Updated: Nov 27, 2020
"The secret to happiness is freedom. And the secret to freedom is courage."
Imagine a writer. Every day he dutifully comes to his desk and writes the same short story; the same characters, the same plot, the same twist. It’s become so habitual he doesn’t even need to think about it. But writing the same story is slowly killing his lust for life.
Take a painter. Early each morning she selects the same colors and paints the same image. No challenge. No discomfort, no growth. She has a vague knowing that she could offer more with her brush, though she is unsure where to find it. And so, painfully, she paints the same landscape; knowing that somewhere in the depths of her soul is the masterpiece she was born to paint.
See a musician. Every day, the same instrument, the same cords, the same tempo. The same familiar song. It’s a pleasant song. Some people seem to enjoy it. But in his deepest heart, he knows it’s not the song.
Day in and day out—the same monotonous expression. The same familiar pattern, which facilitates the same familiar states of mind, the same circular ideas, sensations, and perceptions, the same posture, the same breath…
Nothing new ever happens.
These imaginary individuals are failing in the truest expression of their chosen medium because they are not stretching beyond the familiar. They are not adventuring beyond the comfortable and habitual. At a deep level they may not be sensitive enough to perceive they are choosing to remain within these confines of comfort and habit, and their monotonous and predictable offering reflects their choice—be it conscious or unconscious—not to expand.
A parallel can be drawn here between these imaginary artists and our own artistic expression as human beings.
We yearn for something new, something deeper, a more fulfilling experience of this life. We know on some level that there must be more to it than this. We know we have more to give. Yet every day we write the same story, we paint the same picture, and we play the same song. We allow the confines of our comforts and our habits to fence us in – never offering ourselves the permission and unconditional self-acceptance that will birth the courage required to stretch beyond our boundaries into a new expression of self.
In our ignorance, we use the compass of fear and discomfort as a guide to tell us what not to do.
“I know how to play this song, learning a new song will require struggle and effort. To learn a new song, I will be forced to let go of some old ideas and familiar patterns and open myself to something new and unknown. This will be confronting, painful, and challenging. I’d rather be comfortable.”
True, learning a new song is scary and uncomfortable. But we fail to regard our fear and discomfort as Sherpas sent from the highest version of ourselves meant to guide us toward our deepest and most authentic self-expression – if only we could summon the courage to let them lead the way.
So, we avoid fear. We avoid discomfort. And we play the same song.
And nothing new happens.
It is not until we change our relationship toward fear and discomfort that our life experience can give rise to something novel.
It is only when we give ourselves permission to be afraid, to feel awkward and confused, that we find the courage to lean into those barriers that border our expression. We realize we can hold our fear and act in spite of it. This realization is the seed of our liberation.
We begin to make friends with the scary and uncomfortable and actually seek them out in the world!
If dancing terrifies you, so you choose not to dance, then you have chosen to remain within the confines of your comfort and habit. You have chosen not to grow.
If dancing terrifies you, so you choose to dance, you have chosen to stretch beyond your habit and your comfort into something new.
To break through to other side of your habitual boundary you had to summon a moment of insane courage and feel the terror of letting loose on the dance floor. It was unpleasant, yet, you survived. You now realize that no one cares that you are an awful dancer, and you have freed yourself from a habitual boundary. On the other side of this boundary you have found new characters for your story, new colors for your painting, and new chords for your song.
Your expression of being human now becomes more beautiful because you have leaned into freedom despite fear and discomfort.
You have expanded.
Perhaps you are a wonderful dancer, but sitting in complete stillness and silence terrifies you. Then you have been given a clear message from the person you are destined to become that the colors you need to brighten your painting will be found in silence. It will not be pleasant to face what comes up there, alone in the silence, and that scares you. But beyond the fear is greater freedom in your expression. When you are free to access more colors, your paintings come more alive.
You are now using your fears, discomforts, and habitual boundaries to guide you toward your deepest expression instead of allowing them to keep you boxed in the familiar!
You are becoming a true artist, an alchemist even. You are transforming your fear into freedom. And you are sharing that freedom as your gift to us all through your unique and newly empowered self-expression.
Life becomes new, different, and more colorful, only when we stop viewing our apprehension as a boundary we do not cross, and instead choose to use our apprehension as a clear indicator of what needs to be done in service of our expansion.
It could be as simple as joining a gym, or holding eye contact, or singing karaoke. It could be as dramatic as ending a relationship, selling everything you own, or embarking on a trip around the world. The point is that you have identified your boundary, and chosen the difficult process of moving beyond it rather than remaining with its confines.
You have come to covet freedom more than comfort. This is the life of an artist.
You could begin this process today.
Start with small manageable fears and habits that don’t feel too intense. This doesn’t need to be so dramatic and destabilizing. In fact, in the beginning, it shouldn’t be.
Rearrange your furniture.
Purchase an article of clothing that “just isn’t you” and notice what it stirs up inside of you when you wear it out for an evening on the town.
Look a complete stranger dead in their eyes and tell them something you wish someone told you during a painful period of your life, then walk away.
Notice how you feel after taking these small actions, and determine for yourself if leaning into the uncomfortable is worth doing. Very likely you will be motivated to reexamine your relationship to fear in other areas of your life.
Great art requires that one prioritize freedom over comfortability. Prioritizing freedom over comfortability means a commitment to constant expansion beyond boundaries. This commitment to expansion beyond boundaries requires that one make friends with fear. Making friends with fear is a painful and continuous process.
But life is too short to be fenced in, isn’t it?
You know what you have to do to get free.