IMG_1497“Life begins on the edge of your comfort zone.”

How close to your edge have you ventured lately?

This month, as our nation celebrates its independence, I’m also celebrating my personal independence that has led me to a more fulfilling life. Mindfulness has helped me free myself of habitual ways of thinking and doing and that awareness has given me confidence to expand the edges of my comfort zone and move forward.  Courage grows when you venture to the edge of your comfort zone and dip your toes in the waters of fear.

Mark Nepo, in a passage from his inspiring The Book of Awakening uses the metaphor of aIMG_1684 rosebud to show how we tend to cling to what is familiar. “It is instructive, if chilling, that in floral shops the roses that won’t open are called bullets. They are discarded because they will never bloom. They have turned in on themselves so tightly that they can never release their fragrance.” And as Mark goes on to illustrate, we can become accustomed to being closed, but unlike a rose, we have more than one chance to bloom throughout our lifetime. “We can flower in an instant, as soon as the pain of not flowering and not loving become greater than our fear.”

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Are you closed up in fear? I think a big fear many of us have is of our image. Of changing who we are for fear of judgment or ridicule or failure. Is it really easier to keep conforming to expectations people have of you? Or can you set your fear aside and stand up to your true self?

A few months ago, while engaged in conversation with someone I’d just met and was hiking with, I mentioned I’d written and published a book. He chuckled and said “Really? You’re a fitness trainer, and you’ve written a book…I guess I’ll have to buy it.” Later that week he did buy it and told me how impressed he was. It was obvious that he had a stereotypical impression of a trainer as a “dumb jock” who never reads anything except the sports page, never mind writes. On the other hand, my old high school boyfriend who contacted me recently on Facebook could picture me as a writer but definitely not as a trainer. He hasn’t known me or seen me since I was 18, when I wasn’t good at team sports and loved to read and explore nature. It made me think how often we hold onto images of who people are from our earliest impressions. If you’ve been to a high school reunion after 10 years or more you may have observed how many people are not who they were back then, while others have remained true to their old image.

When I am mindful I notice when I make judgments of people based on the last time I saw them. We all deserve a second chance. And perhaps even more importantly, when spouses or friends or family grow and change, if we are mindful we can appreciate how they’ve bloomed, as opposed to being unmindful and disrespectful and holding on to the image of who they used to be, still accusing them of old habits. When we’re mindful, we’re not stuck in the past, and that also means letting go of pain people caused in your past. Maybe they’re trying to make up for it now, and it’s hard to forgive them, but now is all we have. The pain of holding on to past pain can be greater than accepting the love they’re offering now.

Like the cicadas that have come outside in some parts of the country this year after 17 years of life underground, I have allowed my creative and spiritual self to bloom through the publication of my book Twelve Mindful Months. If you have been following my blogs the past year you are aware of the fears I faced. My writing, photography and spirituality have been growing within me for quite some time – and now that side has come out to the world. We can have multitudes of knowledge but if we’re not actually practicing it in the world we’re not manifesting it, and it has less meaning. I have allowed myself to open because I could not hide that side of me any longer. We all are given gifts and they are meant to be shared. This month think about what fears keep you shutdown from experiencing your true nature. Are you busying yourself with your home or your career or spending money on material things to avoid doing what you really need to do to feel whole? Joy emerges from within when we meet our soul purpose and feel complete. Practice mindfulness and free yourself of fears that keep you stuck and from people who keep you from blooming. Live to your full potential and celebrate your independence.