Today’s post is a meditation on fear and bravery, in three parts.
Part One: Get Your Brave Up
Back when the kids were younger, and liquid medicine was the order of the day, our family practiced a sacred ritual of medicine-taking that could not be skipped or deviated from.
It began with the parent measuring out the correct dose in the little plastic dose cup, the child making that little “yuck” face and that “hurk” sound of not-quite throwing up, and then the child saying “Wait! I need a glass of water!” (Or milk, if the medicine was particularly noxious.)
Then, dose cup in hand, milk/water chaser at the ready, the child stands in front of the sink, staring into the deep, radioactive red (or pink… or orange…) of the poison medicine.
“Do you want me to count for you?” the parent says to the child. Calling on the power of the magic three-count: one-two-three-GO!
A soft but fervent nod in response.
“Okay, here we go. One… two… th-“
“Wait!” Followed by a deep, shuddering breath. Then, “Okay.”
“Okay. One… two… th-“
“C’mon, you really need to take it. Here, let me help you.” The parent reaching for the dose cup.
“No! I’ll do it myself.” Pulling the dose cup away, almost spilling… but not.
“Okay, fine. Here we go. One… two… th-“
“Stop counting! You’re stressing me out!”
“Fine. No more counting. But you need to take it.”
“Wait… wait.” Almost pleading now. “I need to get my Brave up.”
“Okay. Well I’m going to step out and let you finish getting your Brave up and taking your medicine, since you don’t need my help.”
So the parent retreats from the bathroom (but not too far)—leaving the child, still standing at the sink, dose cup in hand, eyes closed—looking inside for the place where The Brave lived, waiting to be called up for this moment, this need.
And then, with a millisecond flick of the wrist twenty minutes in the making, The Brave is summoned, medicine swallowed, chaser swished… and the face-making and spitting and dying-noises commence in earnest.
In recent years, this most sacred of rituals has passed into memory, replaced by a new ritual: the taking of the pill.
But that is a story for another time.
Part Two: Daring The Dark
As a child, I was lucky enough that the things I feared were products not of some real-world evil, but of my own vivid imagination.
The Monsters Under the Bed. The Creatures in the Closet. The Thing Lurking in the Basement. The Dark.
I was lucky, too, that my imagination forged for me protections from those dark beings.
Some were universal rules that even the monsters must obey, like: if your covers were up to your neck and none of your body was exposed, the monsters could not get you. (So what if you roasted in the summers because you refused to sleep without covers. Small price to pay for not being pulled from the bed and devoured…)
Some were creations: like the Mousetrap-like invention made of shoelaces and paper clips and Popsicle sticks and other strange components, which allowed me, from my bed, to flick on the light switch on the other side of my bedroom (and banish the Dark and the monsters It held, if only for a time)—with only one swift hand leaving the safety of the aforementioned shield of covers.
Some were talismans: Bear, my stuffed companion and button-eyed defender, who watched over me while I slept.
But sometimes there were no protections or rules or defenders. There was only the Brave to be summoned, to face the danger of the Dark.
I remember a ritual of bravery I practiced many times as a child. I would be standing at the bottom of the basement stairs, the whole of the basement in shadow, only the light from the top of the stairs shining down, a pool of safe light keeping the darkness at bay.
At the top of the stairs was the switch that doused that light.
And at my left hand was its mate.
And as I stood there, the shadows chittering and slithering and grasping behind me, I would have to decide: Am I brave enough to flip this switch here at the bottom and run up, the Dark rushing forward and clawing at my heels as I raced toward the upstairs and safety? Or will I just climb the stairs and turn out the light from that position of safety, not looking down into the blackness for fear of what might be staring back up at me?
Many days I was able to summon the courage—get my Brave up—to race the Dark and my fear up those stairs. Other days, when the whispering of the monsters was too loud in my ears, and I could not find The Brave inside, I had to walk up into the light hand-in-hand with my fears, and wait for another day to challenge them.
Part Three: Bravery Lost and Found
When was the last time you tested yourself for bravery?
As kids it seemed we did it all the time. Riding our bikes or skateboards or scooters breakneck down that hill. Jumping out of the hay loft into the soft, summer grass. Falling backwards off the roof of the garage into the five-foot-tall snow drifts. Standing up to the bully you knew could beat the crap out of you.
Or those smaller, quieter moments: facing the Dark at the bottom of the stairs, or facing Disappointment when trying out for the Swim Team, or facing Rejection when asking the cute girl to dance.
As kids we were forever testing those boundaries of what was possible. Flirting with Danger, staring down Failure in its saliva-dripping maw, dancing on that razor’s edge between complete Exhilaration and total Fear.
Sometimes our adventures turned out surprisingly, amazingly well—better than we could have imagined. And other times they ended in spectacular failures (and the occasional hospital visit…).
But no matter the outcome, we left that event feeling powerfully energized, full of joy, and alive, in a way that’s hard to define or replicate in the normal, everyday, adult lives we have now.
And we also came away with some amazing stories… memories etched on our minds that are so much more vivid and powerful than the memories of most of the stuff that happened in the last week, or month, or year… or decade…
I want that back. What about you?
Okay, so I’m not talking about the jumping into snow drifts part or the careening down a hill on Rollerblades part (have a lovely set of scars to show for the last time I did that). I’m not talking about taking crazy risks now that I’m older and have a family and responsibilities. Or maybe I am…
Because for a lot of my adult life, I’ve been playing it safe.
I’ve rationalized it, intellectualized it, justified it—but the truth is, I stopped putting myself in situations where failure or rejection or disappointment was a possibility.
And instead, I chose to live inside that safe, comfortable place where risks were small… and so were the rewards.
