In all life forms there are two important impulses. The first is to keep boundaries, and the second is to grow and expand. Keeping boundaries can be defined as ‘maintaining the integrity of the organism’. In a single cell this is the maintenance of the wall, or ‘skin’, of the cell. The cell keeps itself defined by regulating what it allows to permeate the cell wall, thereby maintaining the boundary of its existence. In this way it increases the likelihood that it will survive as a living organism…it stays ‘safe’. Every living thing does this in some way. We humans do it by creating boundaries for ourselves. We try to control what we experience, allow and do.

The other side of this polarity is the desire to expand and grow. Every organism looks for ways to improve itself in order to adapt to a constantly changing environment. This is what Darwin called ‘evolution’, which is simply nature’s way expanding in an ever more complex way. Each species is adapting to the expansion of every other, and this, taken in sum, is the evolution of the natural world. Hundreds of millions of years ago a single cell ‘reached out’ and took the risk of connecting with another cell. This cell grew in its capabilities and opened the door for multicellular life. Without this step complex life forms would not exist. We humans, like all of life, take risks as well. We try new things, learn to create and cooperate with others in order to increase our personal capabilities. In this we are exercising a basic imperative of life itself.

So we have two impulses: One to stay bounded, the other to risk and expand. And as usual our mind wants to make these into exaggerated dualities. We think must stay ‘safe’ OR take risks…but not do both. It creates a conceptual schizophrenia. Again, look at our thoughts as reflected in the media. You are either Conservative (safety oriented) or Liberal (risk oriented). One side demonizes the other. We are encouraged to buy security alarms and guns to guard against an ‘evil world’, or to venture out, take risks, and ‘live life fully’. Commercials tell us to ‘save for retirement!’. Or are we supposed to go into debt and live the consumerist lifestyle?

The reality lies, as usual, in the middle. The key is to recognize that, first, safety is largely an illusion. You can keep your boundaries and treat yourself with care, but you cannot ‘stay safe’. Life is merely a series of decisions with outcomes, and we can’t know which decision is safer than another. The same is true with growth. We will grow no matter what we do, so the notion that we can control our own growth is a waste of energy. All we can do is be conscious of the ways in which we are growing and intend to expand in the most loving and meaningful way possible. Both safety and growth are two sides of the same coin. You can be safe while you grow.

In your own world can you see the dance between these two impulses? Can you cultivate your own boundaries while at the same time pushing yourself to become the best possible you? If you can let go of the either/or polarity of ‘safety or growth’ you can open yourself to having both. You can achieve great things AND stay perfectly bounded in a way that makes you feel comfortable. Let go of either/or thinking and open yourself to the ‘third option’! This is your path to achievement!

-KC Hildreth