The Year of Courage Moments

Over the last few weeks of 2017, I did a ton of introspection. I’m proud of the lessons I’ve learned this year. I cleaned out the toxic relationships in my life, reinvested in optimism and gratitude, cultivated a baseline of compassion and empathy from which I approach all experiences. In essence, I cracked my heart open and chose to get involved instead of succumb to apathy. The work I did was good; it set a strong foundation for what needs to happen next. The time I took to assess where I had been showed me my habits.  I am a runner, literally and figuratively, so when something happens, big stuff that makes me overflow with feelings and thoughts, I want to run away - or at least run for a little bit so that I can collect myself and exercise the fear out of me before I act. I look at this habitual response and it shows me that there is a more efficient way to get to action.  It’s courage.

Courage does not exists without fear.  Courage is staring fear in the eyes and choosing to act anyway. Cultivating courage means going directly into the uncomfortable.  It means probably making a few other people uncomfortable in the process. In an effort to make everyone comfortable, cozy, what is sacrificed?  We leave important thoughts unsaid and sweep injustices under the rug.

We are at the beginning of a courage revolution.  Look back on the last year, well really since the election of Donald Trump, and you’ll see more people speaking up for justice, speaking out against antiquated power dynamics and institutionalized oppression, and taking actions against apathy. It’s inspiring to see that kind of courage on a large scale. Like any macro cultural change, it needs to start in the heart of the individual.

What makes someone courageous?

Courage happens in many big and small ways.  Courage can be political activism and it can be telling someone you love them (or telling them you don’t).  It can be saving someone’s life and it can be the act of reaching out. Courage can be moving through and with big feelings that you have.  Courage can be writing down and recognizing your biggest dreams. Most of our lives can be filled with acts of courage.

Courage moments usually have the following characteristics:

  1. Initial fear response (flight, fight, freeze)
  2. Big, sometimes overwhelming feelings
  3. A tempting “easy way out” choice
  4. High stakes

With all of these ideas present, of course it’s challenging to act courageously. Usually courage moments make us vulnerable.  It introduces us to places for growth and ways that we are human and flawed. Courage recognizes that our ego might bruise, our hearts might break a little, but beyond fear lies something much greater than the fear itself.

In the yoga practice, we cultivate courage all of the time: trying a new posture, holing a chair pose, being on the brink of falling but deciding to keep going.  How can that courage translate to life off of the mat? In the same way that a teacher guides a practice, encourages us to explore the outer edges of possibility, we can cultivate that same inner guide.

Here’s the game plan for embarking on this Year of Courage Moments:

  1. Become aware of habitual responses to fear (like running away)
  2. Figure out what about this thing/situation/person/decision evokes the fear response
  3. Instead of ignoring, avoiding, staying silent, engage by
    a. Speaking up
    b. Choosing an action and following through
    c. Expand understand via conversation and critical thinking
  4. Reinforce the positive outcomes of acting with courage by exploring what was gained/learned in the process

Yoga is a practice of community, accountability, compassion, and courage. It is a great tragedy when those qualities are secluded to life on the mat.  Courage is not the easy way, but if we are looking to transform our society into one of inclusion, a feelings of safety for ALL people, and greater accountability, then it is the necessary one. All of this courage we’re cultivating, what is it for? Make waves, make change. Get off of the sidelines and join the fray. In the least ironic way possible, YOLO. Make it count.