I spent 15 minutes yesterday locked in a car with two seven year olds, with the car alarm repeatedly going off. It wasn’t the greatest 15 minutes of my life, though it certainly wasn’t the worst either. I guess sometimes in life we need to experience some downs in order to have a better appreciation of the ups. Today seems like such a relaxed and serene day by comparison to those 15 minutes yesterday. Often the challenges that we face are not physical incarceration, but rather a feeling that we stuck or trapped in our own life situation, be that our job, our relationship, our family situation or by physical illness. If we want to break free, then how do we do that?
The first place to start is by accepting where you are and any contribution that you have made to being there. Now any negative situation that you are in, I’m not saying that you created it consciously, but I am saying that to change anything then you will have to accept responsibility for, as a minimum, how you feel about your situation. By saying this I am drawing on the ideas of Viktor Frankl, who spent 3 years as a slave labourer in Auschwitz during World War II. Frankl didn’t say that he was responsible for being in Auschwitz, but he did say that he was responsible for choosing how to respond to be being there. So if you feel stuck or trapped then your first step to freedom is to take responsibility for how you feel. Validate how you feel and then start taking steps to make changes. Over fifteen years ago I felt stuck in several areas of my life. I had felt trapped for many years, but I hadn’t done anything constructive to change my situation. It was almost like I was waiting for something miraculous to happen on the outside, to help me to change on the inside. Finally, almost as a last resort, I realised that I was the one who need to be the agent of change in my life. I started by taking responsibility, and then by asserting my boundaries and by taking steps, small ones at first, in the direction that I wanted to go. Then the miraculous did start to happen as the ‘universe’ seem to conspire with me to break free of my self-made chains. Books, people, opportunities came my way. I read, I engaged and I kept on taking steps. I look back now and I thank the person I was who broke free, and I recognise that I have through that process grown into more of who I am. Being stuck in my own ‘downs’ did serve me, by getting me to understand that my prison was one of my own construction. I was the jailer and I had the keys.
Certainly my own ‘downs’ were not as deep as some people do experience. Fortunately for all of us we don’t need to experience really deep ‘downs’ in life in order for us to have an appreciation of the positive ‘ups’ that we have in our lives. Sometimes we can consider the lives of those less fortunate than ourselves and then by comparison any challenges we face can melt like snow on a hot stove in front of our eyes. I recently read the Diving-Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby. Bauby was editor of Elle magazine in the late 1990s when, at the age of 44, he suffered a massive stroke that left him almost entirely paralyzed, his only conscious movement that remained was his ability to blink his right eye. This then was his only means of communicating with the outside world. Despite this crushing disability he was able, by blinking, to dictate his book about his experiences in hospital and re-tell stories form his life. He also established the first association for people, like himself, who were suffering from Locked in Syndrome. He died of pneumonia only a few days after the book was published, a year after his stroke. As you might imagine Bauby suffered deeply from his physical difficulties and yet his mind was active and free to consider the great experiences that he had enjoyed in life and was still able to consider being of service to others despite his predicament.
I think we can all draw courage from the likes of Frankl and Bauby to make the most out of our own lives. Courage isn’t about feeling no fear in trying times, instead it is about taking action despite feeling fearful. You have the power to spring free from any stuck situation that you’re in, but do not wait for the cavalry or a knight in shining armour to come and save you, become your own liberator.
“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Wayne Dyer