, practicing the peace, seeking the peace, sharing the peace, welcoming the p—- okay, right, you got me.

And I’m the first one to champion the peace, for sure. You know this about me. It’s my thing and it’s important. Heaven knows we do need the peace.

But peace is only half the story – the half we tend to idolize, glamorize.  As gorgeous as peace may be, it’s foolish (and boring and unrealistic and deceiving) to talk about it as though peace stands alone as some sort of trophy / goal / badge in a spiritual practice.

It doesn’t.

If we really want to talk about peace, then we need to also talk about frustration.

Mmmmm, YES. Delicious, torturous, sensational fucking frustration.

The kind we crave.

The kind we love to hate and loathe to admit because we are so busy pretending to be satisfied.

You know, acting like we have our stuff together. In front of our loved ones. In front of ourselves.

But deep down underneath that glossy (peaceful?) exterior, the hard truth is that we are rough and there is friction. It’s a frizzy kind of frustration that vibrates within, a sparking, buzzing electric sizzle.

The more we deny it, of course, the more it seduces us.

The thing is, there is an inner mangle that we don’t like to talk about at wine-tastings but which we need to learn to get intimate with if we ever want to live an actual spiritual and creative life. (Like a real one.  Not one you just read about or just write about or just practice when you feel like it’s safe or adorable.)

You know this inner mangle: it’s an urge, a dramatic and seductive twisting, the sweet depths of divine dissatisfaction.  It’s the side of you that needs to work on something, needs to figure something out, needs a bone to chew.

“But the worst thing we can be frustrated of is frustration itself. To be deprived of frustration is to be deprived of the possibilities of satisfaction.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche {Source: Brain Pickings In Praise of Missing Out}

Artists and spiritual seekers – we are all frustrated little creatures.

Haunted even as we deny and crave the haunt.

Chased even as we deny the fleeing and the fight.

Caught up exquisitely both in what we adore and despise.

We bear an ecstatic frustration.

We make love with the mad, welcome brutality of being alive, of indulging and measuring desire.

Instead of avoiding the frustration, we learn to seek it out.  Just to feel what it feels like to allow discomfort to exist alongside us.

We somehow learn to get comfortable in the discomfort, in the wanting of relief but not rushing toward it. So much of the best art and enlightenment and wisdom comes from not forcing the peace but getting intimate with the frustration.

Letting the unrest within be exactly as it is.  Circling it.  Watching.

Sitting meditation has taught me more about sitting with frustration than sitting with peace.

There is a strange wisdom in sitting with frustration.  Not because we want out of it.

Just because it is.  And we’re curious about what’s pulling us one way and dragging us the other. What is that about, anyway?  What is there?  Can we allow it to just be?

And as much as it drives us wild to admit our frustration is even there in the first place, there is something even deeper, I think, and harder to admit.

That we need it.

There is a beautiful kind of frustration we need in order to honor – to truly inhabit and explore  – all the inky textured dimensions of our entire lives.

The friction is part of our makeup. We don’t need to hold onto it; we don’t need to seek it out. We just need to be with it when it presents itself.  The magic mangle is rich with messages we will miss if we are too haughtily mashing over it to get to the peace.

I mean, come now, anyone can sit comfortably with peace.

The real question is: who can sit comfortably without it?


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16 thoughts on “Why Artists & Seekers (& Meditators & Monsters) Need Frustration

  1. Carl D'Agostino

    Frustration. It seems like every task I undertake is hindered by one or more(usually more) obfuscations which must be resolved before addressing the actual task. From where do these little devils arise ? It wears me out.

  2. Nicole

    I completely agree with this. While you’re approach here is totally different than mine, I sort of spoke of the same thing in my post about why I don’t fear the dark or light (no plug here, just sharing the same sentiment) I think too many people feel that embracing some bad feelings or simply just letting themselves feel bad stuff will kill them. Or they’re scared of being down. So hard to explain. Too many people are trying to look fine and happy in front of everyone else instead of letting themselves just be.

