Better death than this….

As a child, Leonardo da Vinci had an intense curiosity about birds and flight.  He studied their wings and modeled helicopters, parachutes and flying machines based on their anatomy.  The freedom and movement of birds served as a metaphor for his life.  He observed poetically that a mother goldfinch, seeing her babies in a cage, would feed them a bit of a poisonous plant, noting, “Better death than to be without freedom.”

In the course of his frequent strolls through the streets of Florence, Leonardo often encounteredmerchants selling caged birds.  Frequently, Leonardo would stop, pay the purchase price, then open the door of the cage and release the birds to the endless blue sky.  For Da Vinci, his constant search for knowledge served as the open door to his own freedom.

Are you living in a cage?  One that has been imposed on you – or is it of your own making?  Are you “stuck” in a job that keeps a lid on your talents?  Did you read several good books last year?  Visit another community, state or country?  Take a class on a new subject, or made friends with someone of another faith?  Have you allowed fear and anger to create a prison of your own making?

Just try the door – it may not actually be locked.

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  • Christiana

    Thank you. This makes so much sense.

  • David Anderson

    I agree with this 100 percent. THE DOOR IS NOT LOCKED!!! I think people make the worst decisions when they feel stuck or trapped. Take a step back and REALLY examine your options. You have a million of them! Thanks for all these inspiring thoughts and stories Dan. Keep it up. 🙂

  • Proverbs 19:3 fits here. We build our own cages and then get angry at God!

    It gets really sad when we’ve lived in our own cage so long that even when the door is flung open for us, we stay put because of the false sense of security provided by the cage.

  • When I am trying to help people find their freedom it is interesting how many people will immediately come up with an excuse why it won’t work. It is even more interesting the people that get argumentative about the topic.

    Josh Bulloc
    Kansas City, MO
    How can I help?

  • David Anderson’s reply made me think of the story about circus elephants. As young elephants, they’re tied to secure stakes that they’re unable to pull out of the ground. As the elephants get older, the circus handlers are less and less cautious about securing the stake, because they’re aware that the elephants “know” they can’t remove the stake.

    Are you an elephant? (I know I often am guilty of this same behavior.)

    Thanks Dan. I re-Tweeted this one!

  • Theresa Lode

    Love that quote! The yearning and quest for freedom is a theme I see expressed in so many different ways. One of my favorite songs of late is “It’s My Life” by Bon Jovi. When I was a younger Christian, I was taught about how demonic secular rock music was. (Oh, what a limited fear-based existence THAT was!)

    I find myself now deeply touch by some old rock and roll. I hear in the lyrics that quest for freedom expressed through some very passionate music.

    And I know this one’s a favorite for you too…”It’s a Beautiful Day” by U2. What a beautiful call to freedom Bono puts forth.

    • Theresa – oh yeah. The artificial walls we create! I have a clip from an old John Lennon song that I keep handy every time I do my podcast these days. “People think I’m crazy” is a very common statement listeners are hearing when they mention doing something innovative or non-traditional. And yes, I absolutely love “It’s a Beautiful Day” – and hear it every time my phone rings.

  • Sean

    This rings so true in my life right now! I am going to try that door. Thanks for the continued inspiration.

  • Joanne

    I feel like I’m going to die because I can’t stand the cage anymore. I have cracked the door and have stood too long looking at all the paths that lie outside of it. I’ve stood here with fear, doubts and questions. But I have to get moving lest I never get to use my wings. I love birds and Leonardo and this story. Thanks for sharing. (I picked up your book “The Rudder of the Day” this morning to find the encouragement I needed to keep going and I’m grateful for that too!!)

    • Joanne – once you’ve cracked the door you can’t be content with what’s inside. Your fear and doubt will begin to diminish as you drink the richness of what you’re moving toward.

