What is it anyway? There are things we want to be free from and things we want to be free to. Free from: fear, shame, guilt, resentment, worry. Free from what other people think. Free from waiting…for your circumstances to change, for someone to rescue us, for someone to say sorry. Free to: dream, create, enjoy, experience, love and be loved. Free to be. Free to take risks. Free to mess up. Free to feel safe.

Most of us don’t realize it, but the truth is we are the ones keeping ourselves from freedom in all of these circumstances. Right here, right now, we have the choice to be free from and free to.

While fear and anger are the most natural and most obvious reactions to a state of emergency, they have to be unmasked as expressions of our false selves. When we are trembling with fear or seething with anger, we have sold ourselves to the world or to a false god. Fear and anger take our freedom away and make us victims of the strong seductions of our world. Fear, as well as anger, when we look at them in solitude and quiet, reveal to us how deeply our sense of worth is dependent either on our success in the world or on the opinions of others. We suddenly realize that we have become what we do or what others think of us.
-Henri Nouwen

At the core of our identity, we are free. It’s up to us to take the scary step outside the scarcity and intimidation our society has built. These invisible walls that keep us small and contained. Trapped. This is why the top regret of the dying is “”I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” It takes courage to step off that ledge and let all of the lies and limits that have been layered upon us fall away. You have to believe you are worth it. You have to believe you can do it. Too often we don’t.

So we conform. We stuff our feelings. We keep our mouths shut. We stop dreaming. The essence of who we are, our spirit, begins to die. We fade and fade until there is just a small, dull part of us left. We move through our days as if they are something to check off a list. We see our to dos as an obligation. We lose the light, love, hope and enjoyment of even our best moments. In keeping ourselves safe and comfortable, we kill the joy and the meaning right out of our lives and our work. We lock ourselves in a prison cell to which only we have a key.

Is this you? Me too.

As a repeat victim of domestic violence, I had given up on the fact that I deserved and would find someone who would love me the way I wanted and needed. It was me. I just wasn’t worthy of it, and I kept picking these relationships so I must deserve it.

As a blonde hair, blue eyed woman, I let a family member convince me I would never be taken seriously in the business or political arena because I was “just a pretty face.” I let that hold me back from raises that I deserved and promotions I should have gone for.

As a small town, Midwestern kid, I was told that the world was not safe and so I’d better be on the defense and keep my armor on at all times. I went on to judge others, keep people at a distance, live in fear and close myself off from a true sense of community.

As an empath and big feeling kid, I was told my feelings were irrational and even that I was crazy. I stopped trusting myself and I stopped trusting others. I closed my heart and built up walls. Creating my own personal hell…all alone with all these feelings and thoughts coursing through my body.

As an achievement addict, I allowed others to measure my worth. I gave away everything I had for a compliment and sacrificed my health and my integrity to show people that I was somebody. Only to wake up in a hotel room having achieved more than I ever dreamed and feeling alone and empty.

As a people pleaser, I did everything everyone else wanted me to do. Even when it felt wrong. I endured pain and suffering, did things I wasn’t proud of, and then was all alone with my shame and guilt.

At 30 years old I was backed so far into the corner of my self-made prison cell I had built that I thought there was no way out. This was it. I had lived my entire life for everyone else. I didn’t even know who I was or what I wanted. I didn’t believe it was even worth exploring because I had made so many mistakes and had done so much wrong that I didn’t deserve any better anyway. I had been damaged by all that was done to me and thought I would never recover. FEAR AND ANGER HAD ME IN A CHOKEHOLD. I didn’t now where to start.

Loving, compassionate and encouraging friends and family kept after me. They shared what they saw in me…a narrative much different than the one I had been telling myself. After hearing it enough times, I started to wonder if what they were saying could be true. I started to read self-help books and restarted therapy where we explored questions about who I wanted to be, what life I wanted to live. I realized that I was not my thoughts. They were just thoughts, and I had the power to change that narrative in my head. What freedom.

Freedom comes with responsibility. I had to take responsibility for who I wanted to become. I had to open back up, start to dream again and believe in myself. No more playing victim. No more blaming anyone else for what was or wasn’t happening in my life. I had the freedom and power to change, but I had to choose it. You do too.

Freedom isn’t free, and we don’t arrive there and stay. It takes work. It is a state of mind and posture of our heart we constantly have to fight for. Freedom from what others say we need or should do. Freedom from opinions and judgments of others. Freedom from the judgments and pressure we put on ourselves. Freedom from fear, limiting beliefs and negative thoughts.

Things will always come at us trying to hold us captive. We can’t be free of our circumstances but we can be free in them. We can face our difficulties head on. We can make time and space to process them. We can invite others in to help us through them. We can fill up with life-giving activities to lighten the load. We can take small steps and incremental improvements. We can continue to pursue what total freedom looks like. Something I continue to come back to in order to put my head and heart around that vision of total freedom are the words of the beloved Wayne Dyer, “Be open to everything and attached to nothing.”

Even in the darkest moments, I have a choice. Lay it down. Get it out. Lighten the load. Open your heart. Run through a field. Release the worry. Stare at the sun. Embrace stillness. Fill the air with laughter. Wander through the woods. Witness glory. Sit it awe. Practice gratitude. Choose love. Feel things come and feel things go. Let it flow. Be free.

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