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Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.
– Ambrose Redmoon
Courage is my favourite virtue. My personal experiences – especially as a Jew and an Israeli – have taught me the importance of staying true to your beliefs, asserting your rights, confronting evil and asking hard questions. Avoidance and denial are fuel for destructive forces within and around us. To flourish, we need to cultivate the counterpoint to avoidance and denial: courage. With courage, you can move out of your comfort zone to discover what you can offer life and what life can offer you. Read more below.
Reflections – On courage and the possibilities it opens up for us.
Beyond psychology – Some inspirational quotes about courage to keep close to your eyes and heart.
Downloadable wisdom – Your nutrient for the soul this time is from the Philosopher Notes series: Brian Johnson presents the big ideas from Carlos Castaneda’s The Wheel of Time. Fifteen minutes of audio, packed with gems about living a courageous life.
Reflections on courage
Courage has been highly admired throughout history and across culture. 2500 years ago, Aristotle said: ‘Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees the others.’
We all begin our lives vulnerable and insecure. So security becomes our main goal, and fear is the engine of our survival. Fear is evolution’s way of keeping us away from danger. But this survival mechanism has turned from asset to liability. How? Our minds are at the mercy of the amygdala – that part of the brain responsible for fear responses and self protection.
How does this affect us?
It affects the lens through which we observe and interpret life events.When we look back on our experiences, we focus on the pain, risk and danger we’ve experienced. This bias can negatively shape our stories about our lives and ourselves once we become mature adults.
To protect ourselves against perceived threats we develop the following guards: Avoid, Freeze, Attack and Run away. Together they create an acronym that describes the impact they leave on us: they keep us AFAR from our authentic natures and from each other.
These guards, which were initially survival mechanisms, may unfortunately become our common response to all stimuli. When this happens, we automatically put up guards at the expense of living fully in the present moment. We pay a heavy price for our security system: because we fear the unknown, we avoid exploring new experiences; because we fear failure, we avoid acting on our dreams; because we fear losing, we avoid decisions and we freeze; because we fear being vulnerable, we avoid connecting with people and we prefer to control, judge and blame; because we fear confrontation and conflict, we may run away. These guards, as you can see, will ultimately prevent the authentic expression of our full potential.
Should we try to change these fears?
Fear of pain, rejection, failure, abandonment, exposure and death are deeply rooted in the unconscious habitual mind. They are very hard to change. What is easier to change is our response to them. Most people actually do change their responses to fear, but they often do so unconsciously in response to a greater threat. For example, you might have a fear of vaccine injections, but learn to overcome it because your fear of disease is greater. A battered woman may push herself to take action against her violent husband because she fears more for the safety of her children than for herself. The fear of separation may force a man to come to marriage counselling and face the exposure he would otherwise dread. The reason for this unfortunate state is that most people operate from their conditioned brain that feeds on the survival mechanism of fear.
You can see how much fear rules your life by asking yourself how often you say ‘no’ to possibilities, avoid interacting or conflicting with others, or present a false self. To remain safe, your ego separates you from your core being and from other people. In the fortress you feel secure but isolated, inauthentic and lifeless.
We all use guards from time to time. But we can learn to use them flexibly. Flexibility grows as we learn to be aware of our own responses and stop judging new experiences based on past threats. Self awareness allows us the freedom to choose consciously. We don’t choose fears. They arise spontaneously from the deepest parts of our brains. But we can choose how to handle them. The way is to become aware of them and then respond with courage.
So cultivating courage is the key to taming our debilitating fears. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: ‘Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.’
Modern Positive Psychology research provides us with evidence and tools to support the perennial wisdom: cultivating virtues is a gateway to a happier and meaningful life. To practice courage, you first need to recognise how certain beliefs and assumptions are stopping you. Then make the conscious choice to rebel. Don’t pay any more price to that ‘alien’ that is alienating you from life.
So just as your guards are at the service of your fears, your courage is at the service of your flourishing. The word courage derives from the Latin cor, which means ’heart’. Indeed, courage lives in the same spot as love, compassion and acceptance: at the centre of life. I believe it takes courage to profoundly connect with life and with other human beings.
Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.– John Wayne
Courage will set you free to explore and discover the unknown; to express authentic sides of yourself rather than suppressing them; to be free from anxiety about what others think about you; and to let go of beliefs, wishes and environments that keep you from what you can become.
Courage is what it takes to connect, to create and to fully realize your true nature. It will keep you open, vulnerable and connected in your relationships, in spite of past wounds and fears. Ultimately, courage will help you to achieve the greatness inherent within you.
The hallmark of the advanced soul is a healthy relationship to fear. The warrior’s approach is to say yes to life: ‘yea’ to it all.
– Joseph Campbell
From the book The Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Milman.
All these years I had been sustained by an illusion – happiness through victory – and now that illusion was burned to ashes. I was no happier, no more fulfilled, for all my achievements.
‘Understand this above all,’ he interrupted. ‘You can do nothing to change the past, and the future will never come exactly as you expect or hope for. There have never been past warriors, nor will there be future ones. The warrior is here, now. Your sorrow, your fear and anger, regret and guilt, your envy and plans and cravings live only in the past, or in the future.’
‘Hold on, Socrates. I distinctly remember being angry in the present.’
‘Not so,’ he said. ‘What you mean is that you acted angry in a present moment. Action always happens in the present, because it is an expression of the body, which can only exist in the here and now. But the mind is like a phantom that lives only in the past or future. It’s only power over you is to draw your attention out of the present.’
‘Yes. You haven’t yet opened your heart fully to life, to each moment. The peaceful warrior’s way is not about invulnerability, but absolute vulnerability- to the world, to life, and to the Presence you felt. All along I’ve shown you by example that a warrior’s life is not about imagined perfection or victory; it is about love. Love is the warrior’s sword; wherever it cuts, it gives life, not death.’
‘Socrates, tell me about love. I want so much to understand.’
‘Love is not something to be understood; it can only be lived.’
A few more thoughts about courage
Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature,Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.
To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits
in the presence of fate is strength unbeatable.
– Helen Keller
Most of our obstacles would melt away if, instead of cowering before them, we should make up our minds to walk boldly through them.
– Orison Swett Marden
Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.
– Erica Jong
The highest courage is to dare to appear to be what one is.
– John Lancaster Spalding
Courage and perseverance have a magical talisman, before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish into air.– John Quincy Adams
About the author:
Guy (Hagai) Avisar is a psychologist with more than 30 years of experience helping people with relationship issues