Courage is an inner attitude that comes to life through words, gestures, feelings and deeds. It can be cultivated and enhanced, but it is not, itself, an emotion. It involves emotions and it can certainly change your emotions, but it arises from thought, and is supported by “right thinking”. That is, it is supported in part by what we pay attention to – what we allow ourselves to see, experience, feel, absorb and express.
This notion – that courage arises from a inner attitude – brings courage into reach. It makes courage possible. We don’t have to deserve it or reach outside ourselves for it. We can choose it – and be sustained by it.
What we can’t always choose are our feelings. They are like the elements: wind, rain, fog, cloud, snow, heat. They come and go. They rise and they fall. We can run after them, or stand back. We can be enthralled by them or we can gain a little distance. But attitudes are something else entirely. We certainly can choose them, even when they seem somewhat reluctant to choose us.
Sometimes we don’t know how much we need courage, or how available to us courage is, until our usual props desert us. It may take the hardest of times to appreciate we have access to the finest of strengths. When I was writing Forgiveness & Other Acts of Love, and very much in need of finding a way to get through each day, I came across this quote from Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I used it to guide my own writing and experience of courage. “”It isn’t for the moment that you are struck you need courage, but for the long uphill climb back to sanity and faith and security.””
Courage is a way of living in the world. It arises out of the cultivation of an attitude that you can then bring to any situation, even when you feel at your worst. It is courage that is needed when a crisis has long ceased to be exciting and has become instead a new version of your old life to which you must adjust. It is courage you need when life has become “”impossible””, bleak, scary or perhaps dangerously flat.
Courage is what allows you to experience that even when life has apparently betrayed you, or you have come to see how you have betrayed yourself, life itself is still present. In the presence of life, or maybe in the presence of your own consciousness of the life that is within you, it is impossible to be totally diminished by events that are outside you, or are outside your control, no matter how deeply and permanently they affect you. It is possible – with time, self-love, compassion and some creativity – nevertheless to find some pleasure, some joy.
Courage can be admired from any distance, but you can discover it only through lived experience. Sometimes this has to be achieved in the midst of hardship. Sometimes it is found through an experience of intense physical achievement that brings supreme joy as intention and action unite. Often though, courage takes on meaning through an experience of profound suffering when what had seemed eternal or essential dissolves or disappears, and your faith in life, in yourself, or in God, hits the line. You lose a beloved person, a job, a relationship, your health, your savings, a sense of continuity with your own life. You flounder, shout, wail, panic, become depressed, blame, roar, retreat: whatever your own way is of expressing distress or outrage that life has betrayed you. And then days, weeks or years later you move from that outraged place. You move onwards, inwards. Not neatly, not conclusively. But somehow you face it – whatever “”it”” is. You face the truth of that suffering within yourself. You face the truth of it, and the truth that it will not be adequately met with facile solutions or other people’s platitudes, but only with your own version of strength and compassion.
“Existence,” warned the writer and analyst Irvin D. Yalom, “”cannot be postponed.”” In not postponing existence, in not postponing life – while also acknowledging how you feel and how great your need is – courage stirs, rises and comes awake.
Peace and courage be with you.
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