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Opening up to a closed world: 5 tips from Esther Perel on embracing vibrancy and breaking through fear

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I just booked a ticket from Bangkok to London. I don’t know about you but I feel like I’ve completely forgotten how to travel. And I admit, I am slightly terrified.

I’ve gotten used to where I am, being in one place, confined, and by limiting my movement.

The uncertainty of travel restrictions, the possibility of future looming COVID-19 variants, and the recent tensions that might escalate Russia and Ukraine into war all loom overhead and hold me back from wanting to travel.

But, when I find that I’m afraid to do something, I tend to lean into my fear.

I do this because if I know that if wait, I can easily talk myself out of anything. I do this because it’s easier to stay in a place of comfort, and not take risks.

And I don’t want to live my life from a place of fear.

How can we break through fear?: Lessons from Esther Perel

I think there’s some really good advice about leaning into discomfort and fear from the renowned relationship psychotherapist Esther Perel.

As the child of two Holocaust survivors, growing up amongst a community of refugees in Belgium, she noticed that there seemed to be two types of people that came out of the trauma of war:

Those who survived and those who thrived.

She asked herself, what is the fundamental difference of each mindset?

Why are some people able to regain their lives and live vibrantly and full of passion or eros, while others regain their freedom and continue on life in fear, passively going through it, and clinging to any comfort they can find.

As the world starts to open up again, perhaps you too are experiencing some fear when you are trying to decide what to do next in life, like: where to travel, who to spend time with, or which job to take.

So, I’ve compiled five profound tips from Esther’s writing to share with you if you feel overwhelmed by uncertainty. So that you can feel more vibrant and courageous as you take on your next uncomfortable, new challenge.

Let’s jump right in:

1) Live your glorious life

“The more we trust, the farther we can venture.” – Esther Perel

There’s such a close relationship between excitement and terror.

As I mentioned, I’m excited to go to London but it also raises a feeling of fear. I am invited to go to a publishing conference and celebrate the work that I’ve created over the past eight years.

But then hesitation started to creep in.

What if the borders close again quickly? What if I can’t get back to my current location? Why do I need to go? Isn’t it better just to stay where I am and keep writing?

I started to shift my mindset.

What if instead of thinking of myself as a passive observer at the Book Fair, I instead go as an active participant?

I trusted that I am making the right decision.

I started to imagine what I would wear, what my business cards and portfolio will look like, who I will meet, the discussions I’d like to experience, what my latest book will look like printed and ready in hand, and actively attending the workshops and fully engaging with the opportunity.

Then this journey started to feel worth it. Like it’s a wonderful adventure opening up in front of me.

So I’d like to ask you: How do you live your life?

Esther reminds us that with a deep sense of trust in our ability to judge and act, we can transform how we experience life.

Are you trusting your decisions? And pushing into new realms? And seeing what experiences will pour out of them.

Or are you letting it pass you by and responding to it?

Where do you place your trust? And how are you living your life?

2) Be liquid

“Modern relationships are cauldrons of contradictory longings: safety and excitement, grounding and transcendence, the comfort of love and the heat of passion We want it all, and we want it with one person.” – Esther Perel

Are you placing all your hopes and dreams on one person who may be in your life or someone that you are dreaming of?

Sometimes when we are in close relationships or even deeply hope for one, we can hold ourselves back from taking on new experiences in life.

Yet, the more we embrace opportunities and challenges that fuel our sense of confidence and courage, the better we are to handle the dynamic nature of our relationships.

The more confidence we build facing life unabashed, the more attractive we become.

Bravely adapting to new experiences pulls people towards us, not away.

The more we embrace life, the more compelling and magnetic we become to others.

I realized to make to travel to another country on a one-way ticket, for me means I also don’t know exactly when I’m coming back to my current location. I quickly have to downsize my life to a carry-on piece of luggage and 30 kg of checked baggage.

It feels daunting and easier to stay where I am. But I also see this ability to pack and go as ultimate freedom.

Travel light in life, change, adapt, move and stay liquid. It’s one way that you can set your passion on fire.

Sometimes the change is made quickly for us and it’s out of our hands. Perhaps we have to flee conflict, global circumstances change, or people leave us. But how we adapt and respond is in our control.

Are you able to let go of the things you hold close and open up to change and new possibilities?

Can you transcend your sense of safety to embrace excitement?

The difference between a playful adventure and a logistical nightmare can be switched by your mindset. But this comes with building inner confidence.

3) Be vulnerable

“The quality of your life ultimately depends on the quality of your relationships.” – Esther Perel

One way to live life more vibrantly is to learn how to open up to others and be vulnerable.

So much of our happiness can be how we connect with others.

Additionally, when we invite our partners to open up to us, we also have to respect their freedom of choice.

When we ask them “will you join me?” or “will you please share what’s on your mind?” they may say “yes”, “no”, or “maybe another time”.

How they respond has a lot to do with how we invite them. And it’s ok for someone to not want to open up and vice versa. There’s a fine line between healthy and toxic relationships.

