How to Have Courage
“Don’t lose faith, and don’t lose heart, don’t lose faith, and never surrender.”
This morning, as I listened to the words of this simple but inspiring song by Gurudass Singh and Kaur Kalsa, I couldn’t help but think of many of my wonderful therapy and counseling clients and the incredible obstacles they face in their lives. Whether it’s the impact of a painful childhood, abuse, a difficult divorce, problems with an adult child or other family problem, pain over the loss of a loved one or beloved relationship, or grief over a transition that forever change one’s way of life, I see a lot of really good people struggling right now. Staying strong and brave can seem just about impossible some days.
Yet, courage is there waiting for us, when we open our minds and hearts and welcome it in. I’m not saying we get to feel super-courageous all the time or even most of the time. Honestly, courage, like a lot of other great personal qualities and choices, is often not much of a feeling at all. Instead, courage is a choice we make each day, an attitude of mind and spirit. Courage helps us say, “ I will not lose faith. . .I will never surrender”—even when everything in us and around us suggest the opposite. Of course, it is wonderful when we get that occasional burst of emotional energy, that flash of inspiration that helps us not only choose but actually feel our courage. I believe we can increase those moments but taking good care of ourselves, body, mind and spirit, and I will share a few tips below on how to build courage in general and to invite the good feelings in as well.
I also know, for sure, by getting to spend time with my courageous clients, that courage is usually just doing what you know you need to do every day, putting one foot in front of the other. In fact, most of my counseling and psychotherapy clients don’t see themselves as brave at all. They feel anxious, scared, worried, depressed, sad, angry, grieving, insecure, self-doubting, all the normal human emotions. Yet they come to counseling and therapy sessions. They bring their painful emotions out into the open, look them square in the face, and call them by name. And bit by bit, session by session, I see courage and strength, dignity, grace, and wisdom emerge and guide them on their path. As a psychologist and fellow human traveler, I love to accompany others on their courage journeys. I see the courage in each and every one of you and I’m inspired by your work and tenacity. You do have courage! I know, because I can see it. So, here ere are a few ideas about how to nurture along that courage and feel its power more often:
- Make time each day to sit quietly with your thoughts, to meditate, pray, chant, or journal. I start most of my days with yoga, just listening to what feels tight or uncomfortable in my body and leaning in gently to those places that need attention. That usually leads into some kirtan (a special kind of chanting I will be sharing more about soon in future posts) and a few moments of prayer. Somehow, starting with the body, moving into song, and then into prayer helps me get clearer about what I am dealing with in the moment and how I want to respond to it. None of this has to be complex, vigorous, or fancy. We’re just talking about paying attention to yourself in a loving way.
- Refresh your heart and spirit in nature. We are part of the natural world. We need to re-connect ourselves to the Life all around us frequently. This begins as simply as stepping outside each morning and breathing in the fresh air, gazing up at the sky to see what kind of day it is, saying “thank you” for the sun, the rain, the clouds, whatever Nature is offering us. Going outdoors again in the evening, before going to sleep, is another easy and helpful practice. Take another breath, fully, mindfully. Does the night air have a different scent than early morning air? Can you see the stars or the moon? Ask yourself how the world looks different to you at night. And certainly, get out further in to nature when you can. In the Denver area, one can drive quickly to a beautiful place like Washington Park, the Cherry Creek Reservoir, or up to Mount Falcon and almost forget you are in a big city. Walk, run, sit, breath. Just be a part of the Nature that is all around you and inside you.
- Stay connected. Nothing can lift our spirits and renew our courage more than to be reminded we are not alone. Spend time with your friends. Invite someone on a walk or just to visit in your backyard or a park. . Enjoy anyone in your family who is safe for you to enjoy. Maybe volunteer to help others in some way. Get into therapy if you aren’t already there—and search until you find a therapist that feels right to you. The relationship is the most important part of any counseling or therapy relationship. Consider expanding your social circle. And don’t forget your pets! Research is showing now what humans have known for millennia—animals, especially dogs, are really, really good for us!
I hope these thoughts help you tap into your own courage. It’s in there, my friend, even on days when you can’t feel it at all.
Marian Camden, Psy.D.
Licensed Psychologist and Fellow Human Being