Real Courage

I previously posted about what we typically learn to think of as courage. In that post I shared how my previous understanding of courage fell apart. The awareness and insight that I got from a Marine Corp Staff Sergeant helped me understand that what we often associate with heroic acts could just as easily be motivated by a reaction to larger fears. From that point on I was always on the search for a different kind of courage. I was on the look out for courage that had integrity which meant it wasn’t driven by other fears.

It was many years before I began to find a different kind of courage. It was a kind of courage that wasn’t easy to spot at first. It wasn’t the kind of courage that inspired external actions or would result in any medals or awards. I think of it as real courage.

From my point of view real courage is that attribute necessary to face and challenge our own inner demons. Real courage is that gumption to go face to face with your fears, anger, insecurities, and the voices of sabotage, doubt and judgment in your mind. It is a willful act of personal strength that you draw upon to deal with the conflicts in the mind and make peace within. Many people have fought wars with enemies outside of them. It is a rare kind of courage to take up the fight to make peace within.

To face that critical voice in your head and tell it that you will not believe its criticisms isn’t an easy thing to do. Oddly enough it isn’t even something that many people consider doing. They just go along with the less than favorable opinions they have of other people. They go along with the unkind and even self abusive opinions about themselves. Why do we fail to stand up to these self abusive comments? Why don’t people stand up against the tyranny in their own mind? Perhaps it doesn’t occur to us to challenge those thoughts. But perhaps it doesn’t occur to us because we are afraid of what will happen if we challenge those inner demons?

What will happen if we look face to face at our anger instead of just expressing it? What will happen if we look into all the justifications for why we are angry and say, “I don’t want to justify and defend feeling this way. What will happen if we look directly at our stories of insecurity, stand up for our self and say, “You have no power over me”?

Why does challenging the voices and rationalizations behind our unhappiness take such courage? Part of the issue is that we have come to unquestioningly trust our mind. We trust it to make decisions for us and to keep us safe from physical pain and emotional hurt. It has structured a giant list of rules to follow in order to keep from getting hurt. It constantly reminds of these rules with its “should” and “shouldn’t” chatter. We learned follow our thinking mind blindly. Yet it is those same voices that can keep us up at night with uncontrollable chatter driving us to fear and anxiety with imagined stories of terrible outcomes. Oddly we trust this very same mind to guide us to happiness.

So what is so scary about challenging the beliefs, thoughts, and opinions, in the mind that it needs real courage? Very simply, if we can’t trust our mind then what can we trust? This notion of not trusting our mind to tell us what to do can push us towards a fear that we will want to avoid.
A person needs real courage to challenge the thoughts in their head because without that mind in charge what are we going to trust to keep them safe from emotional pain? We have come to rely on every thought from our mind as being true that we feel we need it there to guide us. We trust our mind to keep us free of emotional pain and yet it is the principle means by which we generate emotional pain and anxiety.

There is a slight shift you can make to help begin the journey. It is to make a difference between trusting your mind and trusting your self. You can learn not to believe in the thoughts in your mind and still believe in your self.

What are those rules in our mind that are driven by our inner demons of fear? Fear tells us, don’t fall in love or you will get hurt. Fear tells us, that if we start that business we might fail. Fear tells us not to speak up in the meeting because we might look foolish. Fear tells us not to do something for our self because we don’t want to be labeled as selfish. Fear tells us not to climb too high we might fall. Those thoughts are rules that are supposed to help us be better off emotionally. Of course each rule requires loading our self down with a fear.

Challenging your demon thoughts and beliefs is like letting go of a hand rail that we have hung on to for safety. Our fear says that we should hang on or else we might fall and get hurt. Our fear has been reminding us ever since we fell down on the play ground as a little kid and got hurt. It has been pounding the message into our being until we don’t let go of any handrails. Learning to hang on to the handrails may be a good idea when we are little and haven’t fully developed our balance and muscle control. However when we get older we still follow the advice of fear in our mind. Fear has become our adviser in making choices in our life.

You can’t run very fast or far in your life if you don’t let go of the handrail of fear.
We sometimes fool ourselves and think that we are gripped by fear. The reverse is true. We hang on to fear as a trusted adviser gripping it as if it were going to keep us from getting hurt emotionally. We cling to all its advice in hopes that we won’t get hurt. We don’t realize that hanging on to these beliefs and fears extracts its own kind of emotional price. Fear becomes our mythological god. We follow its counsel, we trust its words. When we obey those voices of fear in our mind and serve our personal god of fear and all its laws.

What happens when we disobey the god of fear? Perhaps we hold the belief that bad things will happen to us if we disobey the rules of the god of fear. Perhaps that god of fear will judge us for being stupid and not following its advice. There is the fear of being punished or feeling guilty for disobeying. There become fearful consequences for challenging our fears. Imagine that, fear of breaking free of agreements of fear.

To challenge your personal fears may feel like taking on a whole nest of inner demons. It’s more than just letting go of the hand rail, it’s fighting off the fearful reactions in the mind that happen when we break the rules in the mind. That takes real courage. We are also risking the possibility that people will react differently when we act differently. We are stepping into the unknown. To challenge these inner demons and step into the unknown consequences takes a different kind of courage.

In my last post I shared that what we typically think of as courage often has larger fears at the foundation. What looks like a brave act may really have deeper personal fears as part of the motivation. What I have come to realize is that it takes a real kind of courage to challenge these deeper internal fears at the foundation of our behaviors and actions. To challenge the inner demons and fears in the mind is a truly heroic act that only few dare take on. That is why it is often referred to as the mythological journey of the hero.

What is different about facing your fears and inner demons is that there is no public glory in it. No one will notice that you are reflecting on your own behavior, emotions, and reactions. No one gives you medals, and hardly anyone recognizes the kind of courage it takes. There is no one rooting you on. You go on this inward journey alone. This solo adventure that you don’t do for anyone else and don’t do with anyone else is part of why it takes a different kind of courage.

It also makes for a kind of courage that doesn’t get corrupted with the self importance of getting attention and recognition from others. It has a kind of humble integrity that is independent from other people’s opinions and how they measure you.

Having the courage to take this kind of inward journey beyond your own inner demons has no external rewards, at least not in the beginning. However the internal changes and personal freedom gained is its own reward. To be free of fear, to no longer be subject to the emotional reactions of anger, jealousy, and insecurity is a reward. To no longer have to prove your self to any one, even your self is an incredible relief. To have immunity from fear of what other people think of you is an internal reward that can’t be externally measured. To slay the voices in the mind of doubt and criticism and create peace within is a completely unseen reward.
To challenge your inner demons and win over your fears is a heroic feat. It is truly a hero’s journey to face and win the war within. It is a feat that requires a different kind of courage.

I’m in awe of anyone who even tries. To me it is not important to win. We don’t know how long we have to live, maybe just a week, or month, or year. We can not count on winning over our inner demons when we don’t know how long we have. In any case this Hero’s Journey it is not about winning. If we make it about winning we are also making it about losing, and perhaps the fear of losing becomes another one of our demons. The journey is more about letting go of the fear of losing and the fear of failing that so often corrupts the desire to win or succeed.

In the challenge against our inner demons of fear and judgments winning and losing is not important. It is only important that we find the courage to try.