Esther goes on to explain:

“When the impulse to share becomes obligatory, when personal boundaries are no longer respected, when only the shared space of togetherness is acknowledged and private space is denied, fusion replaces intimacy and possession co-opts love.”

Part of living a vibrant life is to allow the people we love to feel our loyalty but also a sense of freedom. It can be hard to freely love someone without restaining them.

Do you find that you latch on to someone too quickly? Especially when they make you feel alive, vibrant, and happy?

Do you tend to form a sense of codependency?

Codependency tends to start with the idea that you need someone else in your life to make you happy.

I came across this talk by Rudá Iandê which confronts the way we approach our relationships.

Rudá gently reminds us of a practical way to focus our attention back on ourselves so that we act from a place of grounded understanding and joy, and not from a needy place of unfulfillment.

When you feel more comfortable being open and intimate and sharing yourself just as you are, because you naturally feel more confident and comfortable inside, then you can start to take your relationships to a higher level of intimacy and vibrancy.

Check out his free video here

4) Embrace love and friendship

“Love rests on two pillars: surrender and autonomy. Our need for togetherness exists alongside our need for separateness.” – Esther Perel

The past two years we’ve been encouraged to isolate, to communicate digitally, and stay more alone.

Now it’s time to rebuild our fragile connections again. To open up to real-time, and face-to-face encounters.

To get used to seeing someone’s smile, share full facial expressions, and give and receive tangible affection and kindness.

Have you noticed how you act around others? Have your patterns and behaviors closed off? For example:

  • Is your body language closed off?
  • Are you able to greet someone openly?
  • Are you present and looking at someone when they speak with you?
  • Are you approaching someone with a sense of fear? Or from a place of love?

It will take some time to feel at ease again with being closer to one another, and amongst large groups and social settings.

Just take notice if you are have developed some patterns you can start to address and shift so that you can feel more connected to feel close to others.

I have my friend’s voice in my ear “Sarah, just get on the plane”.

As independent as I am, I hesitate to take up offers from my friends. I booked my flight and one friend offered a place to stay, another a spare room, another a training opportunity, another a workshop that I can run while in the city. I took a risk and kindness and opportunity extended themselves to me.

Sometimes we can be so independent that we forget to receive the help of others.

Are you comfortable with that? How do you step between the worlds of being separate and connected? Of giving and receiving? Of being independent and closely connected?

5) Embrace the unexpected

“We seek connection, predictability, and dependability to root us firmly in place. But we also have a need for change, for the unexpected, for transcendence.” – Esther Perel

Last month, I took an impromptu journey that I thought would last a week, but I ended up carrying on for a month.

I kept looking back over my shoulder, is it possible to move like this and travel again? Surely no.

What will happen if I get stuck here? What if the rules change?

But I found that the more I moved, the easier it got.

As Esther reminds us, it’s important to embrace the unexpected. When you stay in one place all of the time, you can grow stagnant and lose momentum.

Changing your environment can immediately expose you to new views, ideas, and conversations.

Embrace change. Mix it up

I left my island blonde and came back a brunette. I haven’t been to the salon in over three years. I was never one for much pampering, but because it’s so novel, it’s even more precious. And I’m enjoying the new persona.

I booked a one-way ticket to London. I have a rough outline of my travel plan. But I also know this will change.

Make a plan, take a risk. And remember that life will always throw unexpected events and challenges  in front of you.

This is the joy of travel. Being actively engaged in the world and open to new possibilities can help us to embrace a sense of vibrancy and cultivate our inner passion and sense of purpose.

Travel, for me, has always provided a fresh space and time to live in a way that is not forced or restricted.

When I am in a new and unfamiliar, I can see my life stretching out and opening before me.

It’s easy to say that travel right now is not practical or wise. It’s reckless, crazy. Some people will tell you that it’s impossible.

But whether you move throughout your neighborhood or into a foreign land, how do you move?

How do you stay committed to the chaotic flow of opportunity?

Are you living from a place of fear or a place of vibrancy?

Embrace your fear and  write your own story

“When you pick a partner, you pick a story. So what kind of story are you going to write?” (Esther Perel)

As Esther reminds us, the way we live our life largely depends on the stories that we tell ourselves about who we are and about the people around us.

As we start to see ways to live life more vibrantly, we can also look more closely at the stories that create for ourselves.

Being in the world can give me plenty of inspiration and ideas, but then again sometimes life gets too loud and moves too fast to keep up with and it’s important to check in with our inner state.

Rudá’s talk similarly encourages us to go deeper into this internal investigation. He invites us into a deep form of inquiry about how we relate and go through the world.

What is something you believe that may no longer be true? How would your life look differently if you began to question this story?

What are some new beliefs and stories that can support a sense of vibrancy?

It’s easy to identify what you don’t want. What you do want might be more elusive. And it’s hard to capture and hold on to what we truly want. But facing our fears with a strong sense of inner confidence can be the difference between surviving or thriving.

As you gain more insights into our perilous condition, perhaps you can allow yourselves to be filled, full, or fulfilled more with your own splendor rather than seeking it out in others.

Whatever growing sense of freedom you seek, remember to first look within.

Lean into the fear. Be vibrant. Then leap!

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