10/27/2010 08:49 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Are You Living a Life Too Small?

A coach looks around his town in the state of New York and decides it needs a football team. Starting from Point Zero, he gains agreement, gathers a team, and refashions the way each member knows himself. Replacing individual names on their jerseys, the coach inscribes praiseworthy qualities.

One back reads "Integrity," another "Leadership," and so on. The young men step into their uniform, and onto the field transcending the it's-all-about-me way of playing, and instead assuming roles in a bigger game.

Now, as their coach prepares to leave for the Middle East, having been called up by the Naval Reserves, he does so knowing that his team is on a champion-level winning streak. Unheard of. From out of "Nowheresville," these young men are making a difference through discovering something much better is possible than what they'd previously believed.

We are, after all, here to play a bigger game.

How big a game are you playing? What's invisibly written on your "jersey"? What might others say, for it is they who see your backside? If there were one word keeping your life too small lately, what would it be? "Broke"? "Discouraged"? "Confused"? "Failing"? "Conflicted"? "Angry"? "Resentful"? "Scared"?

Right about now, mine would say "Limping." That's OK by me. I'm realizing that sometimes the down time is necessary in order to find a deeper freedom. How about you? Be honest, now. In those periods when you are not feeling on top of your game -- in those shadowy nooks and crannies when no one's around and you haven't gotten around to practice whatever uplifts you best, be it meditation, exercise, time in nature, doodling, singing, dreaming, volunteering, creating, whatever -- how do you sometimes look at yourself and fail to see bigger possibilities? It's easy to do. It does not, however, need to be a permanent condition.

The saddest thing is to confuse what is transient with what's permanent. We've seen a lot of this around the world lately: losses, profound disappointments, fear. You've no doubt noticed that bad can lead to worse with too limited a perspective. Anyone who's ever had a loved one commit suicide knows the truth of this.

Whenever you believe that the present state of turbulence is destined to become a permanent condition, trouble brews.

Young people are particularly at risk. Tending to believe their pain will last forever, they, like a number of adults, too often seek final solutions for short-term problems, which can begin with the but-everybody's-doing-it kind of drinking, drugging, fast living until the clock runs out and there's no turning back. It's too hard, for too many, to trust that spring will come again, even in the worst psycho-spiritual winter. But it will, if we are willing to persist and reconsider what's at stake. Something better comes for those willing to put in the "sweat equity" of personal scrutiny.

Whenever we give in to fear, we need to be called out. Not unlike Rumpelstiltskin, we might not like it. We might even throw a hissy fit. Nonetheless, this is the precise time when we rename how we see ourselves so that we can advance in the direction of liberation from what burdens and holds our spirit captive. Perhaps we are called out by a remarkable coach, teacher, friend, family member. It does take a village after all.

Or, if the situation is serious enough, you can depend upon the fact that the call will come from within, the place of Original Authority. Maybe the wake-up call will come from that sort of numinous dream that carries a wallop, or an uncanny symptom, or the return of a long-forgotten memory/association that persists. Of course, this cannot happen until we decide to be kinder to ourselves, to relocate the bigger picture. Such a choice requires, however, that we revise the way we see and treat ourselves, to leave room for sufficient stillness for that wee small voice that must not be denied.

The truth is that we do not come to these depths without dire necessity. Curiosity is not enough. Take, for example, the story of Ingrid Betancourt, the woman who was kidnapped and held hostage for over six years after she attempted to run for the president of Columbia.

In her autobiographical book "Even Silence Has an End" (Penguin Press, 2010), Ingrid describes her own "calling out." In graphic detail, she leads us through the jungle, with snakes and other scary critters, to the impossibly small cage where she is held captive with Clara. Refusing to surrender her soul, Betancourt escapes again and again, despite the fact that when she is caught, her captors abuse, curse, and drag her back through the mud. Even while chained by the neck, she refuses to surrender to what she describes as "those pathetic little fears ... fear of being alone. Fear of dying carelessly ... I needed to risk death for freedom."

How did she do this? A portrait of resilience, she tells us, "With each step I repeated, 'I am free.'" She made a fundamental choice, as must we, when paralyzed in fear: "I had decided that they would not hurt me. Whatever happened, they would not touch the essence of who I was."

We are reminded of Goethe's words, when he said: "Say yes ... (for) the moment you do, then mountains move, and helpmates arrive from the most unimaginable places." When Ingrid envisions freedom as her possibility, she says "yes," and with that, another association comes, a memory of her father, which is instrumental to her final freedom.

In her words:

My father's voice spoke to me from very far away, and a single word came to mind, in capital letters. I repeated it again and again, like a prayer, like a magical incantation that might, perhaps, break the evil spell. Dignity ... saying it repeatedly made me adopt my father's attitude ... I understood that I had gone beyond fear, and I murmured, "There are things that are more important than life."

Rewriting the Game: A 21-Day Challenge

It all begins with the new "word" you assign to your virtual jersey. Ingrid's was "dignity." What is the one quality, the one word you could order up, to step up your game? Look to the obvious. Consider the following exercises:

  1. Treat yourself to a quiet rest break before you go to bed tonight.

  • Unplug the phone; declare this time for you.
  • Center yourself with some full, deep breathing. When you inhale, imagine the sun rising from the horizon. Exhaling, imagine that you are laying down all burdens, all naysaying, and all arguing for limitations.
  • Continue doing this until you are refreshed, imagining that sunlight is growing closer and closer until you are completely surrounded by it.
  • Let go. Allow, from your deepest wisdom a word or image to arise that is the exact word needed for your "jersey."
  • Enjoy.
  • As you go about your days, the nanosecond you experience yourself "living too small," reconnect with your new "jersey" word.
  • Double-dog dare yourself to step out with gusto, developing a deeper relationship with this quality expressing through your life.
  • Pass on the exercise to your buddies. It takes a team.
  • Report back, for there's more to come.
  • To be continued.

    For a fuller discussion, check out Meanwhile, I'd love to hear from you and your buddies. What "word" has been on your invisible jersey that limits you from living as you most deeply desire? What "word" has appeal, as a partner in expanding your game? What story of liberation has inspired you that you are willing to share? What resources might you pass along?

    For updates, contact me at or dr.carabarker@gmail. To save time, click on "Become a Fan" at the top of this page. Stay tuned for upcoming developments with The Love Project, including "Practicing Love." Follow Dr. Cara Barker on