Category Archives: Blog

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

 

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