Striking out into the unknown can be scary. But as we wade into uncharted waters – our hearts beating, our knees wobbling – there is never any doubt that we are alive. This is where life is the richest, and most true. This is where real growth happens. Living in safety nets is a trap. Somehow it seems many of us have gotten it all turned around, and we are seeking comfort, blindly numbing ourselves into lives of oblivion. We’re insulating and isolating ourselves in misguided attempts at self-preservation. The odd fireside night curled up on the couch is all well and good, but if wrapping ourselves in this sort of luxury has become our chief aim, I think it’s time to get back to the drawing board. I only speak about this after living many years trying to secure myself and everything around me to prevent any attack from the ‘dangerous world of the unknown’.
Without seeing it, I was choking myself. I thought I was being smart and strong, weighing every breath before drawing it in, but I was actually preventing myself from truly living. I was building unconscious walls between myself and real life. Stepping into the unknown is frightening, but it is also thrilling, and always rewarding. If we reflect carefully upon the lessons of our courageous forays into the unknown, we will gradually become more willing to throw ourselves into uncertainty, trusting that we can handle it, and learn something of worth.
I learned this as I cycled around Europe. I bought a bike in Madrid and rode for about six-and-a-half months, covering just over 7500 kilometres. I rarely had a map with me and I often rode with no real idea where I was going, following little more than my compass and a whim. These were my braver days. It took a little while to build up to that point – though not as much as you may think. But what I discovered was that over time, living in new surroundings, meeting new people, tasting new foods, discussing new ideas, and trying to speak new languages, I was constantly forced out of my safety net, and I began habituating a heightened alertness to all around me. Instead of feeling anxious about not firmly knowing everything about my surroundings, I began developing a trust of life, completely unconsciously.
I would often stop to couchsurf in cities that I passed through, sometimes staying a week or more to explore, and rest my body. Without fail, every time I left a city to resume my ride, it felt like the first time again – butterflies in my belly, wondering what was around the corner. This taught me something. Stepping into the unknown is always going to feel a bit scary, and we need not try to change that. But we can develop the willingness to step out anyway, changing our attitude about uncertainty, teaching ourselves to embrace it. This is revolutionary, and surprisingly simple.
Courage is not about being fearless, it’s about stepping forward in the face of fear. We can be brave despite ourselves. Even when we don’t feel especially strong, we can fake it, behaving as a brave soul would, thus teaching ourselves what it feels like. And if a particular fear has beaten us before, we don’t need to believe it will beat us always. We can simply shift our perspective and understand instead that we have been chipping away at that fear, weakening it over the years, and all it takes is one bold step to cut through it and abolish it forever. Fears may look serious as they stand in front of us, but they are almost always laughable in the rear-view mirror.
So do something that scares you. You will grow. And you will be glad you did it. Give yourself permission to make mistakes. And try not to take yourself too seriously – this is a huge obstacle to living a full life. Here again, I speak only from experience. I was caught up in my own mind for much of my life, taking everything I did, made, said and thought so seriously that I had painted myself into a little corner of cowardice, too frozen and afraid to take a single step out of it.
But life finally cracked me open and broke me down – and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. So let’s step out into the unknown together and let life break us down a little more. In braving this chaos, we’re actually being built up, becoming stronger and gentler. Our endurance strengthens, our patience deepens, and our compassion broadens. Only through this surrender to the inherent intelligence of life can we be taught and brought to exactly where we need to be. Right here. Free of the need to know, and loving it…