I’ve been doing a little experiment, 30 Days of Freedom. It was all on Facebook, so if you haven’t seen it, find me and friend up! It has really been an interesting ride and frankly, I can’t recommend my experiment enough. The idea was to consciously choose an action every day that made me feel more free.
Some of the things that I chose to do were concrete, tangible, like jumping on my kids’ trampoline. Other actions really brought me face to face with how I think and how that makes me feel. And that’s the real lesson here for all of the freedom assignments I gave myself. The real lesson lies in the conscious examination of what was going on in my head that made me feel constrained, confined, limited. It’s life coaching 101, and I got a thirty day dose. I claim feeling more free as my goal, which means consciously looking in the spaces of constraint and limitation is a must.
Jumping on my kids’ trampoline wasn’t about having fun, although it was, mostly, fun. It wasn’t about looking silly, although that was surely part of it as well. It was about challenging my tendency to dismiss moments of silliness and play in favor of productivity and work. It was about finding the playfulness that I forget is just as important as the other things I feel. It was about firmly telling my inner timekeeper that I really DID have 10 minutes to go outside (without walking the dog) and simply play. This is a thought that I need to consciously practice. I could come up with a neat explanation for why my head works that way, but it’s not really the point. What’s really important is seeing what I’m thinking and challenging it, questioning, asking if it serves me, and if it doesn’t, trying on a different thought.
The importance of the thoughts over the actions I was choosing to take became crystal clear to me over the weekend. My sister and I had cooked up a long weekend at the Delaware shore with our families. My kids were really excited to see and get in the ocean, and I was excited to see it and spend time away with loved ones. As we prepared for the trip I began to think about my freedom challenge, and my recent lack of enthusiasm for really getting in the ocean (beyond say calf deep). It occurred to me that this could be a great freedom challenge. I used to get in the ocean. I’m pretty sure I enjoyed that. At some point I became more aware of large and dangerous sea creatures and that combined with a growing sense of my own mortality convinced me that calf high was just about right. But that policy felt limiting. It felt uncomfortable. I felt like I was missing out. So I hatched a plan to really do it this time, to get in, to share the ocean with my kids the way my Mom shared it with me, fully immersed and jumping over waves.
The first day we were there I sort of used as my prep day. I stared the ocean down a bit, while marveling at the beauty. I felt myself get used to the chilly water. I felt the salt on my skin and in the air. I watched my kids and my nephew and remembered how much fun it was. I prepared. On Friday, I vowed, I would get in. I would challenge this fear to release myself from it. I would be more free… tomorrow.
And so Friday came, and with it came monster waves. I have NEVER seen waves like that in the Mid-Atlantic. They were Hawaii quality waves. They were giant. They were relentless. The undertow was VERY strong. The red flags were up on the lifeguard chairs down on the guarded beach. And so I sat with my challenge. And I felt ashamed. I felt ashamed of being afraid. I felt ashamed of waiting to claim a little freedom. I felt ashamed of the fact that I did not want to get in that ocean. I felt ashamed of reigning my kids in and limiting their experience, afraid I was just foisting limiting baggage onto them. I got myself pretty hemmed in with all of that shame and fear. It felt pretty awful.
And then I remembered. I remembered that my freedom challenge wasn’t about doing things I was afraid of. It was about the reasons. It was about the thoughts. It was about the stories I tell myself about what I choose and don’t choose. Watching grown men and women exit the ocean out of breath and a little scared proved to be all the data I needed to snap out of it. I wasn’t letting fear RULE me, I was choosing. I was choosing for me and choosing for my feather-weight kids. I was choosing based on the information that was all around me, not because of my ancient distrust of sharks. I was CHOOSING. THAT is what it feels like to be free, I just didn’t recognize it. I got so caught up in changing my behavior I forgot to look at what I was thinking. I have been afraid of the ocean because of sharks. This weekend I was afraid of not being a strong enough swimmer to guide myself and my kids through the roughest surf I have ever been in. THAT is different. I looked around and noticed that all of the other Moms thought it was different too.
The only thing that was keeping me from being free in the surf this weekend was me. I set myself up and then tore myself down for being a responsible parent. I set myself up and then forgot about the whole point. I forgot that I have the power to choose the story I tell myself. I forgot that I have the power to make decisions as I like, as they serve me, that I can choose to feel shame or I can choose to simply choose presence in the face of the sand and surf. I can choose disappointment for my children or I can choose gratitude for the experience that we WERE having, which was pretty amazing. I can choose what I call freedom for me and choose how and when I push those boundaries. I can choose. Free.