With the Joy of Freedom Comes the Fear of the Unknown. Embrace It.

“People often prefer a very limited, punishing regime—rather than face the anxiety of freedom.”

Along with the joy of freedom is a fear of the unknown. Freedom can be both exhilarating and unnerving. The conflict runs deep. When a rabbit runs free, it has to watch for the hawk. Hunter-gatherers feared going too far afield, knowing they might encounter wild beasts or danger from other clans.

Gandhi said, “Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.” Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Step out. Fly. Even if you get burned, you can fall back to earth and start again.

Zen Master Dogen laughingly called life “one continuous mistake.” Yes, there is the fear of looking bad, but later when you review your life, will you wish you had held back? Probably not.

Sometimes, we limit our own freedom because we think it will overwhelm us. Or we think we don’t deserve it. Or we fear that our ego will lead us astray, that we’ll get too big for our britches and try to fly without restraint. We worry that if we act and express our true freedom, we will burn up or take a gigantic fall, like in the myth of Icarus. We constrain ourselves from being “too free.”

Everyone stumbles. In the ordinary rhythm of life, we falter and then learn from our suffering. Sometimes we worry about our tendency to overreach, to dream up heady plans for ourselves, inflated visions of the future. Other times we feel inadequate or unworthy. Acknowledge these fears kindly. But don’t follow their advice.

Because modern life offers many possibilities, we may fear making a wrong choice. Listen to your heart, and consult your body and your head. Then, act, experiment, take a step, learn, discover, grow. You can enjoy even the mistakes; they are part of the game. All you can do is act with your best intentions, recognizing you cannot control the results.

Not knowing, a famous Zen practice, conveys the truth of life. Acting freely, you cede control of the outcome and willingly cast your unique spirit into the mystery. William McFee writes, “If fate means for you to lose, give him a good fight anyhow.”

Don’t worry when freedom seems daunting. In the Bible, angels of light always approach with the words, “Fear not.”

Philosopher Bertrand Russell says, “One should respect public opinion insofar as it necessary to avoid starvation and keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny.” Martha Graham amplifies, “No artist is ahead of his time. He is his time.”

No one has lived your life before. It is an adventure worth taking.

This excerpt is taken from Jack Kornfield’s book “No Time Like the Present: Finding Freedom, Love, and Joy Right Where You Are.” Copyright 2017

Photo Credit: Deborah Jaffe

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