Category Archives: Blog

The Courage To Be

When I search my soul for the answer to the question what is courage, this is what comes up.


Facing fear.

Facing Life.

Facing death.

Facing risk and uncertainty.

Facing choice.

Facing truth.

Facing abandonment.

Facing pain.

Facing me.


FacingWhen I reflect on these words there are two things I notice.

Firstly, there is no requirement to do anything other than just be in the face of anxiety. Standing quietly, not running away is all that is required to be courageous. In a world that mandates that we run away from ourselves, to stand, on our own terms, taking ownership and responsibility of our lives, is indeed courage. It is enough.

Secondly, whenever I remember these words, that seem to have come from somewhere else, I feel profoundly calm. They offer a challenge but it feels good and right. They provide me with strength.

I wanted to share them with you x


What are you afraid of?

Most of us feel caught between two positions in life – the desire to get the most out of our life and the fear.  Fear is holding us back, but what actually is it?  The first step in managing fear is facing it.  But fear is so uncomfortable that it puts us off looking at it.  Yet as long as we don’t face it, it will continue to hold us in its grasp.

It helps to gain some understanding of why fear exists, and why it is present for all human beings.  Fear is a legacy of our evolution.  We had to feel fear to survive the dangers in our environment.  Fear keeps us alert to danger and able to respond quickly.  So our fear response, our fight or flight instinct, is built into our system.

This can be made worse if we have a less than secure upbringing. If we weren’t taught how to manage our anxiety at an early age, we become hyper-alert to danger and this can go unchecked throughout our lives.  Anxiety becomes a habitual response to everyday situations and we can feel dominated by fears.

In modern life survival is a social matter.  We have to fit in with society’s expectations to be accepted because we depend on the support of our relationships.  We depend on financial security in order to buy the things we need to survive, and this too demands that we conform to be accepted.  So our acceptance in society feels like life or death.  Our fear has transformed into social fear and has transformed into fear of failure, of standing out, of ridicule, of rejection.

These fears hold us from stepping outside of convention, from attempting to succeed, from making changes and from speaking our truth.  These fears hold us back from the life we want and from being all that we can be.  Decide that you are no longer going to let your fear control you and take these steps.

  1. Listen to your fear.  Listen closely to the inner voice that tells you that you are not good enough and that disaster is just around the corner.  Understand that fear is a part of you that is trying to keep you safe, but fear is not rational, objective or right.
  2. Talk to your fears.  Explain that you will listen and take their views into account, but you will make up your own mind. Reassure your fear that you are competent in life, not perfect but capable enough.  Mistakes are inevitable but you can recover.  Explain that you are going to try.
  3. Be alert to the triggers of the fear response, to the devious messages that fear sends you as it tries to keep hold, and be diligent in your counter talk.

The truth is that your fears are unfounded.  With time, patience, diligence and compassion, you can set yourself free.

Courage At Work

mandalaAfter a couple of years of study I am back at work in a corporate environment. I take all my learning from self-awareness, meditation and relaxation, and my new found resilience back into a familiar workplace, and still I am finding the stress levels rising as I meet negativity on a daily basis.

I am curious about why I am struggling to maintain my equilibrium, why I am still vulnerable to the cumulative effects of pressure. The components that seem to be impacting me are:

  • a heavy workload leading to tiredness and insufficient time to think clearly
  • a general lack of appreciation and gratitude for work completed
  • a lack of influence to make changes that I feel are important
  • frequent challenges to my point of view leading me to question my knowledge and intelligence

It is difficult to maintain courage in a system that has a heavy investment in maintaining the status quo and limits change and challenge. So how can we stay strong?

  • understand that hostility to new ideas stems from a desire to stay safe and resist challenge – it is not personal
  • build a support network of like-minded individuals, not for complaint sharing but to share learning and coping strategies
  • keep a record of the positive contribution we are making, whether this is visible or not to the organization
  • go back to the sources of encouragement and inspiration that nourish and strengthen us
  • remember that resilience is a flexible kind of strength. Stay true to the principle, but be flexible in terms of how things are done and communicated
  • work on the relationships and activities outside of work to maintain a sense of perspective and keep work from escalating beyond its boundaries
  • make time for meditating, mindfulness and relaxation to keep centred

It is hard to maintain our energy, commitment, integrity and courage to do the right thing in a system that is at odds with our personal views. The ability to persist and rise above our own frustrations to stay true to what we believe is a demonstration of courage. It is the only way to survive with our spirit intact, and in doing so we may well inspire transformation in the system around us.

