Understanding Your Attraction to Courage

From Carolines 2011 Salon

Every now and again it’s like sipping nectar to be reminded that this physical life we are living is actually the result of countless invisible circuits of energy, weaving together a veritable landscape of meetings, synchronistic events, appointments, opportunities, cancellations, delayed plane flights, routes you are supposed to take, your personal time schedules, the flights you are “supposed” to be on as opposed to not be on – and so on. We cannot help but live in the Buddha-illusion that we are coordinating our schedules and our meetings, that we are in charge of, well, as much as we can have influence over. Not until a plan is disrupted by something dramatic or something unforeseen and wonderful do you pause for a moment and ask, “Who or what is actually the organizing force in my life?” You rarely – if ever, perhaps – stop to reflect upon the vast scope of all that is involved even within one day of coordinating this magnificent cosmic web that is the energetic landscape of your life. Who could even hold that cosmic web in their head? But that web exists, nonetheless.

The truth is there are so many invisible forces that have a coordinating influence in our lives that the calculations defy human comprehension. Just consider three of the many mystical laws that have become a part of our popular vernacular these days as constant operating principles in your life: Your thoughts influence the quality of your reality; Like attracts like (also known as the Law of Magnetic Attraction); and, What is in one is in the Whole. You could practically spend a lifetime learning to observe the influence and power of one of those laws in your life on a 24/7 basis. Imagine constantly trying to track the influence of your attitudes, beliefs, thoughts, emotions, actions, responses, addictions, episodes of greed, anger, and rage, on your life.

And now shift to the unimaginable influence of joy, love, generosity, compassion, including the private thoughts and prayers you may say for those people you watch on the news whose lives are being devastated everyday all over the world. You have no idea how a loving thought or prayer said in private contributes to the cosmic surplus of grace and how that grace is distributed. We will never know that. But if there is any reality to the law of the Tao, which I believe there is, then somehow even the slightest contribution of a loving act contributes to the positive scale of the Tao. In short, everything we do, say, think, and imagine – even privately – matters, regardless of whether we can comprehend the cosmic mathematics of it all.

Archetypes, of course, are a part of the invisible forces that operate behind the scenes. And a part of the archetypal realm includes the universal design of archetypal experiences that are inherent to the human life. That is, each of us will experience cycles of death and rebirth or renewal through the course of our lives. That is a given. Our lives, like nature, are designed to shed the old and constantly renew themselves. Buddha built his brilliant teachings on this, noting that change is constant and a person who does not understand this essential life truth sets him/herself up for a life of self-imposed suffering because they are acting against the natural order of life. You cannot expect life to be other than what it is – and life is an ongoing system of endless change. We change, our bodies change, our attitudes change, our children grow up, our neighborhoods change, our countries change, our world changes. We must engage with change – not walk away from it, not deny that it is happening, and not respond with anger as if changes are only happening to us, though sometimes it can feel that way. And sometimes, without a doubt, the changes are wretchedly painful, as when they include the literal experience of death and the need to rebirth one’s own life. No one said life was easy, right?

Another archetypal experience that is universal is the search for one’s own courage, which is the archetypal experience I want to highlight in this Salon. In order to understand this particular archetypal experience, I have to provide a wider lens into our basic nature.

No one was born courageous but everyone was born with a natural instinct to awaken that inner or core attribute. Courage is an essential ingredient for human survival and if there is one thing every human being is inherently programmed to do, it’s to find a way to survive in this physical world. This instinct is a part of our animal nature. I have to admit that I find the timing of all these television programs about “survivalists” in the so-called wild a curiosity, just as matters of planetary survival and climate change have become critical to those who really understand that surviving as a community of humans is up for grabs. It’s not “show time” – it’s real. That the “collective consciousness” has sensed that issue and converted it to “entertainment” doesn’t surprise me in the least, given the lack of seriousness with which global climate change issues have been received by world governments. But, I digress.

