Strength in Vulnerability

It is so hard to show ourselves as we really are. Most of us have a suspicion that deep down we are not really ok. This is a real problem because it condemns us to a lifetime of struggle to hide who we really are. So much so that most of us don’t even want to look there ourselves for fear of what we might find. It also condemns us to a life of solitude because we can never let anyone close enough to see who we really are, to show ourselves in all our human frailty and imperfection. We imagine that such a rejection of our heart and soul would be devastating. So we pretend and we hide.

So let’s imagine what if. What if we muster up the courage to look at ourselves, and keep on looking, finding our weaknesses, our vulnerability, seeing our real truth and beauty? What if we were to accept ourselves with compassion, warts and all? Then what if we were brave enough to share ourselves at this deeper level with those we love and trust? If they reject us, we still have our own acceptance of ourselves to come back to. But just imagine what if they were able to see us, accept us, love us not in spite of but because of our vulnerability?

We think that vulnerability is weakness so we hide it, but it takes great courage to be vulnerable, to show up as imperfect as we really are. We face condemnation and rejection. As we continue to deliberately and consciously live with our vulnerability on show, as we learn that we have nothing to prove and nothing to hide, gradually we become invincible.

The Opposite of Courage is Apathy

I believe that the opposite of courage is not fear or cowardice, but apathy. We might think that the opposite of courage is fear, as though courage is a state of fearlessness, but courage exists in the presence of fear and courageous acts are conducted in spite of fear.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it”  Nelson Mandela

Courage is always a decision to overcome a tempting, easier option, in order to do what we believe is right. The easier option is usually to do nothing.

We can become very good at doing nothing. My use of the term nothing, means nothing positive, nothing that leads to growth of oneself or others. It means not learning, not looking after your health, not looking for ways to help family, friends or community, not being creative, not taking a stand, not developing and not using our talents to make a positive difference.

It means choosing comfort, security and ease instead. When we choose comfort, security and ease we are effectively choosing nothing, since we are making no contribution to life, neither our own nor the world around us.

The more nothing we do the better we get at it.

We choose comfort eating and TV watching instead of activity, healthy choices and learning. We choose to look after our own comfort instead of making the effort to help others. We choose to keep quiet when we see something is not right. We choose what is easy and after a while we are so used to doing nothing we don’t bother to consider any other option. We simply can’t be bothered. We say yes to nothing and no to life.

Courage requires us to reverse this habit, to push ourselves out of apathy, to make an effort, to say yes, to try, to contribute and to live.

“This is no time for ease and comfort. It is time to dare and endure”. Winston Churchill

PostScript

Paradoxically, in some instances it is the courageous thing to do nothing. Occasionally, to help the growth of someone we care about, we have to hold back when our impulse is to rescue them.

Solace

A friend said to me ‘courage is all well and good when things are going well for you’.

I think I understand what he meant.

When you are facing failure or loss, when you feel that your world is falling apart on the outside and you are disintegrating on the inside, there is too much turmoil to gather strength. At times it takes all our strength to continue simply existing and there is nothing more. At times like this, courage belongs in a different world.

We all want to avoid pain but it finds us anyway. When we face loss or rejection from people we love, or due to mistakes we have made, we want to run from the pain we feel.

We can find some respite in hard work, in sensory pleasures, and chemically induced anaesthesia. This is of course offers only a temporary respite because the pain remains until it has been fully felt. We may spend many hours analysing what happened, what was the cause, how could it have been avoided, who is to blame. This can also be an attempt to avoid feeling pain.

How long that takes depends upon the severity of the meaning of the loss in your life. And how much you are willing and able to fully feel the pain.

It feels so horrible. For me, it feels like my insides are hollow, the area around my heart hurts and it takes all my energy simply to go on breathing. My focus is so short that I can only see five minutes ahead. And all the time I have to pretend. And go through the motions of working and parenting. I save my grief for when I am alone. And we are always alone in our grief. No one can reach down and take our pain away.

It makes uncomfortable reading I know but my purpose is to provide comfort by offering the knowledge that although we are alone in our pain it is also universal. A vital part of what it is to be alive. The hardest part of what it is to be alive. When we allow ourselves to fully feel our pain, it will eventually pass, and we will eventually emerge. And we will be different. How we emerge depends on the meaning we make of what has happened. If we see the world as unfair, ourselves as a victim, people as bad, we will continue our journey with fear. If we see the world as unfair, but that everybody suffers, and in that suffering and confusion there is beauty too, then we continue our journey with hope. When we have been to the darkest depths normal life can sparkle by comparison.