  • Jason

    I am working through an exercise that aligns with much of what Dan talks about in his books and web site. I am trying to find my “Chazown”. Visit

    • Jason – I love the word “chazown.” I just ordered Craig’s book and look forward to digesting it. Thanks for the connection.

  • Phil Anderson

    It’s been quite a few months since I came back to Dam Miller. I got a promotion at a university I work for. I thought that would make me happier, but I hate my job. I need to come to my calling. The only thing keeping me at work was my HIV status and the need for health insurance.

    I’m going to begin looking into other options. While few, I think there are a few good health options availabale to me. And then I’ll write–I’m sure I can triple my salary in my first year. I know I can. But it’s not about money.

    I’m determined to live a fulfilled life and it’s not going happen working for this company, selling my dignity to people who a hearless. Thanks again Dan, for helping me open my door.

  • Don

    I think I may have heard this from you, Dan; There was only one time in Harry Houdini’s career that he was unable to make an escape. He had been placed inside of a safe that WASN’T locked!

  • Bill

    I do feel like I’m in the cage at times but everyday life brings a new opportunity to study and plan and I will free myself from the cage. I’ll focus and prepare so that I’ll be ready to enjoy the freedom on that day. It started with 48 Days…

  • Michelle

    I know that of which you speak. I spent eight years staring at the door, knowing it was open, but too afraid to go through it. The pain of staying the same has to exceed the pain of change before we move. At long last, I walked through the door and found a beautiful, wonderful, joyful world where happiness is meant to be. Not that there aren’t struggles, but the peace, ah the peace, is amazing.

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  • Paula

    Sometimes I wonder tho…God has his plan and we as Americans have many more options…but sometimes I think we focus too much on career and not enough on holiness..if I spent 2 hours a day listening to tapes… bout 2 hours a day in His word..or in prayer? I am happy to have a job…period…all these career cruises, etc. seem extravagant…especially when we are just trying to have a roof over our head and food to eat. It seems to me that the rich can get healthy through expensive diagnostics, vitamins, supplements, etc. the rich can go on cruises and vacations and seminars to find their “calling” but when do we acknowledge the Lord and thank him even for our basic needs being met? God is MUCH more concerned with our holiness than our happiness.

  • I couldn’t agree more.

    For 15 years I worked as a nurse in the ER. Twice I tried “escaping” by taking 2 years off. About 2 months ago I moved to outpatient oncology and at the same time started another new job in another field (managing a website and english content for a medical services company).

    I have not looked back, I love the work. I find myself wondering why I ever waited so long when I knew I was unhappy.

    I have been blogging this past year, which has helped me see how it is I want to live my life and the confidence to make a change.

    I don’t think I will ever wait 15 years again to make a change when I am unhappy.

