How free are you to appreciate life, even as you wrestle with some of life’s great challenges, climb in your career, contribute to your potential and enjoy the people and experiences that present themselves every day?

Throughout the month of July, gratitude ripples through my mind as I think about the many people who fought for America’s independence back in 1776. Seventy-five thousand people either lost their lives or were severely injured so that I can enjoy the benefits of freedom. But, do I really enjoy the benefits of this freedom? Do you?

In some ways, “yes,” I do.

I enjoy the freedom to speak my truth and pray to the God of my understanding. I wear what I want, and enjoy the benefits of running my own business. These freedoms are a blessing, yet none of them come close the freedom I crave deep inside—freedom to act (or, sit still) in spite of fear.

As it turns out, it doesn’t matter how many external freedoms I have when the voice inside my mind is continually tricking me into believing I am not enough, I don’t do enough, have enough or know enough. In those moments, despite my residence in America, I am not free.

More often than I’d like to admit, I’m held prisoner to my thinking. This, despite the many books, retreats, conferences, therapy sessions, medications, meditations, and 12-step meetings I’ve soaked up. Still, it’s there, screaming STOP, you might die.

And, you know what? In some situations, it’s true. I could’ve died, for example, in my first Improv class, walking onto that stage in Nashville back in March, or the one in Philadelphia, where my speech was being videoed. Of course, the chances of my life ending with any of those examples is ludicrous. And yet, my body was sure sending off signals of impending death.

Have you ever had this experience? Do you feel free in those moments? I don’t.

Until I move toward the thing I know I must do, but am afraid to do (go to the class, share my message on stage, or get in the water for that five-mile swim), I am not free. Until I am willing to sit with myself and feel the anxiety, grief, sadness, anger, rage, frustration and disappointment, I am not free.

When I reach for the tasty food my body does not need, exercise beyond what is healthy for my body, overload my schedule and leave no time for quiet, make a sarcastic comment in an effort to connect, focus on fixing other people, or a whole host of other strategies I employ to avoid feeling, I am not free.

When, on the other hand, I can get myself to sit with the discomfort instead of reaching for the distraction, I am free.

While this process to freedom is hardly as delicious as a piece of sweet potato pie made by my soul sister, Kristin Hoffmann, it’s worth every bit of effort in the journey to freeing yourself from the prison your own mind. Each time you open your heart to experience the full spectrum of emotions, you inch toward freedom.

Thankfully, life really is about the journey and not a destination. From this perspective, freedom is less about what you know, do or have, and more about what you’re willing to experience in any given moment.

Here’s to your greatness,

Misti Burmeister