And this is when we continue our journey with courage.

x

The Seven Paths to Courage eBook

 

The Seven Paths to CourageThe Seven Paths to Courage aims to provoke and          inspire, to stimulate new thinking and insights that will lead to positive change, and maybe start a new, exciting journey of exploration and growth towards a more whole hearted and courageous life.

The Seven Paths to Courage draws together ideas and themes from a wide variety of sources across psychology, philosophy and spiritual literature, that signpost the ways in which to develop your courage. My aim has been to cast a wide net and capture essential ideas using simple expression. Some of the ideas may be challenging. Some of the ideas hint at a profound wisdom that will require contemplation and exploration to appreciate, and sources for additional reading are provided. Some ideas may seem far-fetched. This is, after all, about courage and you are free choose your own path.

Download the ebook here

Bon courage

Jane

Being Like Water

river

Most of the time we are very conscious of our boundaries, our individuality and separateness.

This means that we tend to approach life from a position of defence. We defend our personal boundaries, both physical and emotional. We extend our boundaries to include our loved ones and our possessions and we defend those too. We may defend our thoughts, our rights and our views. We become quite rigid.

When we take a position of defence we forget our similarities and we concentrate on our difference, our uniqueness. We bolster our difference with stories about who we are so that we can be sure to stand uniquely and separately in our own space. Our focus in life is to become more defined, and to become bigger by acquiring more friends, more talents, more possessions. Our society defines success according to wealth and discernment so it is no wonder that this is the story that we accept and believe to be true.

So let’s challenge that view and see where it takes us. What happens when we soften our boundaries?

If we relax our grip on being ourselves do we lose? Do we lose our personality, our meaning, our purpose and our place? Or do we gain? If we relax our boundaries and hold ourselves more lightly, could we gain a sense of peace, of connectedness with the world? If we see ourselves more as part of the world, and less separate could we feel more at home?  Do we have the courage to try?

Taking this idea one step further, if we become fluid, like water, we can flow around obstacles, which previously we had to confront or avoid. We become more open and can take in new thinking, new experiences, new learning and growth.  We can work alongside people when our boundaries merge and we focus on what we have in common. Instead of competing, we can be like water and simply move to where there is space.

PostScript

Water is one of the elemental forces of nature. Water can not only flow with ease, but can cut a course through the hardest rock over time.

Self Worth is the Foundation of Courage

Unless you have a sense of self worth you cannot live courageously.  An inner self belief is the foundation that is required to build courage upon. When you are not sure of yourself you will falter when the going gets tough. When you don’t trust your instincts you will look around to see what others expect of you. When you haven’t taken the time to build up your beliefs in what is right and what is wrong you cannot act with any conviction. When you haven’t spent the time with yourself, learnt to accept what you see and finally come to like yourself, you will always hide. You will hide from yourself, avoid looking, distract yourself and you will hide from others. Because you are afraid that what is there is inadequate, deficient, unlikeable.

We are trapped until we take the time to get to know ourselves and accept ourselves for who we are, until we fully accept ourselves with all our strengths and our faults and imperfections. In doing this we gradually learn to care less about what other people think, and care more about what we think. We are able to act according to what we believe to be right. We become less eager to please others and more eager to please ourselves.   We can open up when we are not craving approval. Other people can take us or leave us. Not everyone will like us. And when we are no longer afraid of who we might be, are no longer ashamed of ourselves, then we don’t have to hide and we become free.

Future blog posts will address why a sense of self-worth is so lacking in our society, so difficult to acquire and what we can do to build ourselves a solid foundation for a courageous and whole hearted life.

The Gentle Art of Encouragement

We all know how good it feels when someone offers us words of encouragement, whether that is appreciation, or words of support when the going gets tough. Well chosen words of encouragement can be a boost to our morale, or even a lifeline.

So how can we gift this encouragement to others. How can we develop our ability to encourage.

It is a gentle art. It requires a degree of letting go of your own needs for a while in order to place another person’s needs in the centre of your attention. This is hard to do when you are feeling the pressure of your own needs. It is old wisdom and none the less true that we have to look after ourselves before we can look after others.

Because we have to be very clear that our words of encouragement are truly in the interests of the other person. Sometimes we want to cheer people up because we are uncomfortable with their emotions. It may be that what they really need is someone with them while they cry or vent. We often find it hard to praise others in areas where we feel inadequate or under-appreciated. The better we know, and like ourselves, the better able we are to put our needs to one side in order to encourage others as they need.

