Limits & Liberation: On learning to push the comfort zone.



‘Yes, of course I will do that’, I said, receiving the phone call.

I put down the phone and immediately wondered, ‘Why on earth did I just say yes to that?’

In the past, ‘yes’ has been a brilliant tool for enabling opportunities but on this occasion it nearly pushed me right over an edge; the edge of my comfort zone.

‘Yes’ felt scary, big, and I didn’t feel ready for it.

It? Well it was an opportunity to paint at a festival alongside a musical score by Jim Moginie (formerly of Midnight Oil) with his electric guitar orchestra to a piece called ‘The Colour Wheel’. The idea is beautiful- live performance, live audience and painting in response to the music. However, whether I could actualise that beauty was an entirely different conversation…

My challenge was that I had never done anything like this before. In saying ‘yes’ the critical voice raised a very loud roar, bringing up so many of my vulnerabilities. ‘Me? Painting in front of an audience? In response to music? With everyone looking at me? What if the painting just looks like mud? What it someone starts to heckle? What it I f**k it up? What if… ‘

I have known these voices before; they visit frequently. Thankfully, with experience, I have learned to name them and have figured out that we can reposition to critic too: ‘This is fear speaking, how can I help you?’

Fear can teach us many things. When we lean into it, fear can expand our capacity to act by gradually, gradually, pushing our comfort zone into new territories and calling us to investigate our edges further.



On this occasion the fear was dense. About five days before the festival I was on the brink of ringing up Cornelia, the event organiser, to say that I was not able to do it. I had started to make excuses in my head. One of those excuses even went so far as, ‘Well, I’m only five foot tall- how on earth will I be able to paint at scale?’ Seriously! Fear really can make the most comical of augments.

Luckily I realised that indeed this was fear speaking. So, I asked myself, ‘What can I do to minimise the fear and bring it back to ‘yes’?’

Two main solutions presented themselves. Firstly, the idea of boundaries– ‘Simplify and reduce your options; create restrictions’. And secondly, an understanding that this is not going to be an exercise in perfection but an experiment with process.

I rang an artist friend for advice too (thank you Eimear). Her kind words of friendship were a balm.

So, with the solutions in mind, and Eimear’s friendly cheerleading, I decided to limit my colour palate and choose a motif to work with- in this case circles (since the piece was called the colour wheel). In setting some ground rules for myself, suddenly came freedom. ‘With those parameters, what can I do? What patterns can emerge? And how can I push the motif to create something new?’

Over the next few evenings I experimented a bit at home- first making small quick drawings in my sketchbook, then larger colour experiments to test my palate, and then creating large scale drawings while playing Jim’s music in the background. On the third evening a pattern or idea began to emerge, one which I knew I could transfer to the real event, and a sense of the possible emerged again. We were back to yes.

As in art, so in life.

The whole experience served a huge reminder to me: when we place some boundaries and restrictions, creativity can flourish and freedom arises.

It seems contradictory to limit ourselves to liberate ourselves, but somehow it works.




It was a reminder too of why I continue my own practices- that daily route back to my yoga mat, whether I am in the mood or not, if only for a few minutes. The practice is a boundary to create the freedom and is an enabler for creativity to flow. Practice, you come to realise, does not make perfect. But practice does lead to a place beyond it all, where there is no such thing as perfect, which is in fact perfect in and of itself. This is the circle of things.

So there I was on Sunday, painting in front of an audience. What I produced was no masterpiece, in my mind it was far from ‘perfect’, but it was me showing up with all my vulnerable and stepping right up to the edge of my comfort zone. In doing so I stepped across it and will, I hope,  have forever expanded it, with fear and imperfection at my five foot nothing side.

I’ll raise my hand and confess that I don’t love what I created but I loved the experience, and I love too that I did not let fear take me over. Rather I let fear have its own rightful place, as an aid and an ally.

Plus I got collected that day by a rock star. And I’m pretty cool with that too! Merci Jim.

(Special thanks to Jim Moginie and Cornelia Mc Carthy for facilitating this experience- my edges are grateful and my comfort zone is relishing in its new found sense of space!)


Photos by Cornelia Mc Carthy.