The concept of stretching comfort zones is fast becoming a cultural cliché. And it’s typically just something people say to placate themselves from actually doing any real stretching. But it’s still vitally important that we do so. Stretching comfort zones isn’t supposed to be comfortable. It’s supposed to be challenging. There is pain involved, but it’s more like eustress, a beneficial stress.
If you’re not being challenged, then you’re probably not stretching yourself enough. If you’re nice and cozy in the kingdom of your ideals, surrounded by the moat of your precious worldview, then chances are your comfort zone is more akin to a boundary than a horizon. Time to do some stretching. Perhaps some traveling is in order. Or maybe find a giant’s shoulder to stand on.
Standing on the shoulders of giants is a kind of coup de maître, a masterstroke of genius. Now open up your mind. Humor when stretched is vulnerability. Vulnerability when stretched is love. Love when stretched is courage. Courage when stretched is adventure. And adventure, as philosopher George Santayana put it, “sharpens the edge of life.” Let’s break it down…
Humor when stretched is vulnerability
“Truth is known at precisely that point in time when nobody gives a shit.” ~ Charles Simic
It all starts with a good sense of humor, a healthy disposition, an open-minded character, a glass-is-half-full temperament in a turbulent world. Having a good sense of humor doesn’t mean the ability to make jokes, necessarily. It means the ability to take a joke, to roll with the punches.
It means the ability to laugh at the cosmic joke instead of being the butt-end of it. “Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not;” wrote Sir Francis Bacon, “a sense of humor to console him for what he is.” What we are is a fallible, imperfect, fumbling, stumbling, naked ape that imagines it’s an infallible, perfect, humbled, enlightened god. And so both imagination and humor need to be stretched in order to attain true vulnerability.
If, as Katheryn Schultz says, “Fallibility is something like mortality, another trait that is implicit in the word “human”,” then true, existential vulnerability is only achieved when we are able to embrace our own mortality. It’s accepting that we are a fallible species that’s prone to mistakes. It’s being okay with being imperfect. It’s when we can genuinely let go of any preconceived notions or culturally programmed ideas of perfection, that we really feel what it’s like to be vulnerable. Such vulnerability is the source of everything we are hungry for, the catalyst for the love and the courage still to come.
Vulnerability when stretched is love
“There can be no transformation in the world outside unless there is transformation from within. It is our responsibility to bring about a radical transformation within ourselves.” ~ Krishnamurti
Vulnerability is the staging ground for growth, the soft fertile garden where all potential flourishing takes root, the starting line for the path toward enlightenment. When we are able to shed our rigid armor and allow our unsheathed essence to bloom, we discover that love is the flower of vulnerability.
We come to see how an armored and invulnerable heart only stifles love, as it seeks to contain or trap love in an overly protective and paranoid safety net. But contained love is not love at all. It’s obsession. It’s possession. Vulnerability teaches us that love is only love when it is free. Like Osho said, “Love is not about possession. Love is about appreciation.”
An invulnerable heart seeks possession, a vulnerable heart seeks appreciation. Even in the face of loss, and maybe even especially in the face of loss, appreciation is what makes love burn beyond finitude, beyond our own mortality. Because the vulnerable heart, previously stretched by humor, already understands the nature of mortality and impermanence. So give us vulnerability. Give us unpredictability. Give us loss. And with it we will create joy. We will create connection. We will create appreciation. We will create love!
Love when stretched is courage
“Being deeply loved gives you strength; while loving deeply gives you courage.” ~ Lao Tzu
Loving deeply gives us courage precisely because we long to be free. Having stretched humor into vulnerability and vulnerability into love, we see how freedom is paramount in order for life to be an enjoyable experience.
The courage that rises inside us is a willingness to risk ourselves for the sake of freedom, so that love can be lived through, cultivated and allowed to flourish into joy. Like Dawna Markova said, “I choose to risk my significance; to live so that which came to me as seed, goes to the next as blossom, and that which came to me as blossom, goes on as fruit.”
In order to reap such fruit, we must be willing to sow some courage. In order for love to remain free it must daily be fought for, and usually in the face of oppressive tyranny. Like Brené Brown said, “Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow.” Love is nurtured by our having the audacity to uphold it, despite those who would undermine it.
It grows through tiny acts of courage that continue the evolution of the human leitmotif. We live in order to love. Without love life is meaningless. Fighting for love, stretching love, brings meaning to the meaninglessness and our life becomes a courageous and open adventure.
Courage when stretched is adventure
“The only way that we can live, is if we grow. The only way that we can grow is if we change. The only way that we can change is if we learn. The only way we can learn is if we are exposed. And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open. Do it. Throw yourself.” ~ C. Joybell C.
When we’re able to trump fear with courage and inertia with action, the road to adventure opens up. Adventure begins when we stop trying to remain the same and start being okay with what it means to change. We need to stop operating under the outdated story of fear and scarcity.
Let’s update our story with courage and abundance so that life does not elude us. I beseech you, you who would live a full life of adventure and self-discovery, your path begins at the perceived limits of your comfort zone. Stretch it. Take the first step and a life well-lived shall not elude you. Like Kurt Vonnegut wittily quipped, “We are here on earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.”
Those telling us different are the ones who are scared of change. They live fear-based lifestyles despite themselves. They are humorless, and therefore averse to vulnerability, love and courage.
“The hero-adventure begins with someone from whom something has been taken, or who feels there is something lacking in the normal experience available or permitted to the members of society,” writes Joseph Campbell. “The person then takes off on a series of adventures beyond the ordinary, either to recover what has been lost or to discover some life-giving elixir. It’s usually a cycle, a coming and a returning.”
How will we come and return? How will we leave and come back? How will we occur and reoccur? What life-giving elixir is out there waiting for us to discover, to bring back to the ones we love? Where will we discover that “something lacking” that we can bring back to our culture in order to vitalize and catalyze it into overcoming itself and evolving into a healthier and more sustainable future?
Who will be that hero? Who will dare take off on a series of self-discovering adventures? Answer: the one who understands that humor when stretched is vulnerability; vulnerability when stretched is love; love when stretched is courage; and courage when stretched is adventure.