Now we need to focus and listen. Being listened to fully and with appreciation, without judgment is rare and wonderful. Without words we give the message that what they have to say is worth listening to. People feel validated. Listening with rapt concentration to what the other person is saying will help them to unbundle their own thinking and then they often find their own way forward.

When you do speak, consider carefully what the other person needs right now, if anything at all. Consider what a person needs along a spectrum of support or challenge, and what will take them one or two steps in the right direction. Sometimes people need to be held and supported just where they are with words of comfort and solace. Sometimes they can be helped along with new ideas or a fresh way of thinking and sometimes they need to be challenged to confront the reality of their situation. Sometimes people need to be told that they are doing fine, just as they are.

When you are really clear that you are acting in the interest of the other person, and you fully tune into their needs you will be able to select the right words, and offer that much needed, but all too rare, gift of encouragement.

It takes Courage to be Free

Many people complain about their lives. They are unsatisfied with their jobs, with their relationships, with the place they live. They feel that their life is dull. It seems odd when we think about it. We know that they have the freedom to choose.

We all have the freedom to choose.

Every part of our lives, both the big decisions and the everyday acts present us with choice. For the most part we carry on as we did yesterday and the day before, and the month and the year before. We live a life that is expected of us.  We live as though we are in a prison made of our habits and our fear.

We are afraid of our freedom.

To accept that we are free to choose means taking responsibility for ourselves, for our lives, and for the unknown consequences of our decisions.

But how else are we to live? How else can we be fully alive if we don’t take this responsibility?

Take the chance. Tear down the prison walls. Make the changes that you yearn for. Take a leap of faith in yourself, that you can create your life, rather than just letting it happen.

Have courage and choose freedom.

The Two Words that Shape our Lives

The path of our life is dictated by what we say yes to and what we say no to. Our lives are shaped by what we accept into our life and what we turn down. Opportunities, activities, people and experiences come our way and the decisions we take have a critical influence on how the rest of our life unfolds.

However, we sometimes find that we get into a habit of saying yes, or of saying no.

Some people say yes to pretty much every request that comes their way. Their difficulty in saying no can be so extreme that they exhaust themselves to the point of burnout before realising that something is going wrong. Life is finite. Time is finite. Every time we say yes to something we are saying no to something else. People who say ‘yes’ too much are saying ‘no’ to themselves, to their needs and wants.

There are other people whose primary orientation is to say ‘no’. They say no to new opportunities, to new people, to change, to risk. It’s as if saying no keeps them safe, keeps them safe from challenge, from demands, from failure, from rejection. Change comes to everyone, it is an intrinsic part of life. The more we try to control this, the less prepared we are when it comes. By saying no we keep ourselves in our comfort zone, and we find that our comfort zone shrinks, until we fear our own shadow.

Either way, when things are out of balance like this, there are disastrous consequences for our quality of life. Given the vital importance of choosing what we say yes to and what we say no to, it is important to gain control over our decisions and choose wisely.

So what should we say yes to and what should we say no to? How are we to know what is right? The truth is that we can’t know how our decisions will turn out. But this doesn’t let us off. I believe that putting our lives in the hands of fate is an excuse. We have to take the responsibility of taking our life seriously.

We cannot know the consequences but we can still consider what we think will lead to the best outcome. What will give us pleasure and/or help us grow? What will take us out of our comfort zone so that we might grow and learn? What will give others pleasure and/or help them grow? What are the risks involved? Which of these considerations is most important right now?

We can also tune into our intuition. Taking a moment to check in with ourself, with how we feel if we are to say yes, and how we feel if we are to say no may give us the clear answer we need.

With practice, we can bring more of our decisions under conscious control, and so our lives become more deliberate, more self-governing, more our own.

 

 

What could we achieve?

In our earliest years we aspire to be like the heroes of the comic book variety, strong, courageous and true. And then it seems that life gets in the way.  We get sidetracked, distracted, bought. We manage to convince ourselves that such leaders belong in the world of childhood fiction.

After all, the leaders in our world, the non-comic world, are all too often seen to be self-serving, expenses-cheating and transparently fraudulent, and set no kind of example for new leaders, society at large, or ourselves to follow.

What if we could re-connect with our inner beliefs in integrity, honour, strength and courage? What if we could quell the fears that rise up as we consider standing up and standing for what we believe to be right and good and true? What then could we achieve?

mandela