    This post reminded me of the song (maybe titled) ‘Que Sera’, that is sung in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” I’m sure this is not the only time this song has ever been sung, or the sentiment written, but this is what your post reminded me of :)

    Whatever will be, will be and in order to live a full life, I believe we all need to accept that.

    1. Allison Marie Post author

      Hello, hello Nicole,
      I love your comment. Not only do I love the references you make to the genius Alfred Hitchcock and Que Sera, Sera (so perfectly haunting), but I really appreciate so much all the ways this topic stretched your mind in so many creative directions. That is the BEST.
      And I think it is very cool that you and I approached the topic differently but yet we understand each other. Great minds, yeah? :)
      It’s a tricky thing to be authentic these days with so many people on the Fake. I can’t help but wonder what the world (artistic, spiritual, etc) would look like if we all got comfortable with our mangled bits. Fascinating.
      Thank you for sharing your awesome thoughts, my friend. You have DEFINITELY richened the experience by bringing your darkness and your light.
      Peace (and just enough frustration) to you,

  3. Brad

    Brilliant you punk pirate! I’m still learning this one and boy do I have lots of those frustration devils about. Reminds me of a quote to the effect that what is in the way is the way. peace and frustration to you.. :)

    1. Allison Marie Post author

      Stellar Brad V!
      Hey, love, hey – I am so happy to have you here. And I LOVE that you just called me a punk pirate – you totally come up with the best nicknames! You make me smile. Thank you for being such a rascal – makes me laugh out loud. :)
      I’m still learning too for sure. What you say here is so beautiful: “What is in the way is the way.” . . . I so love that. It’s true isn’t it. So fascinating and so spot on.
      Peace and frustration to you, wild sir. Namaste. :)

  4. Liesl

    Oh, you’ve done it again, you Dark, Twisted Beauty! I mean that in the best possible way, of course.

    Yes! A thousand times Yes!

    We cannot appreciate the good without having lived through the bad. We don’t like the wild ride down a zoomy hill, if we haven’t struggled to get to the top.

    My mother told me a proverb. “We can only experience joy to the degree we have been hollowed out by pain.” It helped me hold on during excruciating and long, torturous periods of hardship. She also whispered a verse from the Bible over me, “I will repay the years that the locusts have eaten, declares the Lord.” And as hard as both of these things are, there is such poignant beauty in the idea of something lush coming after such dark times. We have to hope and believe, and in my life, I will say, that I have been abundantly filled up and repaid for all the years I spent in loss.

    Remember in the movie Parenthood? The grandma talked about how she liked the Roller Coaster better than the Merry-go-round?

    “It was just interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened…
    so scared, so sick, so excited…
    and so thrilled all together.”

    Life is like that. I used to feel so relieved when someone would say, “This too shall pass,” when I was going through something rough. It made me mad when they’d say the exact same thing when I was high on life and exuberant. Damn them! But it’s true. Every moment passes. Some are going to take all we have to get through them. Some are going to bring us to our knees. Some are going to suck the breath right out of us and leave us grabbing onto the wall for support. And some are going to be bliss. We have to learn to take the good with the bad, and realize that none of them last forever. We can appreciate them when we are in them, and learn all we can from them, and then wait to see what happens next.

    Sweet girl. I have been putting in the hours lately. Double shifts and everything, not really having time to focus on anything but the task at hand. I so love to mull over the things you share here, and come back to them as I drive to work. I love being connected on this path with you. We do a lot of the same thinking. You are such a joy of a writer. Truly. You take my breath away in all the right ways, dear Heart!

    You have a Blessed Day!

