Let me tell you the story of Icarus.

Icarus is a character from the Greek mythology. He is the son of Daedalus.

Who he was is not really relevant. What is relevant is that this Daedalus person and his son Icarus had been put in prison by King Minos.

So. Daedalus and Icarus were imprisoned. As was the custom in those days, he was serving his sentence in a horrendous labyrinth (So a dungeon wasn’t handy, ok?).  The said labyrinth had been made to keep a monster, called Minotaur, occupied and render ineffective.

The monster Minotaur was the product of one of the King’s mistress’s affairs with a bull!

Daedalus and Icarus managed to come out of the labyrinth which opened on the side of a cliff. The only way they could run away together way if they flew away together… if you get my drift. So Daedalus made wings for himself and his son out of feathers and wax.

Before flying, Daedalus prudently warned Icarus to be careful and fly neither too close to the sun nor too close to the sea. As the sun would melt the wax and the feathers would disperse… and the sea would wet the feathers and make them water-logged and heavy.

Icarus dutifully agreed and flew off. So did Daedalus.

The flight gave Icarus such joy… such a feeling of freedom… that he soared higher and higher. Then he remembered the warning. But the experience he was enjoying was so sublime and exhilarating that he was tempted to go higher. He began to feel the heat of the sun. He knew that if he disregards his father’s warning, he’ll lose his life. But the pull of freedom was too strong. He just wanted to give himself the chance to reach the highest he could. He didn’t care if he lost his life and went higher. He saw his feathers falling off till he was left only flapping his arms. Then he began falling off the sky and crashed into the sea. He was DEAD.

The story of Icarus is a tragic story. But that is not how I choose to see it.

Yes, it ends with the death of the hero and so it is a tragic story. But I’m telling you this story, Icarus became a hero, because he dared- and died.If he had been safe- and alive- there would have been no story to tell. Icarus wouldn’t have become my icon nor a source of inspiration for many over time.

What gives the story a joyous interpretation in my eyes is that Icarus did what he wanted to do. Instead of living a life bound by limitation, he chose to break-through the limitation. He allowed himself to feel the joy of total abandon, to reach the heights he had the potential to reach. He did not come back to earth with the regret of having betrayed his spirit. He did not come back with a WHAT IF to plague and taunt him for the rest of his living days. He allowed his spirit to soar, knowing that a fettered spirit is doomed to frustration. And frustration is not the goal of life. The goal of life is breaking through limitations, using all your potential and achieving your heart’s desire.

Death? Yes… each one of us will die. But what kind of death will it be? Will it be a death dominated by life, by a vibrant, fearless life? Or will it be a life dominated by a living death? Will it be a life where we die a little everyday, by restricting ourselves, by denying ourselves the freedom of achievement?Will it be a life which will end with its music still unheard?

Such a life, in which we don’t permit any joy, is a life dominated by the death.

We aim for less than we are capable of. We deny ourselves the chance of sticking our neck out. Our soul is imprisoned and we have worn the shackles of our own accord. Yet we blame others, circumstances, destiny. We are almost happy to be so martyred. Yes, we have the audacity to call it martyrdom. We spend our life denying that we are scared. If someone suggests it, we bare our teeth and become belligerent. We let our fears rule us. We let our laziness rule us. We let our limited vision rule us. We hang on to life in abject terror and protect ourselves from disappointment. We never realize that the life we are hanging on to, is a death we are living… it never gained the status of a LIFE. We never permitted it.

I am reminded of something famous Hollywood actress Bette Davis (Bette Davis of the beautiful eyes…) said:

To fulfill a dream, to be allowed to sweat over lonely labor, to be given a chance to CREATE, is the meat and potatoes of life.

To be allowed to sweat. The phrase inspires me every time. Every time I read the quotation, I renew my promise to myself. I promise myself that I will never deny myself the permission to sweat in lonely labor, knowing- and accepting- full well what that loneliness will feel like. I will give myself a chance to create, so that the quality of my life reflects the quality of my spirit.

Another favorite quotation was something President Theodore Roosevelt said:

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by defeat and failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.

The truth is that we condemn ourselves to the twilight zone. By protecting ourselves from defeat, we also protect ourselves from victory. We create nothing. We just plod. We are sheep not lions. We think we’re alive and more… that we love our life. If this isn’t the biggest joke on earth, I don’t know what is.

I know I started to live the day I decided to stick my neck out. The day I decided to start my own business armed with neither experience nor qualification. My love for my life was born the day I sold all my jewelry to raise money. I could have borrowed from my family. But I didn’t. That day, I broke though all my limitations. Now, I had nothing but a fearful heart which I was trying so hard to buttress with courage. A heart carrying the seed of a promise. A promise I made to myself, to give myself the permission to try and soar once, even if it meant a crash into the sea. One chance at life. I know now, that I came alive in the moment death stared me in the face. That is the moment I realized how precious life is and how much I loved it. And I knew that LIFE is not to be betrayed. That I owe it to myself a chance to soar once, or perish forever.

Just like Icarus…


Written on 6th Nov 2007

Icarus and I