A Courage Update

Did you know that we’re one quarter of the way through 2016? Isn’t the time going quickly these days? Doesn’t every year just fly by even quicker than the last? Blah blah insert-time-related-cliché-that’s-also-remarkably-true-here blah blah.

As a result of being a good three months into the year, I thought it was time to reflect on how I was going thus far with my one word resolution for 2016 – courage.

To bring you all up to speed, earlier this year I resolved to attempt to live 2016 from one key word. This word is then to be used as an overarching theme for the entire year, supposedly bringing meaning, purpose and focus to your life. The one word represents the essence of what you want to accomplish during the year, but instead of burdening you with a list of tasks to do, it keeps you focused on an overarching concept of how to be.  And my word is courage.

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” - e.e. cummings

I have found this process to be really quite fascinating. And it’s only been going for three months. Here are some of the things I have learnt so far:

Firstly, it’s taken me a while – and I think I’m still in the process – to develop a working definition of courage that I’m reasonably happy with. In order to do this I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading and research on the subject. I can understand the concept that courage is moving forward or continuing upon something despite the presence of fear, but sometimes for me the definition of ‘just showing up’  fits best. Dr Brene Brown says “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen”. I like this. It means going into fear with the fear. Acknowledging it and all the other vulnerabilities we might bring to any situation and not hiding them. But sharing them and letting them be seen. That’s courage.

So, have I actually done this? Repeatedly! By paying attention and noticing all the things I was a little scared of or when my body was starting to tell me it didn’t want to do something, I’ve begun to realise that perhaps I was a little more courageous than I initially thought. And I think just by being more aware of these small courageous acts, that’s given me the momentum and motivation to try bigger and more courageous acts. It appears that courage becomes a bit of a habit or a muscle you can exercise. So far it seems that with practice you get better and better at couraging, So watch out world, who knows what I might be capable of by the end of 2016!

 “A shy man no doubt dreads the notice of strangers, but can hardly be said to be afraid of them. He may be as bold as a hero in battle, and yet have no self-confidence about trifles in the presence of strangers.” – Charles Darwin

Beautifully, once you start looking for it - courage is everywhere. When a toddler shakily starts to find his feet and take his first steps. When your friend asserts herself with her partner. When a loved one tells you she’s struggling with all things life at the moment. When a community member asks how they can support a loved one dealing with a mental illness. All of these things are daily acts of courage. And all of these things are beautiful because they are acts of people moving through their fear toward something else that’s really important to them.

Interestingly, I’ve also found that courage isn’t just a behavioural act. For me it hasn’t just been about doing things I’ve been scared to do like speaking in public or posting private thoughts on the internet. There’s courage in so many other acts:

  • There is courage in speaking. We voice our differences, we share real feelings, we address a painful emotional issue, tell the truth. We take a clear position on things that matter to us. We clarify the limits of what we can or can't do.
  • There is courage in questioning. We ask questions about emotional issues. We ask our partner questions that will allow us to know him or her more fully. When people we love have suffered, we invite them to tell us their stories, no matter how painful, rather than communicating that we don't want to hear it, or don't want to hear all of it. We ask, "Is there more you'd like to share?"
  • There is courage in pure listening. We practice listening with an open heart, and with the intention only to understand. We listen without defensiveness, and without the need to fix, instruct, or change the other person. We mindfully choose silence over speech.
  • There is courage in thinking for ourselves. We clarify our own beliefs separate from what our family, friends, partner, workplace or society tells us is right and true. We
  • There is courage in being accountable. We truly accept responsibility for our own less-than-honourable behaviours, even when doing so challenges our favoured image of the self. We say we were wrong. We apologise.

When you come from a place of courage in all of these acts, it’s hard not to be being mindful. That is being fully engaged in the present moment, nonjudgmentally. And when we are living mindfully something extraordinary happens. Anxiety finds little room to set up residence and you become aware of possibilities that would otherwise be missed if you were worrying about the future. So, in a sense this helps to break the grip of fear and focus instead on what is now.

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage.” ― Anaïs Nin

Three months in and I’m finding courage everywhere. I doubt that anyone around me would notice a significant difference in my outward behaviours since adopting this New Year’s resolutions, but I certainly have. It hasn’t been all that easy though. Attempting to live courageously can feel particularly difficult at times and getting back into bed with a doona over my head is preferable. At times I have sheepishly avoided some acts that would have been courageous acts because it seemed too hard. But it shouldn’t be easy, Because to act courageously – in any manner – requires some degree of vulnerability. And vulnerability = uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. But thus far, it seems worth it.

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