Moving from Fear to Love

“An act of courage is always an act of love” Paulo Coelho

We often think of love as an all-consuming passion for one other person in our life. This may be the ideal of romantic love, but it is not a reliable guide to acting in a sound, ethical and loving way. Sometimes it is quite the opposite as we lose our individual identity in the other person, becoming dependent on them, and fear their rejection. We give up our control centre, our reason. If we are dominated by fear of loss we cannot truly love. If it is more about us than it is about them, it is not love at all.

Many of the world’s sages and spiritual leaders hold the view that you have to love yourself before you can love another person. The idea is that we have to know who we are, and love who we are, before we can love another, before we can give to another with generosity, without fear, with love. Only when we have accepted ourselves, warts and all, can we fully reveal ourselves to others. And only then is true intimacy possible.

When we accept our whole self, we can love whole-heartedly. We can commit to the wellbeing and growth of another person without fear of being diminished. Giving from an empty well is to love from a place of under-resource. When we love ourself we channel infinite resource and can give unconditionally.

Love is strong and truthful, and courageous. When we act out of love we don’t pussyfoot around the truth, fearful of upsetting the other person, frightened of their anger or rejection. Instead, we hold their wellbeing and our own in the highest regard and speak the truth to the best of our ability, knowing that facing the truth is the path to growth.

It is not easy to move from fear to love. Fear comes from the belief that the world is a scary place. Terrible things do happen and there are people who do terrible things. We have a choice to make. Fear or love. Does our fear protect us? Does it help us to live our life the way we want, to do the things we want to do, to have the relationships and connections we want? Or does it keep us trapped, afraid of harm, of rejection, afraid of trying?

When we operate from love, our attention moves away from ourselves and our fears. Our attention is not on our needs, desires and fears, but on how we can care for ourselves and serve others. When we operate from love there is no room for fear. Love will push out the fear from our hearts. Eventually love replaces fear and we become fearless. This is when we fully step into our courage.

The Courage to let go

Paradoxically, the ultimate test of courage is letting go.

This does not mean giving up work, dropping out and doing nothing. It does not mean giving up the struggle to be steady, honest, loving, vigorous and disciplined in our way of life, or giving up our attempt to consider and act upon what we consider to be right.

It means something much more profound. It means giving up the story we tell ourselves of who we are, and letting this go.

From our earliest age we are involved in a process of defining who we are, what sort of person we are. Our parents, friends, families and society collude with this task and we identify ourself with whatever we are told we are. As we adopt the labels and take them in we become fixed, we have found our personality. We accept this as truth and become what we are expected to be. In becoming fixed we lose our freedom to be who we really are.

To consider the notion that this is not really who we are at all, but simply a construction from our childhood is scary to say the least, for this is where our ground is and our landmarks lie. If we give up this, we are untethered, lost. We confront a sense of loss of our self.

This is exactly why it is the ultimate test of courage.

And this is where we gain all the rewards.

The notion may be terrifying but the process undertaken does not need to be. We can simply let go to get back to who we are. We let go of our attachments, we let go of our fear, we let go of our distortions, our long held beliefs and judgments. When we do this we find ourselves back here, where we started, fresh, alive.

As we release the patterns that we have been holding onto, we start to open up and relax. The energy that has been used to hold tightly onto who we are is released and we experience new vigour and zest for life. When we let go of the filters from our past we can experience life fully as it is, here and now. Without these filters we develop clear sightedness to see what is in front of us, and what is beyond.

We can let go of the past, the disappointments and the hurt. It has gone now. Unless we allow it, the past has no power over our life from this point on. We can face each moment afresh. The process is one of observing our patterns, and once identified, letting them go, one by one, gently, with compassion and with commitment to the process.

The more we let go of the past, the more present we become.   Our life becomes rooted in the reality of the moment. When we have accepted ourselves as we really are, this moment, whatever it brings, can pose no threat. We trust ourselves. This is when we are fully alive, fully present, living wholeheartedly. This is courage.

When we let go of our concern over what other people think we should do, we are free to choose what we think we should do. When we let go of our fear of dying, nothing and no one can frighten us. When we let go of our need to be strong and accept our vulnerability, we become strong. When we let go of the stories we tell ourselves we are free to change. When we let go of our need to be something, we finally become who we are.

