Courage is not the lack of fear, but rather, it is what enables us to do the very thing that frightens us.
In the face of great fear, when your hands are sweating, your heart is pounding, and your legs are shaking, you are essentially left with two choices: to press on or to give up.
We’ve all felt it. And if we haven’t, we have fallen into numbness which is scarier than fear itself.
It may have been when seeing someone you’re heads over heels in love with, when speaking to a large audience, when facing your boss with a tough question, or simply when saying, “Thank you,” or “I’m sorry,” or “Please help me,” wholeheartedly. These situations activate our body sensations in such freaking obvious ways. But the same goes on, in more subtle and prolonged ways, when we face bigger challenges, like making a career change, starting or ending a relationship, going into an operation, or running out of money.
It happens when we face situations that have the potential for us to feel unsafe, to be hurt or singled out, to feel embarrassed or awkward, to feel weird, inappropriate, uncomfortable, disillusioned. It happens in environments where we sense we could make a mistake or show our incompetence or vulnerability. You name it. What it all really boils down to is: fear of failure. We fear failing.
But where do all these emotions come from? Who sets the bar for what we perceive as failure? Failure to what exactly? And what makes us build up the courage to overcome our fear and move on to action? Perhaps we need to look no further than ourselves. Even though society exerts all sorts of pressures on us, it is ultimately up to us to set expectations for ourselves, and allow all the emotions that come with those expectations. So pressing on might do us well.
We might fool ourselves into thinking that avoiding danger makes us safe, but in the long run, avoiding danger is no safer than downright exposure. Safety might in fact be more dangerous than boldness. The most successful, scientific approach to eradicating fear is probably to systematically expose ourselves to the thing that scares us. We can start with the small things, and build acceptance and confidence as we overcome, working our way up to bigger and more serious things.
There comes a point, when we face our deepest fears, where we can reach a state of nothingness, free from all fear. And all of a sudden, BOOM! — there is a spark of creativity.
Such creativity is not meant for only a few talented ones. We all long for it. As Rollo May, the author of “The Courage to Create” puts it: “We are called upon to do something new, to confront a no man’s land, to push into a forest where there are no well-worn paths and from which no one has returned to guide us. This is what the existentialists call the anxiety of nothingness.”
Think about it. I’m sure you’ve experienced it. That moment where you’ve gotten to the bottom of something, where you’ve really done all you could and you’ve overcome all your demons along the way. You’ve completely centered yourself and are filled with trust and confidence. You are ready to give birth to something totally new.
On a larger scale, our fears stem from the gap between our ideals — or dreams — and our reality. Between what we wish and what we actually have in front of us. In the hearts of some people, those dreams have already come true. These people whose dreams are already achieved in their hearts boldly throw themselves into it without hesitation.
I believe we can call this true courage — the courage to create. And somewhere deep inside, we all know we can find it. The key is choice, continued choice, the choice to press on until our heart is fully open, and we unlock the power of our potential for all to see.
This article was originally published in the Summer 2018 issue of Brain World Magazine.