    1. Allison Marie Post author

      And you, love.
      YOU have done it again, my beautiful, creative, brave, dazzling, divine angel Liesl,
      Your words, your thoughts, your presence, your light and the deep soul-sprung wisdom that you bring to this space – I can’t even begin to tell you how honored I am to read every word. By the time I reached the end: tears. Tears, soul sister. You have such a way about you, a knowing, fragile, strong way of getting to the nectar of a thing. Blessings are your natural gift.
      I LOVE all these beautiful, beautiful spirited quotes you have shared, beloved. The proverb and the Bible verse – just breathtaking and moving and lush. You cannot believe how much I love that you have strung them all together here so eloquently. And my mom used to always say “This too shall pass.” That touches me on a level deeper than I can fully express. It is true, isn’t it, angel? The good the bad the everything in this world. . . it passes. Non-attachment non-attachment non-attachment. So not easy – so not easy.
      You are working so hard, friend. So so hard and doing so so beautifully. I hope this resonates in your bones and bright being. Walking alongside you is humbling and wondrous. I love that you would share here and I am thrilled to bits to know the thoughts meld with yours and become a wandering new creation alogether as you make your glorious way.
      You are a treasure trove. I am so blessed to get to know you and all your richness and texture. Here’s to the beating of our little wings and the catching of our little breaths.
      Blessings, deepest hugs, and all things brilliant to you, always, always!

  5. Liesl

    Also? All the best inventions and creations arise from being frustrated that something isn’t already available, right? Why can’t we flick a switch and have light? Why do I have to lug all this firewood into the house to cook my food – why can’t I just turn a knob and heat up a pot of water? These were frustrations that turned into burning questions, that reached down deep into the creative, brilliant minds of people who used those frustrations to create answers.

    My artist son works with frustration every day – wanting to figure out how to make something – or looking at an enormous project, and his brain starts to turn it over and needle with all the problems that come up until he has the solution, and voila – the Build is ON. He crafts with cardboard, and makes amazing, genius works of art. He seems to see frustration as the thing he wants to tackle next.

    Thank you, Allison. My mind will be playing with this idea a lot.

    1. Allison Marie Post author

      GOD I love your THOUGHTS! Yes. Yes. Yes. Using the frustrations to create the answers. It’s the stuff of sexy genius, right? It totally is.
      I adore what you share about your gorgeous little artist angel son. “The Build is ON.” That is so incredible. The beginner’s minds of our brave little children with their tremendous insights, dreams, visions. Unstoppable. Just so glorious.
      Thank you so much for bringing this story of light and vision to this space. We are all the richer for it, my love.
      It is my honor, dear Heart (I love that you say this, therefore I am using it, too). Here’s to the play and the fantasy that only divine dissatisfaction may bring.
      We are The Dark Twisted Beauties. Indeed, we are. :) Xx

  6. seonaid

    i feel the fustration is part of the birthing process, which all creative endevours follow. without the mess of frustration we might never understand our limits and edges…..

    1. Allison Marie Post author

      I totally agree with you, Seonaid, thank you so much for sharing this. It resonates very deeply for me, too, when you say frustration helps us to feel out our edges. That is beautiful . . . and so true.

  7. Rajagopal

    Thanks a ton, darling devil’s advocate, for espousing the magic mangle within, for that is exactly the stuff dreams are made of, or the raw material that stirs the creative spirit. The mangle that wangles frustrations, which in turn ignites the alchemy to transform base metals into gold, and allisons into tejaswinis…xxx.

    1. Allison Marie Post author

      Oh my dear, gorgeous, warm light, Raj,

      You are so much more than welcome and I am so grateful for your spirit in this place. Always, always the brighter to have your charm, insight and deep wisdom.

      I love how you speak of the ‘raw material’ and the ‘alchemy’ of these beautiful frustrations. The trees here are turning all fiery flaming reds, oranges, and golds with the change of season. Somehow reading your words here – and crawling inside your lovely thoughts – reminds me of the way the universe uses frustration and fire to take our breath away and transform.

      With so much love and joy for your presence here, my dear friend,

      Tejaswinis xxx

  8. Don

    “I’m starting to believe the frustrations are the actual task. ” I warm to that sentence from your comment, Allison, in fact it’s a kind of poignant summary of all you shared. Deeply insightful post – thank you.


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