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May 30, 2014

What is Courage? ~ Barry John Johnson

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Somebody once congratulated me for the small achievement of getting a poem published on an online magazine. They told me that my actions entailed Courage. I felt like writing the poem and sharing it was just part of me living my truth.

I politely gave thanks for the comment but later thought that it was like getting congratulated for driving through a green light.

I imagined people clapping and making a big stir for someone driving through a green light. Yeah!!! You Did It!! You saw that green light and you drove right through it; Wow!!  Right On!!! Woo Hoo!!!

It tickled my funny bone and made me reflect upon what Courage is.

I recognized a few different perspectives on what Courage might be: classic acts of physical heroism; daily sacrifice and toil for the sake of loved ones; moving through major life transitions, threats and loss; or even just speaking up, speaking one’s mind.

I knew of a Mark Twain quote: “Courage is not the absence of fear. It is acting in spite of it.”

Courage seemed to be about moving through challenge, towards a goal in the face of doubt, fear and feelings of vulnerability.

A basic word origin search told me that Courage comes from Old French for “of and from the heart; innermost feelings.”

I liked this origin story. It implies that this organ, the heart, is directing, over-riding mental and bodily sensations of fear, and letting us go forward per its desires.

It seemed that by general consensus, in order to need or have Courage, the presence of fear, doubt and/or feelings of vulnerability are required, mandatory.

After this quick crash course in Courage, I still felt that my action of writing a poem entailed no Courage.

One can argue that I made myself vulnerable by putting my words out there for possible rejection and criticism.

But I didn’t really care. I didn’t expect to get published. The poem was written. I wasn’t going to change it. It was done. If nobody liked it, I was going to be fine.

I was just driving through the green lights of inspiration and creativity, listening to whatever my heart transmitted to me, and this resulted in a poem. Something else told me to share it, with no expectations.

Right then, I had an epiphany. In this instance of writing a poem, for whatever reason, I simply had no fear. I didn’t need any Courage. Society seems to have overemphasized one part of the Courage equation, that we need to have this capacity to muster up tremendous amounts of courage in order to get through our fears.

But the reality is that we don’t need more courage in our lives, We need less fear.

Setting aside rare occasions that actually call for classic acts of physical heroism or other situations when we might truly be facing death, we can have a lot more say and maybe expend less energy if we simply allow for less fear in our lives.

I think what we actually do is first create much of the fear in our lives and then we have to pull double-duty to muster up the courage to combat the fear we just created.

It’s a crazy tug-o-war.

Had I been fearful of rejection of my poem, it most likely would have stemmed from some self-limiting beliefs or thoughts in my own brain. Maybe a simple thought like “Who do I think I am to be doing this?” For others it might come from some incessant need for approval or perfectionism.

Self-created fear necessitates self-created courage. I say cut out the middle man as much as possible. Save your energy. Embrace uncertainty. Ignore convention. Just move ahead.

I also realize that our bodies and psyches are rigged to create fear as a matter of self-preservation left over from more dangerous times. Lacking true threats to our survival, thoughts like, “I might look bad to others” can serve to kick our fight or flight systems into gear.

Mastery of these systems can occur through yoga, meditation, mantra, mindfulness and savored breathing.

Epiphany number two. The old French were right. C’est la Vie. Courage is about the heart.

Listening to it, doing what it says, whether writing a poem or changing one’s life, fear is just noise which may surround and muffle it.

With less fear, we can simply better hear what the heart is saying.

 

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Apprentice Editor: Sarah Qureshi/Editor: Travis May

Photo: Maria Ly via Flickr

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Catherine Ghosh May 30, 2014 1:11pm

I am happy that publishing a poem for you is "just like driving through a green light", Barry, so it sounds like you feel a bit undeserving, perhaps, of being called 'courageous' for doing so. But, for many of us, sharing a poem in public can feel scary. Whether or not the fear is 'justified', it still takes a courageous person to "feel the fear and do to anyway". It takes courage, in my opinion, to publish one's voice, while seeing red lights in front of them. Which, I can tell you from experience, happens to more people than you might think.

I run a poetry blog, and have published hundreds of poems from women all around the world, and -believe it or not- most of them will describe courage as part of the sensation they exercised in getting to the point of sharing their poetry. And yes, just as you say in your article, that courage involved listening to their heart. Thank you for reminding us of this! :))

And I loved your conclusion: "Courage is about the heart. Listening to it, doing what it says, whether writing a poem or changing one’s life, fear is just noise which may surround and muffle it. With less fear, we can simply better hear what the heart is saying." Thank you Barry! :))

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Barry John Johnson

Barry John Johnson is a counselor in San Diego, California. He used to work as a high level bureaucrat until he decided not to anymore. He likes helping people. He also likes meditation, writing, intuitive arts and independent spiritual studies. You can read more about him at his awesome website.