We become courage.



Being and Doing

Society focuses its collective mind on actions and achievements, after all it appears to be obvious that it is the results that count. We get caught up in this way of thinking and we get busy doing and achieving the results that are expected of us.

The uncomfortable truth is that we are not as clever nor powerful as we think we are. When we set our goals to achieve something in the future, we forget that the world is a big place, and events may unfold that make our intention difficult, misguided or irrelevant.

With our focus on actions and outcomes we spend our life visualising and striving towards the future, and this has a negative effect on our experience of life. We fail to experience and relish the beauty in the reality of our day to day existence while we rush towards the goals that we have set ourselves. And life slips by us.

Our society sets its goals and deadlines, and manages to miss what is important too. Companies set their sights on financial targets, and take shortcuts that lose the goodwill of their employees. Organisations compromise their customers, clients or patients for the sake of efficiency. Companies talk about their values but most actions and decisions ignore them.

The results of this approach are not looking great. Consider your experience of politicians, health services, customer services. Look at the way we are collectively using up our natural resources faster than we can replenish them.

We are focused on results at all costs.

Imagine if we were to shift our focus inwardly, individually and collectively, to examining our intentions. If we challenged ourselves to be less selfish, more aware of our impact on others and the world around us. If we developed ourselves, our understanding, our morality and integrity, so that our actions emanated from this strong centre. We could trust ourselves to act well in each and every moment. We could adapt appropriately to the changing situations and stay connected to the reality of the moment.

If companies and organisations were to fully develop their values and work at making them a living and breathing guide to all conduct, they would demonstrate their integrity and they would be more trusted as a result.

I want to challenge the view that it is only the results that matter. I see that we have find a balance between being in the ‘here and now’ and moving towards future goals. I think that change is needed and has to start from the inside, one person at a time.

Putting my Courage to the Test

TalkI usually try to keep myself out of my writing.  But something has happened that is going to be a massive test of my courage, and so in writing about it I hope my experience will be of help.

My personal courage challenge is public speaking.

I want to overcome this fear so that I can do talks about courage and yes, I see the irony.  I have to practice what I preach so that I can preach.  And so I joined Toastmasters at the beginning of the year to gain practice and support in managing my fear. Toastmasters is an international not-for-profit organization that supports people in developing their public speaking skills.

I am making progress but I still suffer from anxiety before I speak.  I face the tension of my anxiety wanting to hold me back and keep me quiet, and my desire to push through the anxiety and develop. It is the prison wall that I wrote about last time.

Earlier this week I entered our club competition for giving an impromptu speech, and to my pride, and horror, I won. This means in 2 week’s time I have to give an impromptu speech to a wider audience. I won’t know the topic I have to speak about until I am in front of the audience.

This prospect is provoking my anxiety, and is a perfect lab test of my ability to manage myself. And this is what I have found. I have an old script that runs in my head and says things such as:

“this is my worst nightmare”

“I will make a fool of myself”

“my mind will go blank”

“I will go really red, and stammer, and fail catastrophically”

and so on.

But, I have found that I can change the script. I imagine taking a step to the side and looking at these thoughts as really unhelpful. And they are only true if I allow them to be true. Equally true, and far more helpful, are thoughts such as:

“I just won the first competition”

“I am a good communicator”

“I am good at this”

Now my anxiety reduces about 90%. I even find myself looking forward to the event. I am writing this to show you how our thoughts provoke our feelings and our fears, how the only truth they hold is that which you ascribe to them, and how you can change them, with some determination, and therefore change the way that you feel.

Hold steady, keep focused and quietly pass through the prison walls.

Escaping from the Prison of Anxiety

There is just one thing that stands in the way of courage, and that is anxiety. If we could somehow manage our anxiety we could stop the way it holds us back. Clearly, this is not going to be quick, it is going to take effort and determination. It is possible to break through.

I have probably mentioned before that fear is built into the human brain. It is the most important response in survival terms and therefore the first thing to get triggered if there is any hint of danger, however slight. This is not going away, it is part of being human so our anxiety will continue to be triggered. But don’t lose hope yet.

You don’t need me to tell you that life these days is hectic. We are constantly stimulated and distracted, so we delegate a lot to our subconscious. We have to in order to cope with all the information we have to process. But by doing this we allow our barely conscious feelings of anxiety to guide our behaviour. When we feel the beginnings of our anxiety stirring, we cope by not doing, not going, not speaking. The feelings subside and normality is resumed. Over time, our anxiety increasingly limits our behaviour until it becomes a prison.

