Is there somewhere you could use a little extra courage right now? Perhaps for you, today courage looks like writing a letter or making a phone call. Maybe it’s signing up for a class or a race, or taking the first step toward a risk that simultaneously excites and terrifies you. Courage looks like a million different things and shows up in a hundred ways every day. Having the courage to say yes to an opportunity, no to a request, to say hello to a stranger or stand up to a bully. We are rarely short of an opportunity for courage.
The word courage comes from the Old French corage, (and the root cor) meaning “heart, innermost feelings; temper.” In Latin, cor means “heart,” and remains a common metaphor for inner strength. Turns out what I always suspected from experience, is actually true: courage comes from the heart.
Until we believe we are known, safe and enough, we will have a hard time finding it.
Every person and circumstance that comes into our lives has a purpose. Each one, no matter how short or long the duration; no matter how sweet or challenging the relationship, leaves a mark on us. It’s up to us to use those marks with intention; to allow them to change us and make us stronger.
I met a young woman when I was twenty. Her name was Amy. Amy was in my life only a matter of weeks as I transitioned from one chapter of life to the next, and she was everything I wasn’t: spontaneous, free-spirited, wild and artistic. She played guitar and sang in a band. She told stories of a life lived with passion and enthusiasm. Freedom and expression. She had no boundaries or limits; only big dreams. She was beautiful inside and out and she loved herself wildly. Not in an arrogant way, but in a beautifully self-assured, simple, confident way. Deep in her heart she knew she was loved.
By others? Perhaps. By God? For sure. By herself? Perhaps most remarkably so. That love; that strength; that oneness of her body, soul, mind and spirit gave her courage. Courage to be who she was. Courage to live a life she designed and imagined.
The last day I saw her she gifted me a book that impacted her life, and went on to change the trajectory of my own. I took a photo of my favorite page:
What is this for you today? When we walk to the edge of all the light that we have…this is when we grow our FAITH. When we trust in something greater than ourselves. When we fight to find a firm belief in something for which there is no proof. These hardest parts we don’t want to remember, talk about or share? These are our teachers. These are the clues to discovering who we are and why we are the way we are so we can learn to know and love even the hardest parts of ourselves. Because loving ourselves gives us strength. Loving ourselves gives us courage.
How can you find courage?
1.Work with what hurts: Far too often we want to ignore what hurts and press forward like we’re fine. We insist: I’m fine, I’m fine. Ah hem. No, actually, you’re not. Remember, courage comes from the heart. Stop stuffing what is hurting and bring it into the light. You don’t need to be afraid of what your heart has to say. It’s where love lives! It’s where courage is. Find a trusted friend or speak it aloud to the silence of a room and your God. Let your tears fall. Feel what you feel. Let it teach you what you’ve been trying so hard to figure out.
2. Acknowledge what isn’t: In every loss or pain there is a death to grieve. Whether it’s the death of a childhood, a relationship, or a dream: it matters. You thought something would happen and it didn’t. You thought someone would be there and they weren’t. Practice self compassion. Allow yourself to grieve what didn’t happen. Who wasn’t there. What let you down. It doesn’t matter what it is, or where it falls in the imaginary hierarchy of hurts, it matters Acknowledging it is a necessary step to moving free of it.
3. Meditate on what you believe: You will be as successful, happy and loved as you believe. Instead of gratitude and faith, many of us are controlled by fear. While fear is a powerful motivator and protective inhibitor, it is above all a peace stealer. Give it power and it will take every bit it can get. Get your thoughts out on paper. What do you know? Sometimes I need to remember what I know is absolutely true, even when circumstances are hard.
4. Move: In order to find freedom you must give voice to the experience of your past, and then move free from it. You have permission to go back into the hurts of your past to heal, but not to stay there! To pursue your dreams you must accept and face your fear, and do it anyway. You don’t have to accomplish the end of a long goal today, but every day you have the opportunity to find the courage to take the next right step. For me, that journey began twenty years ago and continues to be inspired and led by a lifelong commitment to finding time for exercise. It changed the trajectory not only of my life, but of my hopes and dreams, and it continues to inspire and teach me how to move forward.
My therapist once told me: All we can do with the past is gather the wisdom. Over and over again I imagine my Cinderella self with an old broom sweeping up the invisible pieces of a broken life; a bad decision, or a fractured relationship. What lesson can I learn? What death must I grieve? What truth must I meditate on, and how can I move forward, even if I need to sit in the darkness for awhile?
Pema Chodron says: Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know. As much as I want to take courage for free, or find it in a bottle, sometimes the things most worth having require a fight. It’s so much easier to wish the past and it’s pain could be someone else’s fault, and sometimes they are, but chances are there’s something powerful we need to know about ourself.
A truth that, in time, could make us know and love ourselves even better.
I never saw or talked to Amy again. I’ve searched for her online and it’s as though she doesn’t exist. I like to think she was my angel. Sent into my life at a time of great need. A time when I was discovering my own strength and identity. A time I needed so desperately the courage to find my dreams; to step into the darkness of the unknown. To risk the chance to fly. Amy was a light in a dark time and she made such a difference.
Is there someone who has been a gift in your life? Someone who has encouraged you to be your best self?
Whatever is holding you back or hindering your journey this day, work with what hurts. Acknowledge what isn’t. Meditate on what you believe. And move. I pray you will find courage to take a leap of faith, and find freedom. And maybe even wings.