Last week, I explored the connection between Harmony and Integrity…posing the idea that when what we say, think and do are harmonious, the end result is an Integrated Self. Once established, our integrity becomes the touchstone of our decision making process, our internal GPS, if you would. Once we know our purpose/service we might be more ready to let that Dharma dictate our direction. So how to do that, given the unavoidable obstacles and objections everyday life holds? In our more challenging times, how do we make the right decisions for ourselves and follow them through when we know that doing so might “upset the apple cart” for us, or more uncomfortably, those around us?
Courage. Just hearing that word might call forth visions of the proverbial knight in shining armor rushing into a castle to rescue a princess being held captive by a fire eating dragon; he fearlessly faces the dragon head-on and at the perfectly choreographed moment, plunges his sword into the dragon’s chest and victoriously claims the hand and heart of the princess to live happily ever after. (Cue trumpets blaring). If only it was that simple.
The word “courage” derives from the Latin root “cor” which means heart. From a devotional perspective, courage is when we find the fortitude to proceed or prevail despite our own reservation or trepidation– to act on behalf of our good or the good of someone we love; to possibly defend or protect a belief that is bigger than ourselves, or a person who is smaller than their oppressor; to stand up for what we believe is right. Our love overrides our fear.
Courage is not the same thing as fearlessness. When we have no fear, things are simple and easy—there is nothing to overcome or transcend. Courage is much more complex. We proceed despite our fear–with persistence, resilience and strength. Aren’t those the qualities of the heart itself? The Sanskrit word for the heart space is anahata, which means unstruck or unbroken; the correlation is direct. In the movie Braveheart, William Wallace led an entire revolution for the love of his country and to avenge the murder of his beloved wife. Before departing for battle, his father encourages him by telling him to follow his heart; not your run-of-the-mill battle cry.
At some point in our lives, most of us reach a fork in the road; a time when choosing the path more true to us is not the same as choosing the path that is more comfortable, familiar, or safe. Sometimes our choices go against convention or culture, or might displease those around us. (This week in asana class I cited the example of a young person coming from a family of doctors, living with a tacit assumption that they too would attend medical school, only to find themselves miserable in their second year and faced with the task of telling their parents they want to pursue a different career instead). When we make choices or take actions that challenge that which we have been taught, that which we have been told, that which is our cultural indoctrination, it takes courage and strength to execute them—there will be fallout, sometimes far reaching. In some cases by acting from our own truth, we can put ourselves or our livelihood at risk (a woman who is finally able to leave an abusive husband, for example).
Acting with courage is not an act of unconscious willfulness; its not like closing our eyes, holding our breath and jumping off a cliff when we are afraid of heights; it is rooted in something more stable. It is about deliberate decision making, mindful choosing, embodied awareness…and of course acting from our inner truth. Courage helps us find the gumption to move forward, and instead of fleeing we proceed from a deep seated sense of being propelled by that truth. Besides William Wallace, there are many characters in literature and movies that embody this; some are based on true stories ( Norma Rae, Erin Brokovitch, the tobacco industry whistle blower Jeffrey Wigand); some are mythological (in Yoga, Hanuman and Parvati) some fictional ( Sam and Frodo in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy). And it bears noticing that in every case, each individual acted from a place deep inside themselves, as if they had no choice, that there was just no other option—because if they did not, they would compromise their own integrity in some way. Needless to say, every example doesn’t have to be played out on the world stage, painted with such broad strokes. Each one of us, every day, can exercise courage in big and small ways: living our Dharma provides us many opportunities to so. By making right choices for our internal self in our external world-a smaller world perhaps but no less meaningful—step by step, action by action, our life becomes clearer and truer, and we find the courage that has always been inside of us…and we become a spiritual Braveheart.