  • Greg

    Good article. Thank you. Helps me confirm what I have to do. I am in a cage with no escape, so ‘better death than to be without freedom’… I’m 50 years old and have never had any success in life–no meaningful career, even though I’m intelligent and well-educated; no meaningful relationships–never married, no kids, no girlfriend, not even any male friends or buddies to talk to or hang out with. I was beaten down (verbally) so much by my dad while growing up that I’ve lost any self-worth, self-esteem, self-confidence or dignity that I may have ever had, or deserved to have. I’ve been so controlled and manipulated and domineered and overprotected by my mom, never allowed to go out and try new things or take risks or chances, that I’ve never developed my own identity or sense of self. I’m just an extension of her, as far as she’s concerned, not a separate, unique individual. So I have no idea of who I am, or could be, or am meant to be, or how to go about finding that out. I never felt a sense of safety or security at home, like I had a place to come back to if I went out in the world and tried something and failed or got rejected or laughed at–only more laughing and being made fun of at home, and being shamed and embarrassed and ridiculed and pointed fingers at and humiliated. So I never developed a solid base to build any sense of trust on–of myself or others, or anything to build a positive self-image on. Kind of hard to change that now, when that’s the core belief that I grew up with. I never developed the tools to be able to say “I disagree with you” to my parents, so I don’t know how to do that and am not able to now. I’m being “forced” (coerced?) by them to go back to school now and study something I hate, and feel completely ill-suited for, just so I’ll have a job with a certain amount of status and prestige, which will reflect well on them. Failure is not an option, according to them. Quitting is not an option, according to them. I’m expected to make A’s in everything I study, and so I do, and then it’s not even acknowledged–just assumed, taken for granted. The thousands of tons of pressure per square inch for perfectionism is enormous, unbearable! I’m not able to move. Even though I already have a college degree (in music), I can’t find meaningful work doing something I enjoy or am interested in, because all I’ve ever had are manual-labor minimum-wage jobs. So anything I apply for that I’m excited or passionate about, I’m not considered for, when they look at my work history… There’s no way out. I’ve missed all my chances and opportunities, and now it’s just a vicious cycle downward. I’m 100% financially dependent on my parents right now, so I don’t get any say. They’re paying for school, so they feel they have the right to say “you WILL do this, and you will finish it, and you will get a job in this field, and you will work at it for at least x amount of time.” All choices and decisions are (still) made for me. When I said that I wanted to try truck-driving three years ago–at age 47!, my mom said I was not ‘allowed’ to, and that she ‘forbid’s it. Well, I did it anyway. How about that! Independence! But, I hated it, and quit after 4 days. So she got her way after all. What I think or feel about my own life is not important, or considered, or acknowledged. That’s not living a life. I’m already dead.

    • Greg – you’ve defined your current cage well. But as I suggested, I really believe your door is not locked. You can choose to stay or go. And I would encourage you to go – today. Go anywhere but where you are. Work at McDonald’s and get a room with the bath down the hall – anything to begin your own path to freedom. A little success on your own will do wonders for your self-confidence to do more. Don’t willfully stay in this cage. At 50, you can plan for and live out the most productive and fulfilling 20 years of your life – start today.

  • Dan’s article expresses exactly how I have felt in the past. I lost my job two years ago and have not found anything comparable since. Being an older unemployed worker, I can relate to Greg’s feelings of discouragement for the future as well. But being a Christian, I can’t stay there because I have a God that is so much bigger than my situation. I painted a painting for an art show last year that expresses my feelings of what it is to be held captive, like a bird with it’s wings clipped. Here’s the link to the painting if you have any interest: There are no bars on the back of the cage. If she would just turn and look in another direction, she would see a way of escape. I refuse to quit praying and I must believe that God has a place for me. Since I haven’t been able to find a job, I’ve decided to start painting and try to sell my art online at Etsy. With Greg’s love for music, I hope that he will trust God to open a door for him and not give up. Prayer is the key.

    • Toni – thanks for sharing your story. And I LOVE your painting. I just sat here with Joanne (my artist wife) looking at it for a long time. You really captured the essence of what I wrote about here. I would never have noticed that there were no bars behind the girl in the cage. What a poignant message. And then to see the birds outside the cage – seeming to try to get her to see she has freedom right beside her. Very nicely done. Joanne said that painting would make a great book cover. Maybe losing your job was simply God nudging you to fulfill your mission.

  • JuliAnn Barcal

    I really like the picture, too! I agree with what you said about not giving up and prayer being the key. You never can tell how God will lead-it may be in an unexpected direction. I hope you do well on Etsy.

  • Autumn

    Thank you all for the wonderful inspiration and hope. I have been thinking for years God wanted the cage door closed, actually I’ll go one further, that there was no door. No escape at all when it has been me all along keeping myself locked in. I’ve cracked the door recently and have had a very emotional, mental and physical reaction to it. Each day is getting better, thanks to Dan Miller and what he has created and put out into the universe. I’m very fortunate to have found him and all of you.

    • Autumn,
      Wow – that is scary to believe there is no door. I commend you on finding the door and cracking it open. Keep pushing – you’ll be amazed at what is on the other side.

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