Thursday, January 7, 2010

what I've learned so far about courage

The year is barely one week old but I'm learning about courage in all sorts of ways. Not that I've had to take any dramatic risks just yet, or perform any heroic acts. Perhaps the mere fact that I have chosen it as my focus for the year has brought courage to my attention, made me explore what it means to me and how I can use it to transform my daily life. Because ordinary lives, like mine, require courage to take them out of the realm of the mundane and into the extraordinary. Even, or perhaps especially, lives that are lived in safety, comfort, health and harmony, require courage to prevent them sinking into a well of apathy.

As the decade was drawing to a close, I reflected on the 2000's and the thing that struck me the most was how much my life has changed in the last 10 years - I moved from South Africa to New Zealand, I got married, I had two babies, I became self employed. There is outwardly very little about the person I was at the end of the 1990's that is the same today. The life I have now is one I dreamed of for a long, long time. From my early twenties I dreamed of having a family, of doing what I loved - writing, yoga, mothering, experiencing life in a new country. I'm living that dream now. In a lot of ways, the way my dream has turned out is dramatically different to how I imagined it would be. But in so many other ways it is more than I ever hoped for, or ever thought I deserved.

And what I've learned in these moments of reflection is that through all this change, and all the fear and anxiety and sleepless nights that went with it - I must have had a lot of courage and faith in myself to see it through. There have been difficult times - times when I doubted myself and my spur-of-the-moment decisions. There have been extremely painful times, when I felt so very far from the only people who really know me and understand me and accept me for who I am. There have been lonely times, when I felt isolated and lost in a place which is simply not part of my history. I've had to gradually build up a new set of memories, of places to love. And I've had to acknowledge that I could call this home without betraying my birth place, or losing my identity, or cutting myself off from my roots. But through all of this it has been courage and love that has kept me going. It has been the knowing in my heart that I have consciously chosen this path. And that I have created this life for myself for no other reason than it felt right in the deepest parts of myself even though many other parts of myself doubted it. And it is that same courage that will keep me moving forward.

Because there are days when I forget that this life, here and now, is the life that ten years ago I only dreamed of having. It is the life that would bring me all the joy that was apparently missing from my single, 20-something, corporate-employee life. And I do have many moments of joy, of appreciation and gratitude for my blessed and wonderful life. But I also have moments of deep sadness, moments of self doubt, moments of paralysing fear, moments of petty irritation, moments of frustration and anger, resentment and longing - longing for that old life - the life when I was independent, free, untethered, adventurous.

So my aim for 2010 is to embrace this life, knowing that fear and doubt are never far away from the human experience, but knowing too that we become courageous by doing courageous things - 'You must do the thing you think you cannot do', said Eleanor Roosevelt. Courage doesn't dissolve fear, it simply makes it possible for us to transcend it. And no matter how insignificant or petty our fears may be, by confronting them, acknowledging them, accepting them, listening to them and moving through them, we create a life. A messy, confusing, scary, challenging but extraordinary life.

And I think the greatest courage of all comes when we realise that the 'good life' is not waiting around the next corner, it's not living in someone else's backyard or sunning itself on an island in Fiji. It's right here, right now - and its made up of all the wonderful and terrible things that are our daily lives - the happinesses and the sorrows, the frustrations and the triumphs, the moments of calm and the flashes of anger. So much happiness is missed because we want it to stay, we want someone called Joy to be our only companion. If we'd let ourselves accept that good feelings are fleeting at best, we'd be more available to those moments, we'd be more present. We'd make peace with all of our emotions, instead of longing only for the ones that feel good.

Earlier this week, Rachel at Suburban Yogini wrote about mindfulness - it's her word for 2010 - and she describes exactly that quality that is required to dive head first into life. I'm realising more and more how mindfulness and courage go hand in hand.

Stephanie Dowrick has written a chapter on 'Courage in her book "Forgiveness and Other Acts of Love'' (thanks to Green Ink for referring me to this).
I'll end off my ramblings for today with her beautiful prose on courage and paying attention here:

''Courage is as freely available to all of us and to any one of us as the sounds of waves crashing, of wind in high trees, of birds singing, of human laughter.

Those sounds too, are always there, but sometimes we don't hear them. Wanting to hear them, readying ourselves to hear them, we need to turn our attention towards them. Courage can be like that. We need to turn out attention towards it, pay it more attention than we do our fears, even when those fears are clamorous, clingy, familiar and demanding.

Sometimes courage is learned that simply. By paying attention to what is happening, right now, in the present, and not avoiding it. Buddhists believe that this is our sole route out of suffering: to pay attention, to learn what matters and what does not, and to live life appropriately.''


  1. "Courage doesn't dissolve fear, it simply makes it possible for us to transcend it."

    What amazing, beautiful words you have written here. I can identify with a lot of your journey Kathleen - particularly the part about moving to another country and getting to the point where you can call it home without feeling like you've turned your back on where you came from. And while the journey has held a lot of fear, confusion and challenges for me, it is indeed, as you say, the life I could only have dreamed about ten years ago.

    Thank you for inspiring me with your courageous words today :)

  2. Thank you Green Ink - I think my greatest breakthrough after moving was realising that 'home' is less about where you live and more about who you are...and being 'who you are' no matter where you live.

  3. I LOVE this post. It has given me courage : )

  4. thanks Jamie, I am so pleased! x

  5. Greetings to one and all: In that most precious name. That name which is above every name, the name: "Jesus"

    There's tremendous power in that name. I'd suppose we'll never fully realize all that can truly be accomplished, by us simply calling out that name in true faith.

    There's an old, old, gospel song that goes like this: Faith in the Father, faith in the Son, faith in the Holy Spirit, great victories are won. Demons will tremble and sinners will awake, faith in Jehovah will anything shake.

    For you who have never come into this realization, if you're reading this, just give him a welcome into your heart and life. You will both feel and see an awesome difference. You will have also purchased the ticket to heaven (by accepting, therefore making him welcome to come into your life. You will also sup from His cup that contains living water. (As did the woman at the well of Bethesda.) John 4:10

    Much love,

    Your brother in Christ Jesus, who is both our Lord, and Savior.