What would it look like if all those things you interacted with daily – your calendar, social media, job, routine, exercise, food – served YOU, rather than you serving them?
What would it look like if your honest feelings, needs and wants, combined with your confidence and sensitivity, fueled your interaction and relation to all the things around you?
The willingness to look at these two questions, up close and personal, is the first step in cultivating courage.
You interact with the world everyday. This is part of what it means to be human. So many times, though, you become a slave to the things you interact with.
How many times have you looked at your calendar and felt your heart speed up and your palms sweat with anxiety? Or got heavy and down, or even worse, wanted to run? Or hit the social media crack pipe only to get caught up in a flood of information you’d rather not be privy to? Or sarcastically whistled off to a job you hate, to make money you don’t believe in, eating food that’s simply convenient and exercising because all of the people told you that you should?
I have done all of these things at one time or another. I’ve been deeply programmed to live for others – other people and other things – and to selflessly serve, as if my human self came with no needs, desires or dreams attached.
When I was doing this, when I was serving these external forces, I was putting them in the center of my life. It was like I moved outside of myself and filled me in with calendars and shoulds and yes’s and please-like-me’s, and I just kept rotating around all of them, smoothing them down and fluffing them up and making them look pretty (because of course they should look pretty!).
It was like I was landscaping someone else’s dream.
While they were away on vacation.
Living it up.
This is so common that I can’t even make it funny with curse words. And when I can’t do that, I know it’s not funny – it’s heartbreaking. So many of us are landscaping someone else’s dreams. Our own have escaped like wisps of glittery, colorful wind into journals, and sketch pads, and secret phone calls and drunken conversations.
Sometimes we get brave, and we share our dreams. In the wrong places. We share them to the keepers of the dreams we landscape, the other landscapers. I used to share my dreams to those like this. But every time I did, they would gobble up my dreams like big hungry dream-eating monsters, and spit them out and tell me how terrible they tasted. So I would turn away, and the color of my dreams would fade, and I would die just a little and go back to landscaping.
Sometimes it’s best just to be the change yourself, rather than alerting anyone to the changes to come. Here’s a secret I learned: You do not need to inform the world that you are changing. You can just start changing and let the world respond to you.
Honesty + Courage = Freedom
Let’s talk about courage.
The first step to courage is moving yourself into the center of your life.
In the center of your life, there is only room for you or for the other things, but not both. You cannot serve both. You have to choose.
Choosing yourself allows you to choose how you want to interact with all the external factors in your life – people, schedules and calendars, social media, food, exercise and routine. It allows you to be the focus of your own life. When it’s working, you’re able to see how relationships with the external world serves you.
Does this sound selfish? Yeah, maybe, but it’s really just self-preservation. Preserving your energy, your focus and your dreams is necessary to be able to interact with the world around you and not get worn out or build resentment. Living your dreams with courage takes energy, and you need yours intact.
The yoga sutras are pretty clear that everything you do is about you. Sure, be in service to others, be kind, be compassionate. But know that you’re doing it because it brings you more joy. You’re doing it because, at the end of the day, you are the only one in your life that you have any power to change. You must be your own change and trust that, at some point, the world will let you be you only to the extent that you let you be you.
The world will let you be you only to the extent that you let you be you.
You don’t need crazy amounts of courage to change – the amount it takes to jump off a scary cliff to the undefined landing below. There is no cliff, and you don’t have to jump. You only need enough courage to begin the change within you. One step at a time. For example: what would your calendar look like if it served you? If it served your desires, feelings, needs and wants? Map it out. Then do it. Be it. Be your own change, ala Gandhi.
And see what happens.
Honestly, when people ask me how I’ve gotten to where I am, I usually say something like, “I finally decided that this thing I feel inside should be a thing, so I made it one.” Which really means that I decided to try something that felt right in my soul, to listen to my deep honesty, even though my mind was arguing, and just see what happened.
At some point, you have to trust that the deep, inner knowing of your soul (your honesty) is there for a reason. That it’s not just shooting ideas off in the dark with no one listening. At some point you just have to decide to trust your inner guidance. And be open to seeing what happens.
Practice this is in areas of life where the stakes are not high. It’s hard to have courage to, let’s say, leave a crappy relationship, for example, if you’re not used to trusting your inner knowing on the little things. So it’s easier to practice with the little things. Your little things are those that aren’t, in any way, triggering to you. My favorites are deciding which trails to take while walking in the woods and choosing which foods to eat, both which aren’t triggering for me. But you could use it to choose laundry detergent, decide whether to go out or not, or choose your outfit for the day.
For me, I know information is the true voice of my inner guidance when it resonates in my physical body around my heart. Usually, this feels like a resonance, a slight heaviness, a deep yes. It feels grounded, centered and quiet. There are no words, or only very simple ones. The inner voice does not think, it knows. When my more peripheral senses are guiding me, I feel it in other places – my stomach (when I’m craving something), lower gut (when I have fear), my head or my hands (when I want something for no apparent reason), or in my thoughts. That’s how it works for me. When you’re beginning, you will have to figure out what works for you.
You have to be in your body for this – so if you just got off of the computer, out of a class or meeting, or just finished a long stint at work, take some time to get in your body by going for a walk, meditating on your breath, doing some yoga postures or having dance party. You must feel connected with ALL of you. Then, ask yourself the question you want inner guidance to. For example, Do I want this soup for dinner? Or do I want this cake for dinner? And listen with your whole body. I love to do this when I’m out walking in the woods. At each trail junction, I get still and ask, Which way? I get nudged in a certain way, and even if my mind doesn’t want to go that way, I go that way.
Why do it if my thoughts say otherwise? Because I’m choosing to listen to what my soul wants, to do that, and see what happens. It’s an exercise in trust.
It’s important that you override your thoughts when you do this. In general, your thoughts really shouldn’t be trusted for forging forward with deep honesty. Your thoughts are judgmental, and fearful and often just plain wrong. (When I run up against fear that comes from doing something scary, my thoughts are like a drunken, bratty teenager. They’re super winey and dramatic, they crave whiskey and long for chocolate cake-covered moon beams. No one should take that shit seriously).
Use your thoughts to reason or to do math. Use your whole self to make big decisions about how to put you into the center of your life.
We lack courage when we’ve become stuck in a pattern of things not working, when we’ve listened to our thoughts over our knowing for too long, or become so fearful of listening to our deep wisdom that we just don’t hear it. In order to cultivate courage, we need to show ourselves that we can have that thing we want deeply – we have to change the pattern. We have to have experiences that prove to our system that we can trust ourselves.
Start with the little things. This way, or that way? Your system will learn to trust that you’re listening, and you will learn that you trust it. The big things are only a matter of time. This job? This client? Walk away? Lean in? Courage is your ability to listen and to stick with yourself when your fears doubts you. It’s the ability to just jump in. Walk away, says the inner voice, while your thoughts scream a gazillion reason not to. Away it is, then. That’s courage.