Living a Life of Bravery & Courage: Lessons from the Goddess Durga
I can’t count the number of times this year that I have cried because of the state of the world. As an American living abroad at this moment in history, my heart is totally breaking for my country. Any way you cut it, the world will not be the same as we enter 2021.
One of the only things to get me through this year has been my spiritual practice. And lately, I have been sitting with the goddess Durga. She is a goddess that appears at a moment when it seems as though all is lost. In my experience of working with her, she is heart centered courage. To me, Durga is the definition of brave.
I am not sure if you feel this as well, but I believe our society is being asked to evolve right now. Specifically, I think we are all asked to be living a courageous and brave life.
COURAGE & BRAVERY DEFINED
Both courage and bravery have been values we have loved as a culture.
The dictionary defines courage as: mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty. And we can define bravery as courageous behavior. Bravery is a courage synonym.
In 2007, researchers defined courage as a wilful, intentional act, executed after mindful deliberation, involving objective substantial risk to the actor, primarily motivated to bring about a noble good or worthy end, despite, perhaps, the presence of the emotion of fear.
For me, these words have always meant big, life-giving actions, like someone who gives their life to protect innocent people. But over the years, I have come to realize bravery shows up as little daily choices.
WHY IS COURAGE IMPORTANT?
One of my favorite courage quotes comes from Maya Angelou. She says that:
Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can't practice any other virtue consistently.
This courage quote reminds me that that courage is the foundation of every other virtue. In order to life a life in alignment to our essence and truth, we must have courage. Because it is easy to abandon ourselves to the crowd. Friendship and belonging are important, but not at the expense of ourselves.
WHAT IF COURAGE ISN’T A WEAPON?
Working with Durga this time, I have discovered an absolute sweetness and softness to her. It inspired me to think about courage a little differently. Over the years, I have always treated courage as a rigid, almost knife-like thing. I learned very early on that I had to fight to be heard. And I have been fighting ever since.
I have always valued courage and bravery.
So, I would always take steps to face fear, but I would be dissociated while doing it.
For example, when I first started teaching, I was terrified of teaching. I have learning disability that causes me to forget words. I would practice cues using alternative words in front of the mirror for hours. I would be so worried that I would forget words, that the stress would make my forgetfulness worse. I would get up and do it anyway. And, while that worked to changes things a little bit, it never actually changed the fear. Not until I was able to listen to my fear of being seen, and then gave it the love and support that my fear needed to be seen and shift. (Also, this has never fully gone away... I just have more capacity to meet it now).
Developmentally, babies take risks because they are supported to do so. It’s an innate and important part of the process of learning. The thing about courage is that it happens because of support. It doesn’t have to be a fight.
When courage comes from the heart, it can be both powerful and soft.
HOW CAN WE LIVE A LIFE OF COURAGE AND BRAVERY? Lately, my biggest question has been – how do we live a life of bravery in a deeply polarized world? I think we are really being challenged in the modern times. I do believe that courage and brave actions are being asked of us. So, how can courage support us in moving forward? And how can you cultivate it?
Journal about the world you want to live in. Notice the themes and desires you have written about. This can help you understand what world you want to co-create. Remember that each day, what you nurture with your time and actions will support these values to be seeded in the world.
Create a foundation of support for yourself. Babies don’t learn because they know that they must grow up and get a job and make money. They learn because their curiosity is supported. Taking risks doesn’t have to be scary or difficult. It can be fun and playful. Learn to connect with the things that let you feel supported and safe so that it’s easier to be courageous.
Learn to listen to yourself and others. If there is anything that 2020 has taught me, it’s that everyone’s experience is incredibly different. We have different reasons for why we believe the things that we do, and these experiences are based on our unique life. While something might feel similar, someone else’s experience is unique. Please, learn to hear someone else and to truly hear yourself. You don’t have to have the same experience to both be true and valid. It takes heart and courage to listen to others in a world where we are taught that our perspective must be true. This can allow courage that comes from the heart rather than a place of fear.
Fear isn’t the enemy. Our emotions are like guideposts. And fear is an emotion that keeps us safe. Learn to distinguish between healthy fear and the fearful places where you could and should take risks.
Celebrate your wins. You are taking risks every day. You might not even realize that you’re taking them! Observe the moments when you take a risk and count it as a win. Noticing that you are already courageous might help you to show up more courageously.
You are an amazing and wonderful droplet of the cosmos. I look forward to hearing some examples of courage from each of you.