“There is an inmost center in us all, where truth abides in fullness;
… and, to know, rather consists in opening out a way
where the imprisoned splendor may escape,
then in effecting entry for a light supposed to be without.”
Robert Browning, Imprisoned Splendor
Obtaining internal freedom is a lifelong process. And it begins with bravely cracking the door open, peaking inside, and letting a thin ray of light escape. Whether you are a bust the door down and do it all at once kind of person or approach by guardedly inching the door open, we are working towards allowing our splendor to shine! Sounds great, right? Who does not want freedom?
People tell me they avoid taking that first step and cracking open the door because they fear finding darkness instead of splendor. What if I find out I am not enough? What if I find out I cannot? What if, what if, what if……
The story fear tells is always from a place of scarcity. Fear does not usually start with “what if I am loveable and really good at art” or “what if I am capable.”
To help begin creating these openings and start freely discovering your authentic self, consider the following the next time your fear challenges you.
1. Do NOT believe everything you think or feel! Contrary to the common saying “you are what you think” most thoughts are involuntary! They are a complex myriad of news clippings, headlines, sayings, old wise tales, science, story, mental health, popular opinion, values, fears, passions, and whatever else your brain has absorbed over your lifetime! From the moment we enter the world we are inundated with information about the world, ourselves, others, thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. Even my shampoo tells me how I should dress and feel. Step back and ask yourself, “is this my thought? Does this reflect my values?” Practice allowing thoughts and emotions to exist without believing them. If this is a skill you want to improve CBT and other therapy modalities are designed to help people learn skills to better respond to and cope with thoughts and emotions. Outside of therapy, self-help groups such as 12 step programs, religious organizations, meditation, and yoga also teach skills to reflect and choose different responses.
2. Accept that we ALL have “darkness”! Call it darkness, short-comings, struggles, limitations, weaknesses, ailments, whatever word resonates with you. Practice accepting that this is part of the human condition and stop judging it! Acceptance is a process of being able to acknowledge reality as it is, without getting lost in labeling and changing. The existence of this does not dim one’s splendor! In fact, owning our own shadow allows us to let our light shine and allows us to continue growing! Acceptance is not an excuse, but rather an invitation to work with reality! As discussed above we do not even have control over all our thoughts so the next time you have a mean thought pop in, practice not trying to interpret or assign meaning, but allow it to simply drift by, like clouds in a windy sky, and then choose a behavior that is in line with your goals.
3. “Darkness” is not dangerous! Darkness, i.e., shortcomings often result in tough emotions like sadness, fear, loneliness, anxiety or frustration. I used to joke with people and say “feelings, the other F word.” In a society that celebrates “greatness” and teaches that we need to “control” our emotions people have mistakenly been taught to avoid and “get rid of” the feelings instead of facing and feeling them. The truth is despite being extremely uncomfortable, feelings are not dangerous. And without some of these co-called “negative” emotions humanity would have died off long ago. For example, healthy anxiety levels often lead to innovation and completion of tasks. Fear helped man avoid being eaten by sabretooth tigers! When we avoid looking within, we teach our brains we cannot manage our emotions. We teach ourselves to view these emotions as a threat. So next time you want to slam the door shut, spend time with the feared trait, memory, or emotion you are trying to avoid.
Freedom, like Browning's poem is all about learning the truth about who we really are. Our truth is not dangerous, our imperfections are not dangerous, and embracing them instead of running from them cultivates growth, love, and choice. For today, refuse to be a slave to your thoughts and emotions. Stop frantically running from what you fear might be within and allow your inner splendor to shine!
Pro Tip: Let’s not reinvent the wheel! There are THOUSANDS of resources on how to obtain internal freedom! Here is a brief list of just some of my favorites:
· Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
· The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer
· The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown
· The Subtle Art of Not Giving an F**k by Mark Manson
· Owning Your Own Shadow by Robert Johnson
· Freedom from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder by Jonathan Grayson
· Stopping the Noise in Your Head by Reid Wilson (Or any of his books)
· 10% Happier by Dan Harris
· The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris