I’ve been feeling – and behaving – like a trapped animal lately. What with working from home, being unwell for a while, the snow, social cancellations and so forth, I haven’t been getting out of the house as much as I would like. Are these just excuses? Maybe, but they feel real. They’ve definitely kept me stuck. I don’t do well with that trapped feeling, I never have, and since having 3&1/2 months of freedom on the trails, I feel it even more.
But the crazy truth is, and this is something I’ve learned over the past couple of years (yet still have trouble reminding myself of), I’m not actually trapped. I never have been and never will be. Yes, there are sometimes challenges and obstacles in the way, but I am a free person. We are all free people. We have free will, enjoy incredible freedom (compared to many countries in this world), and live a life of relative luxury where, for the most part, we can prioritise where we spend our money. Yet I know I’m not alone in feeling from time to time like I am stuck, trapped, not in control. So where does this feeling of being trapped come from?
I heard a story a while ago (which I think is a true one but I’ll caveat this by admitting I haven’t actually checked because it’s a good analogy) of how elephants are trained to not stray from where they are tethered. When they are young, a chain is placed around their leg with the other end being tied to a big stake, limiting their movement to a circle dictated by the length of the chain. At first, the baby elephants pull against it, try to break free, but the chain is stronger than them. Eventually, they learn that when the chain is around their leg, they cannot move far, and stop trying. When the elephant grows big and strong – far stronger than the chain and stake – it still believes that the chain will prevent it venturing beyond its length. So it doesn’t even try! It stays there, trapped by the belief in the strength of that chain, not knowing its own power.
I believe that similar beliefs keep us feeling trapped. The chains in our case are rarely physical. Often, they relate to fear. It might be fear of lack of money, fear of hurting someone, or fear of the unknown. Sometimes it can even be fear of success! It’s often not until we make a move that we realise that the chain was not as strong as we thought, or, perhaps more to the point, that we are stronger than we thought. Think of time you finally plucked up the courage to do something you’d been putting off. It might have been something really small, like picking up the phone to make a call (for me, even calling to make a hairdresser’s appointment is terrifying!). But once it was done, how did it feel? Most likely, it was a little bit of exhilaration from having conquered that tiny fear (even if it’s just for now…) and relief at having done it. For me at the moment, a biggie is getting outdoors for a proper walk in nature. I’m not going to lie, that was quite a shock to me! I kind of thought that after my big walk I’d be practically living outdoors, but for one reason or other, it has been hard to get out. I make excuses; it’s too hard, too cold, too far, too much time. Yet when I do get outside, when I make myself do it, I love it. Absolutely love it. I feel alive. And utterly un-trapped! And I think, why on earth didn’t I do this sooner? I know how happy it makes me! Right now I am sat on a log by a stream in a beautiful wood, where the snow is still lying around. A curious robin has come to say hello and is flitting around near me, his orange breast a warm dash of colour amongst the greys and browns of winter. It’s freezing! But I’m wrapped up warm and I have a thermos of tea, and I feel more at peace than I have all week. And yes, I’ll have to go home soon, but a little bit of that peace will stay with me, and I’ll take it into the rest of my day and my weekend. When I’m feeling trapped, when something triggers me, I’ll close my eyes and think of this spot. Hear the tumbling water, smell the mingling of damp leaves and cold air, feel the bite of the frost on my fingers and remember the serenity in my heart. And I’ll know I’m not trapped. I’m as free as I choose to be.
And so, my challenge to you. What could you do now, that would give you a little bit of peace, a little bit of freedom. Even if it is just a few moments. It could be stepping outside, looking up at the sky, closing your eyes and taking a few deep lungfulls of fresh air. A quick shower with some luxurious body wash. A long soak in the bath. A cup of tea in the garden wrapped up in a blanket. Lighting a candle and gazing at it for a few minutes. I promise you it will make a difference. Take a bit of time to stop, breathe, and just be. You deserve it.