February’s Gift: Courage
This Valentine’s Day month is a good opportunity to consider the gift of courage, because the word “courage” is derived from the French word “coeur” meaning heart. We often think of courage as the quality needed to face a scary challenge or we attribute it to someone we consider a brave hero. In reality, courage isn’t always about facing extremely hard times; instead, it can be something we use on a typical day to do what we need to do. My favorite way to define courage is as “a firmness of spirit” and I think of courage as a relative quality. That is, what feels courageous to one person might simply feel like “doing what one has to do,” to another person. One of my favorite 100-year old yoga students commented in a class that “sometimes it takes courage just to put your feet on the floor and get out of bed in the morning.” I think that can be true for a lot of us, regardless of our age or physical condition.
Although courage isn’t always about doing something that appears to be large and dramatic, I think it IS always about being the best we can be at a given moment. I often wonder what it would be like if I could more often be my “highest self,” myself at my very best. I think this means different things to each of us. For me, it doesn’t mean striving, or being perfect, but it means taking the high road and not sinking to my lowest place, my easiest place. Courage is finding a place in my head, in my body, and in my heart that makes me feel better about myself. It means deciding I can fly instead of crawl. When I am feeling courage, I believe nearly anything is possible. I think this kind of courage to aim to be my highest self begins with breath and centering and going inside to find my belief in myself and who I can really be.
Finding one’s own internal courage is in a way like going back to when we were brand new. In the movie archive of my life, I can easily rewind to one of my favorite scenes. It is a video in my mind’s eye of my daughter as a little girl running on the beach. She was free and happy and easy and believed anything was possible. I have a matching memory from some thirty years later of my grand-daughter making that same amazing run on the beach. In both scenes there is a “firmness of spirit” that seems to be supporting those little girls to run strong and easy. Maintaining that sense of strength and confidence in our best selves often becomes more and more difficult as we grow and maybe especially as we age. I love the e.e. cummings quote: “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” As we grow and age and get bumped about by daily challenges both big and small, we can begin to lose that sense of who we can be at our best. It takes courage, a firmness of spirit, to make the effort to stay connected or to reconnect with that strong sense of self and keep moving forward.
One of yoga’s on-going gifts is the opportunity it provides for us to get in touch with what is going on in both body and mind. Standing in Yoga Warrior 1 pose can bring an awareness of our own grounded-ness and help us find our center. In Warrior 1 our grounding is strong in our feet and in our legs. We feel strong in our backs and centered in our core. We find our breath and our hearts strong in our chests. Our shoulders relax. Our hands can be at our heart or reaching up as the crown of the head raises toward the sky. Our eyes are looking ahead with strength and clarity. Some days we can lift the corners of the mouth up into a smile. On a day when our courage feels long lost and far away, heading to yoga class and grabbing a mat or a chair and slipping into yoga warrior 1 pose can help us find where our courage lives inside. With this courage more available, perhaps our own highest selves feel just a little easier to find and to use.