To gain mastery over anxiety we have to face it.

Anxiety is an uncomfortable feeling, not painful exactly, but unpleasant. It might be experienced as a gnawing sensation in the pit of the stomach, or a pounding of the heart, a feeling of heat, a feeling of disorganized energy, a feeling of fragmentation. Our muscles tighten and our breathing becomes shallow as we prepare for fight or flight. We might visibly flush, sweat or shake, which only compounds our discomfort, knowing that others can see how anxious we are feeling. Our thoughts become disorganized and we fixate on negative outcomes, tapping into our underlying fears of failure, ridicule and rejection

When we start to face anxiety and really understand what it feels like we are able to recognize its beginning. We can counter anxiety at a physical level if we catch it early. This means being more tuned into our physical state, turning our senses inwards instead of being always outwards.

We learn our early warning signs of anxiety being triggered, and consciously do the opposite. We consciously relax our muscles and deepen our breathing. Calm the scattered energy by imagining it coming together and taking it down lower, into the abdomen or base of the spine and in doing so feel more grounded. Gain control of the negative spiral of thoughts by reminding yourself that the negative thoughts that spring from anxiety are not rational and are rarely true.

Feel the edge, stay there, hold it, breathe. Realise that anxiety is a feeling, an experience and is a necessary part of being alive, just like all the other various feelings and experiences, good and bad. Gently and quietly pass through those prison walls.

As you ground yourself, become more centred and together, your anxiety loses its power to hold you back. You still feel the symptoms but you are back in control. You can now choose how you want to act.

As you practice you get better and better at controlling your anxiety. In doing so you become more clear, more courageous and you become free.




The Heart of Courage

People who we might think of as emblems of courage, such as Aung San Suu Kyi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela are marked by a strong and clear purpose. Courageous people have a steadiness, a consistency, an ability to stick to their principles and do what they think is right even when times are challenging.  They have a clear inner voice.

My journey into courage has led me away from extraordinary feats of courage towards a way of living courageously that is within reach of everyone. Still it seems that having a strong and clear purpose, and a clear inner voice is a key element of courage.

In order to develop our courage we need to develop our beliefs or values, our meaning and purpose. We need to work on this, investigating alternative points of view, until we find that which we can really believe in, and feel deeply connected to, and use this to guide us through life.

The word courage comes from the old French word corage meaning heart, similar to the Spanish corazon and the modern French coeur. It has long been known and perhaps since forgotten that the source of courage is in the heart.

The more I work on the subject academically and personally, the more I believe this to be true. Learning about different values and beliefs is important, opening your mind is very important, but ultimately your heart tells you what is right and wrong, and tuning into your heart and acting accordingly is living courageously.

When we develop ourselves on the inside, knowing our values, developing our meaning and passion, our clarity of vision on what we stand for, when we can hear what is in our heart, and when we act on it, and live it, then we will find our courage and live the wholehearted life we want.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”  Steve Jobs



Having the Courage of your Convictions

To develop courage we need to develop a clear moral code of conduct, a set of values we can live by, that will guide us in our behaviour, and that we can hold on to when the going gets rough.

The point is to find a set of values that we believe in, that will give us a strong sense of inner conviction, values that we can wholeheartedly embrace which will then give us the power to act accordingly and so achieve our full potential.

There are two complementary paths to establishing values, one inner and one outer. The inner path means searching for your own held beliefs about what is important and what is right. One route is to think about instances, experiences in your life where you felt really good, in flow, a sense of being fully alive. When you question what it was about that experience that felt so good, you start to uncover the values that were being supported. Taking the opposite approach, sifting through negative and uncomfortable experiences will reveal where your values were being breached.

The outer path requires us to seek guidance from the world around us. There are many sources of guidance when we open ourselves to the search. Philosophy, religions, psychology, people around us, all have perspectives on values and morals. As you search you will find many contradictions, since the world is full of paradox, and you find amongst these choices what is right for you. There are clearly no absolute answers and you learn to appreciate the multiplicity of views. In this context you choose your own values responsibly and live by them.

Courage means to live in accordance with your values. The more considered the values, the more robust they are, and the the stronger they are the greater the potential for courage.

Examples of Values

values table