Courage is Squishier Than You Think

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I had this huge “ah hah!” moment the other day. A student in one of the classes I teach shared that the root of the word courage is cor, which is the Latin word for heart. Courage originally meant “To speak one's mind by telling all one's heart.”. I think I literally yelled out, “that makes so much sense!” when she stated that.

It seems most of the things I’m up to lately require courage - getting up in front of people and teaching, singing in groups, working on business projects, networking, working with a therapist...I’m kind of going all out these days. I even asked someone out for the first time recently, which I’m pretty sure was one of the scariest things I’ve done.

I joke with people that I’m not “fucking around”. I want to live fully and grow as much as possible. I made a pact with myself that I wouldn’t half ass life anymore, and I’ve been living that promise for about two years now.

It’s exhilarating and liberating and so much fun. It’s also exhausting and terrifying at times. There are days when I freak out and want to give up because I don’t know where I’m going to find the reserves to keep going. All I want to do is revert back to settling and playing small. But the moment I try to do that I realize I don’t fit that mold anymore. And after a bit of a mental/emotional wrestling match, I fall back on my practices - I meditate, sing, get into the woods, move my body, call a friend, etc. I come back to my “being-ness” and remember my love affair with life.

Then I’m right back at it - enthusiastically opening my heart up to those around me.

I do this because I believe it is through our ability to connect with others that we provide and receive inspiration and strength to become the fullest expressions of ourselves. We are able to heal old wounds that create behavioral patterning that perpetuate isolation and suffering. Through that healing we are able to create positive and lasting change in the world.

But it only works if we’re willing to be vulnerable, which requires an immense amount of courage. And I’m not talking about the pop-culture courage of a warrior clad in armor going into battle, I’m talking about the squishy courage.

Brené Brown (whom I’m mildly obsessed with) developed this theory called Shame Resilience. She describes shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of connection and belonging”.

I call it the “asshole troll” in my head that tells me I’m not good enough, smart enough, too annoying, too loud, etc., and that nobody really likes me. It’s that thing in us that makes us hesitate before reaching out to someone. It’s the thing that tries to convince us to settle and play small.

Brown asserts that shame is unavoidable in our human existence, however we can develop resilience to it through practice. By accepting that it’s a reality of our life, and acknowledging that it’s maintained in our culture through societal norms, we can learn how to talk about about it, work with it and ultimately transform it. But we’ve gotta be open about it and willing to share our “flawed” human-ness with others, over and over again, knowing there’s a possibility we’ll get hurt. And when we do experience shame, we’ve got to learn how to recognize our reactions to it (Brown calls them “shame screens”) so we can choose to act differently.

It’s hard work and the nuts and bolts of it look differently for each person. However the common theme is having an open heart and remaining malleable, or what I like to sometimes call “squishy”.

Kind of like a bamboo plant - extremely rooted and strong, but very very flexible...though most bamboo plants are not necessarily squishy...but I think you get the idea...

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So the next time you’re feeling isolated or lonely, try to notice if it’s perhaps caused by the “asshole troll” in your head feeding you lies. Fall back on your practices that bring you back to your heart, the activities where you lose sense of time and feel connected to life. I suggest making a list of these things when you’re feeling good. And maybe try reaching out to someone, even if it is a bit scary. Because I promise you, you’re not the only one going through this stuff and human connection can be quite the healing balm.

If you're not sure who to reach out to, feel free to connect with me here. I'd love to help.

Jennifer Noble