I’ve been thinking about this word a lot lately. What does it mean to be courageous, truly courageous, in this world?
I believe it means you must know fear, and know it intimately. To truly be courageous you must be able to be with fear without pushing it down or away, and without checking out or numbing yourself to it. To be with fear as if greeting an old, familiar face — someone you may not be happy to see, but whom you know deeply and can spot all their tricks and trappings — and not let them take over your day. To be with fear, instead of letting fear be you.
“To be courageous is to seat our feelings deeply in the body and in the world: to live up to and into the necessities of relationships that often already exist, with things we find we already care deeply about: with a person, a future, a possibility in society, or with an unknown that begs us on and has always begged us on… Courage is what love looks like when tested by the simple everyday necessities of being alive.” – poet and author David Whyte (Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment, and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words)
I have committed to a practice in my life of turning towards what I am most afraid of, taking many deep breaths, and walking right in. To get to know the energy of fear, and move beyond it — to truly live into the things I believe in and the beings whom I love, without the blocks of fear. By turning towards what I am most afraid of, I can learn to truly see — beyond the limitations fear would like to place upon me.
Courage is the art of being truly present, and alive. No matter the circumstances.
This is a practice to be very careful of though, and to engage in mindfully. Walking right into fear is not always prudent or safe. There are real reasons that fear exists in this world, and they must be respected. Fear, for example, can let us know when there is real danger of which we must be alert and aware. It heightens our senses and gets our bodies prepared to deal with this danger in the best possible way available at that time. All without our conscious mind having yet to realize what is happening. This type of fear helps us act in crises and traumatizing situations, in order to survive. I will write more on the way this fear operates in another article.
However, fear can also remember a time when we were in danger or perceived we were in danger, and try to make us believe we are back there again. In fact, fear has no sense of time — it exists as an energy that rises and falls, depending on the environmental and internalized cues it recognizes. This type of timeless fear is at play when we feel activated or triggered — when someone suddenly moves in a way that reminds us of an experience of harm, and our body is flooded with survival instincts. This type of fear can make us perceive we are still in danger, when our present day selves are no longer at risk. This type of fear offers itself as a guide to illuminate where we have been harmed and what needs healing within us. This is the type of fear we can sit down with, get to know, and offer healing towards. This type of fear needs our loving attention and support, so that we can help heal all those places where we have been wounded.
Fear can also be a habit we’ve developed. A way of seeing and experiencing the world that considers all of the terrible things that could happen. This type of fear can escalate, even leaving us afraid to do things we once loved and have no negative associations with — besides our new fear of what could go wrong. This type of fear can take over our minds and turn the things that we most love or long to do into places of pain and suffering. This type of fear is usually linked to something we have misunderstood in our lives. For example, we may discover a hidden belief that a long list of terrible things will happen if we make a mistake or even fail. Most likely, there will be past woundings that have led to this belief. However, there may also be deep misunderstandings of what it means to make a mistake. This type of fear can block you from bringing forward what you truly long to create in this world. This type of fear needs our mindful attention and inquiry — to see where healing is needed and to offer that, and to set appropriate boundaries so that the fear habit can be heard and understood, but not allowed to take over.
To be courageous means we must know intimately the many landscapes of fear; to know when fear is alerting us to present day danger, and to know when fear is acting as a guide to our path of healing and wholeness. To understand the energy of fear, and to know how to be with it so that it does not take over, but instead offers clarity, healing, and awareness upon our deeper examination. To allow fear to show us what we do not want to see, and to see it anyways.
“When I dare to be powerful—to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” – poet, author, activist Audre Lorde
I invite you to reflect on your own relationship to fear, what it can offer you on your path, and what you truly long to create in this world that fear may be preventing you from doing. I invite you to become friends with your fear.