As I sit down this week to write about courage, I find myself reflecting on the places in me that seem to be infused with fear and ambivalence.
Like the conversation I know I need to have but am afraid to initiate.
Like those things I need to say, but the words just get stuck in my throat.
Like the vulnerability that comes from revealing what’s in my heart, while my heart clenches up and grips it tight – unable to let it out.
I often hear people talking about courage as the act of simply overcoming our fears, pushing through our fears, and acting in spite of our fears.
For me, it’s not always that simple.
Sometimes, my fears carry some wisdom, some guidance, some invitation to slow down before just blurting things out loud.
Courage requires inner strength and clarity of commitment. We need something that we are willing to be courageous for.
Sometimes it helps when I ask myself, for what am I willing to be uncomfortable? Six months from this moment, what choice/action in this moment will I respect the most?
These questions help me figure out if my short-term discomfort is outweighed by my long-term goals. It also helps me get a little more aware of whether or not this particular action is aligned with my more enduring values, or just a desire for temporary, addictive relief, coping, or situation management.
We often need a deep value, desire, or long-term goal to carry us through the fear, the discomfort, the uncertainty of the moment. It’s often our connection with a meaningful, desirable vision of something we are reaching for that brings courage.
Courage takes root and is nourished in our hearts. It’s deeply connected to our care and our love for what matters to us the most. We have the most courage in the places where we are also motivated by the strongest love.
When I find myself hesitating about a conversation, a reveal, a vulnerability and wondering whether or not to “go there” or “be quiet,” I often slow down to ask myself about what I love in this moment, in this relationship, in this situation.
Checking in with Care for Self and Others
I check in first with my ability to love myself. Will this next step (whatever it may be) be taken with a deep intention for my own highest good and my own well-being? Is it in alignment with my deepest values?
I also check in with my level of care for the others in the situation. If I find myself unable or unwilling to care for “them,” I know that this is a sign I’m sitting on (or slightly beyond) my own growth edge. I’ve found a situation where I am no longer able or willing to keep my heart open toward something.
Usually this means:
I have some inner healing work of my own to do, and/or
The dynamics that get kicked up in a particular relationship are hurtful or harmful in some tangible way that needs to be shifted or avoided for everyone’s benefit.
Whatever action I take, I want to do my best to keep it grounded in my deep intentions for radical self-care and care for others at the same time.
Making Peace with Others’ Reactions
When I am about to do something courageous, I also find it helpful to spend some time preparing for all the various reactions that someone else might have to what I am doing. Can I let go of being controlled by their anger? Their hurt? Their judgments? Their upset?
Courage takes many forms. Sometimes it looks like this:
Speaking what’s in my heart, especially when no-one else is doing so.
Sharing my feelings, even when I’m worried they will upset or trigger someone else.
Sharing my needs, longings, or desires, even when I’m expecting scorn, contempt, or disinterest from others.
Asking for what I actually want, even when I anticipate hearing a NO from the other person.
Taking a stand against something, even when everyone else is buying into a particular direction or worldview.
Other times, it can look like this:
Staying silent, even when I’m expected to join in.
Withdrawing my energy from something, even when that might disappoint others.
Not making that phone call, even when I feel an impulse to call someone up and unload on them.
Not saying something that isn’t true for me, even if someone really wants to hear it.
Not doing something that isn’t aligned with my values, even if others will judge me or get angry with me about that.
Ultimately, our courage invites us to sacrifice something we have been attached to: other people’s positive judgments, other people’s approval, managing other people’s feelings, thoughts, or reactions. Courage also invites us to give up our addictions: to stop numbing out, distracting, avoiding, and filling space and time with meaningless actions.
I am the most courageous when something that I love deeply is at stake.
Sometimes, it’s my own well-being that I need to go to bat for.
Other times, it’s someone else’s well-being.
Sometimes, it’s my vision for a world in which people are kind and gentle with one another.
Other times, it’s my longing for clarity, or awareness, or connection.
Whatever it is that you believe in, long for or wish for more of in your life, remember that moving toward that will invite (and require) you to act with courage. It will be uncomfortable. It will feel awkward and unfamiliar. It will stretch you.
But when it takes root in your heart, courage will nourish your internal motivation and intrinsic desires, and it will make all the discomfort that you may feel along the way ultimately worth it.
Steps to Building Courage
What do you want? What are your most important values in life? What do you believe in and serve with your life energy? What do you want to bring more of into the world? Knowing what you deeply value and want is one of the first steps to cultivating courage in your heart and life.
What do you fear? Acknowledging your fears and working with them builds courage too. Work with the fear and discomfort instead of overriding them. Each of your emotions, including fear, carries with it a message and a wisdom that wants to be integrated into your life and future choices.
What does courage look like for you? What fears have a grip on you and inhibit you from fully expressing yourself in your wholehearted fullness?
This article the fourth in our series exploring the Five Core Commitments and follows the first three: Consciousness, Compassion, and Choicefulness.
Next week, we’ll explore the fifth and final core commitment, Collaborative Co-creation.
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