I could describe that situation in excruciating detail, but I won’t. Suffice to say that I followed the rules and Conventional Wisdom, did what was expected (not necessarily the “right” thing, but the “expected” thing), and settled into a life that overall was pretty good, but wasn’t exactly right.
In the last year, I made some changes.
(To some of you these changes might seem small, or obvious, or easy—but for me they have been sometimes challenging, and always significant. And to me, so have been—and continue to be—the rewards.)
I decided to start this blog… and share with you not only my intellectual observations, but my emotional life as well—something before I’d only done with my closest friends. I used to say, “I’m a private person,” but what I really was saying was, “I’m afraid if I open up to you—show you the real person, tell you what scares the hell out of me or lights my soulfire—that you’ll reject me.”
…and I found my voice again. I realized that I’ve been silent for a long time. An observer only, not an actor. Certainly not the heroic catalyst for positive change I’ve wanted to become. Will this blog be the conduit for that change? I don’t know. But I do know there’s power in finding your voice, your truth, and using your words for the good of others.
I decided to join things… like How to Connect With Anyone (CWA), Live Your Legend Local, and World Domination Summit. I joined first because I thought I could get something out of each of the groups—learn something, make new friends, make connections that would help in my work. To come out of my shell some, to be more comfortable around people…
…and I found my tribe. I found all of those things in spades, but more important I found people with whom being myself is almost effortless. First, because the others in my League of Extraordinary Gentlepersons are so welcoming and genuine themselves. Second, because even though we are different, there’s a central core—a set of values about freedom and service and contribution and passion and community—that connects us in a powerful and profound way. And third, because trusting them comes so easily, and wanting to help them is second nature.
I decided to lean into the fear, the uncertainty, and take action… When faced with two options, I choose the one that makes me uncomfortable. If both do, then I choose the one that makes me more uncomfortable. This has led me to meeting lots of new friends, to doing live Tai Chi performances on stage with my group, and to conducting my first story workshop at our recent Live Your Legend Local Regional event. And that’s just the beginning…
…and I found my Brave again. Because I have found that bravery comes from making decisions and taking action. The more decisions and the more action, the braver we become, and the bigger decisions and bigger actions we can take. And the more we decide and do—succeed or fail in the attempt—the more we begin to believe in ourselves and what is possible for us. The uncertainty doesn’t go away—the future is uncertain and always will be. We humans can only see so far ahead. It’s momentum that brings clarity, not the other way around (thanks, Naz!).
So, then, I’ve learned that my Brave (and perhaps yours, as well) is made up of three things: decision, action, and belief.
Bravery is decision. We must make choices, some of them difficult, at every crossroads. This means leaving some things behind us as we move forward with other things. (That one’s been particularly difficult for me… completionist tendencies and all…).
And I’ve also learned that the best decisions are not rational, but touch our deep souls with a soft insistence or a fiery burst of intention, and lead us to some powerful, emotion-driven action.
In recent months, I’ve found that meditation practice has helped me tremendously—helped clear the mind-clutter enough that I can hear what my soul/the universe/God has to tell me. You may have other methods of quieting your chattering mind, whether long walks or vigorous exercise or spending time in nature.
Bravery is action. The center of bravery is taking action in the face of one’s fear. Bravery is not fearlessness—the fear is still there, but when we are brave we act in defiance of that fear. Like standing at the foot of the stairs and defying the fear by flipping that switch and running up and away from the swirling Dark.
Action is the brother-in-arms of decision. Action is the manifestation of our decision in the world. If we don’t act, our decision remains within us… the potential for change, but without power or substance. We have, then, chosen to remain where we are, instead of enacting the change our decision directed us to make.
I learned two techniques from CWA that I apply not only to situations of meeting other people, but any situation where we might feel some fear and need a boost to take action:
- The three-second rule. This simple rule is really powerful. Anytime you make a decision that could be acted on immediately (“I want to meet that person.” “I should call my old friend.” “I need to publish this blog post.”), give yourself three seconds to take that action. This rule helps short-circuit your lizard brain, which wants to keep you safe, even if safety is not in your best interests long-term. Try this one out and see what happens!
- Power poses. If you need a little boost of confidence before you take that action, this technique is very helpful. (It also makes you look and feel like a superhero—gotta know I support that!) Check out Amy Cuddy’s great TED talk on this, and start posing like Superman or Wonder Woman today!
Bravery is belief. When we were kids, we believed that the monsters were real. But we also believed that we were strong and brave and good enough to overcome them. Even if we needed help from our parents or our friends or our toys to do it.
When did we begin to doubt ourselves, to doubt that we are good and strong and magical beings, with the power to challenge our fears and change the world for the better? And why did we begin to believe those lies? What caused that change in us? I don’t know. I suspect there are many answers to that question—likely one for each of us.
Perhaps some of you are blessed enough that you never doubted. That you never lost the belief in yourself and your limitless possibility. I hope that you have put that blessing to work in the world, performing heroic service for others in whatever way you are most called and talented.
But perhaps others of you feel like I do, and have struggled (perhaps for years) to regain that sense of confidence, that belief in our own possibility, that feeling of heroic energy flowing in our veins.
If nothing else, I believe that it is our right to feel that way. To feel powerful and soulful and brilliant and strong.
I don’t know exactly when it was for me, but I do know that recently, timidly at first, but now with renewed strength and purpose, my belief in myself has begun again to blossom. Thanks to decision, action, and belief, my Brave is returning.
And with it, a host of wonderful blessings.
I wish the same for you. That your Brave already lives and breathes and struts and flexes within you, just waiting for its next chance to shine. And if you’re still struggling to find it inside yourself, I encourage you to do one small thing right now that helps reconnect you with it. Make a decision, take an action, find something you love about you that helps you to believe in yourself, your dreams, and your right (and responsibility) to feel heroically, powerfully, world-changingly brave.
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