It is a bit ironic that at some point in our lives we often come to realize that our growth, our ability to begin to choose how we are in the world, lies outside, or at least at the edges of our comfort zone, of what is familiar and that sense of safety that is so important for children.
In the world of infants and children, we place a lot of emphasis on schedules and routines. Infants and young children in particular, need this type of structure because it supports a foundation of safety and familiarity that will allow them to explore and thrive. Those regular experiences of knowing what comes next, of caring adults that help them manage their emotions, along with messages that they are loved and valued, help build positive guiding beliefs and an ability to manage their emotions or level of stress.
Our guiding beliefs become an anchor for us, one that we rely on as a way to make meaning in an uncertain world. Inevitably we all develop some guiding beliefs that serve us well, and some that don’t. Yet our perceived sense of safety, our comfort zone, tends to be grounded in those guiding beliefs, whether they are in our best interest or not. And as we get older, we tend to invest a significant amount of effort into holding onto what we know, to maintaining that sense of familiarity and safety.
Life provides us with many opportunities to travel to the edges of our comfort zone. In my own life, I try to travel there willingly, though there are times when I find myself feeling shipwrecked on the edges, or even beyond the edges of my comfort zone. In contrast to what is familiar, this is a place of little certainty or predictability. Increasingly though, I am coming to realize that these edges are at the intersection of what I think I know and the realm of unlimited possibilities: new ways of understanding, the ability to choose how I respond, the capacity to see the world with a sense of wonder and curiosity.
I regularly find myself wanting to shy (or run!) away from the edge for the familiarity of what I know, and though I may feel safer, I realize more and more the extent to which I am closing down avenues of exploration and experience. As I move away from this perceived sense of safety, my options multiply. This can be a little or very terrifying, depending on where we come from and the stories we have written (beliefs we have adopted) about our journey. For me, those stories too often have to do with guarding against vulnerability. Still, I keep coming back because what lies in and around the edge of what I think I know, in that fertile ground, is a world of infinite opportunities; the entire realm between black and white, yes and no, all of the dualistic thinking of my automatic mind that can limit so much of who I am. As Yoda says, “you must unlearn what you have learned”. As I make efforts to unlearn what I have learned, I also begin to make new meaning of old experiences, and new choices freer of old constraints.