What brave thing are you going to do today?
“Do one thing every day that scares you.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
“Invite someone dangerous to tea.” – Sark
What bit of apprehensiveness or aversiveness or lack of strength or perhaps even modicum of immaturity within yourself are you going to valiantly try to overcome today?
Is today the day when you will finally meet your own inner-Tyler Durden and invite him to tea? . . .
It’s much easier and safer to sit in a chair behind a desk and your computer screen and read or cite a quote, thrill to the words and the ideal it encapsulates, than it is to actually get out of that air-conditioned climate-controlled and safe environment and get to work attempting to actually live the words, put them into play in the real world, and in your own life and relationships.
The latter requires integrity and courage, and in fact helps to create these. The former requires neither, and if fact lessens both our integrity and our courage.
The easy way in life is seldom the right way.
Consider the following oft-quoted but seldom lived or acted on excerpt from Helen Keller—
“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. . . . Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold. . . . Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.” (from “Let Us Have Faith,” pp. 50-51.)
That’s what’s usually quoted.
(And need I say rarely practiced or attempted?)
She goes on in the next paragraph to write, “Serious harm, I’m afraid, has been wrought to our generation by fostering the idea that they would live secure in a permanent order of things. It has tended to weaken the imagination and self-equipment and unfit them for independent steering of their destinies. They have expected to be given security instead of creating it and providing it, and so they now find none within themselves or in their universe. Before it’s too late they must learn and teach others that only by brave acceptance of change and all-time crisis ethics can they rise to the height of superlative responsibility.”
The expectation we have of security first—of not having to use our courage, of not having to feel the fear and do something anyway—has also weakened the will and weakened our courage and our bravery and resilience. It’s weakened what’s best in us.
Thus we avoid difficulty and danger and the unknown and intense emotional situations and interactions and clutch anxiously at security first because we feel ourselves to be out of shape psychologically, to be ill-equipped to cope with the full intensity of life and strong emotions and feelings.
By repeatedly avoiding danger and difficulty and intense emotional situations and interactions—by backing down repeatedly—we shrink ourselves and our comfort zone.
And what’s more, the psychological musculature that we might have gained and developed by courageously wrestling with a given difficulty or emotionally intense encounter we not only don’t gain, we actually lose a bit of whatever emotional musculature or psychological fitness and stamina we might have already had by refusing the fight or the difficulty or the intense encounter.
Courage is a case of use it or lose. Grow or die. Get busy living or get busy withering and wilting away. There’s no neutrality when it comes to courage and developing emotional and psychological fitness, stamina, and health. With every choice in life to either avoid some immensity or difficulty and run from it, or to hold our ground and hold onto ourselves and face it and deal with both it and ourselves, we’re either building neo-cortical and limbic muscle mass, or we’re losing it and atrophying those parts of our brain.
Without constant use and practice, our courage muscles atrophy, we loss that musculature and become soft, less fit for life. And thus we become more tense, more afraid, more likely to clam up, wall up, clamor for security, more likely to feel anxious and insecure.
And thus a vicious downward cycle is set in motion.
Again, it’s a very dynamic relationship. One where there is absolutely no neutrality. We either live more daringly, take our lumps, but also possibly gain some benefits and strengths and occasional windfalls we would have never gained any other way, and grow and become more than we were before. Or we shrink, surrender, take the path of least resistance, and in doing so weaken ourselves, voluntarily cripple ourselves a bit, render ourselves more anxious, more insecure, more avoidant, less fit for life, and more likely to read and talk about courage rather than actually practice it. (We become more dis-integrated and hypocritical—more likely to say one thing but do the opposite.)
What’s more difficult when meeting someone new and exciting and interesting? Opening yourself up, risking being rejected or pushed away for being real with another, risking sharing honestly what’s on your mind, what’s really going on inside of you, what’s happened to you, what you’ve been through, and risk being rejected by another for being who you are and where you’ve been?
Or not doing this and keeping the relationship and the conversation at the level of a superficial though perhaps entertaining and witty exchange?
How does avoiding opening oneself, avoiding “living the questions” (that magnificent phrase of Rilke’s), avoiding risking being real and vulnerable in any way square with what Helen Keller is saying?
If you quote something, don’t you then have the responsibility of actually trying to embody it—of struggling honestly and heroically to live up to the ideals expressed?
We are safety-first creatures. We think life goes on forever. We think the Universe owes us a safe and secure and comfortable existence. We think things have to be made safe for us before we will take a leap. But how much of a leap is it really if things have been made safe and secure and fail-proof for us beforehand? It’s not a brave heroic character-building leap into the unknown; it’s not even a leap at all. It’s just a small next step into the known, into yet more safety and security—a continuation of the sure-thing we want to believe life is.
Make no mistake about it, Helen Keller’s excerpt is about living the questions; it’s about taking her words and getting off our butts and going out into the real world and putting them into practice in our own life and in our relationships with other real live human beings and living with more courage, more honesty, more integrity, more openness, and making our lives a bit more of a daring adventure. It’s about rowing for our lives towards the next great adventure or towards the next immense and plunging falls or dizzying possibly life-changing love or relationship. It’s not about rowing towards the safety of the nearest familiar shore and the shallows of a fallow riverbank where nothing new can occur in our life or in our relationships. It’s not about excerpting Keller’s words from the safety of our cubicle or laptop and keeping them in our head as an ego-fantasy or ego-ideal, and keeping them out of our limbs and actions where they’re meant to be. No, it’s about making space in our life, and then holding that space open—space for something new and unprecedented to occur, space for something immense and unexpected, space for something strange and courageous to happen.
To know and not to act is not to know at all. It is in fact to undermine our own development and sin against our own integrity. Because to know and not to act is to become more rather than less dis-integrated; it is to become better at compartmentalizing things that really ought to belong together. It is also to become more practiced at becoming disembodied or more in our heads. It is to become more comfortable living falsely, presenting a false self, becoming more of an ego in a skin bag.
It also serves to add more confusion to the world, more say or pretend to aspire to one thing but in reality do another and opposite thing.
It takes courage to act with integrity, to integrate what we recognize as being wise and healthy and beneficial for us, and actually try to live up to it and practice it and put it into play in our life. In fact doing this actually creates more courage. As well as self-confidence and integrity and real self-respect and self-esteem.
“The Waiting Place. . .”
(…for people just waiting)
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.
Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.
All around us there are people waiting for us to be brave, waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage, and in doing so transform some of the dragons around us into princesses.