Since as far back as we can travel through ancient literature and cave paintings, we see and read stories of people confronting beasts and either succeeding or failing, returning to their tribes as heroes, or receiving a punishment for acts of cowardice and jealousy (beginning with Cain and Abel). Ancient tribes established this measure of greatness not only with great clarity, but universally: Courage was the inner gold that would prove the true measure of a human being. Without courage, ancient wisdom stories tell us, a man’s character cannot hold intact. He cannot be relied upon to be trustworthy, honest, loyal, for all of these high attributes of the spirit are built upon courage. They require courage, first and foremost. The great ancient teachers, Lao Tzu, Confucius, and even Sun Tzu who wrote, “The Art of War” 2,500 years ago, training warriors to win without having to fight, knew that no man, much less soldier or friend, could be truly trustworthy and loyal, if they had not discovered their own reservoir of courage. Under fire, they would betray their leader – and perhaps even worse, they would betray themselves. They would betray their own beliefs, their own ideas, their own inner direction. And then, how would they go on? How could they ever trust themselves again? And how could they ever look another in the face and say, “Yes, I am trustworthy.”

Part of the archetypal journey written into our souls is the search for our own courage. No human being is truly comfortable living in fear. I am sure this will come as no surprise to any of you, but when I ask people in my audiences why they hesitate to act on their guidance, without a doubt the most common reply is, “Fear.” Fear of what, I ask? Rarely do people actually name the fear, or put a face to the demon. That “act of naming” would require an act of personal courage, incidentally, as the unconscious in each of us recognizes that “naming” the dark force within us is actually a ritual “calling forth the demon.” Naming something gives it form and form gives something “function,” or power and authority. It makes it as real on the outside of our lives as it is on the inside. And once we let a fear “out,” the general belief is that we no longer can control or at least limit the damage it can do in our lives. Thus, people prefer to simply respond with the word, fear, as if it’s all encompassing.

I have long taught that even healing takes enormous courage, which is a realization I gradually grasped after several years in the field of health and healing. When I first began my work in my early 30’s, I made the assumption that any person who was ill or in pain of course wanted to be healed and would do everything he or she had to do to return to a state of health. It’s quite the opposite. I rarely meet a person who has the courage to do everything and anything – and this is not a fact that is financially related. It is a fact that is fully and completely a matter of personal courage. Few people have the courage to actually take on themselves and change the storyline of their lives, a storyline that obviously has characters and plotlines that are dysfunctional. The person who is ill has the lead role, and thus is the most dysfunctional of all. Tragically, it must be said, that often a person has let far too many opportunities to change slip by for lack of courage so that by the time a serious illness does surface, it’s actually too late to make the courageous personal choices that should have been made one or two years earlier. There is such a thing as, “It’s too late,” though we loath to speak about it.

Again, it takes great courage to recognize that you are getting signals to take action within a situation that has become too stressful. Or perhaps you have become far too negative a person and the signals or guidance you are getting is that you need to do something about yourself before it is too late. You are always given some type of warning before your life changes, even when you say to yourself, “I didn’t see this coming.” You may not have seen a car accident coming – true. However, if you reflect upon your inner life for the previous year, you’ll discover that you were experiencing a change in personal perceptions, redirecting you to think a certain way or to perhaps become open to therapy or spiritual direction.

I mentioned this topic in a lecture once and a woman seated toward the front grew increasingly drifty as I was speaking. I could tell that she was detaching from the subject matter so I asked her if she could relate to what I was saying, knowing that she would say, “no.” She said, “no.” She said that her life had had one of those sudden changes I was describing – she was fired from her job – and she never saw it coming. She described herself as a superb employee, always on time for work, devoted to the company, and in her opinion, her firing was due more to her age than to anything else. She felt that even if there was a need for cutbacks, someone younger and more inexperienced should have been fired rather than someone who had the years of experience under her belt that she did. She then added, “What type of guidance was I supposed to receive in my interior world that would have prepared me for that?”

I chose this example because it provides me with a perfect platform to highlight the fact that people always – and I mean always – treat the experience of inner guidance in the same way that they do external advice from a friend, meaning that if you speak with me directly, you will hear me and it will be loud and clear. But I am not an inner voice trying to make my way through your messed up mind-matter. I am not trying to swim through a sea of rubber-banded repressed fears and years of unexpressed emotions and locked down sexual feelings. I am standing right in front of you and the last thing I suffer from is a fear of self-expression.

Contrast that with your inner world and how astonishingly unfamiliar you are with yourself. You hardly know your inner world. Most people have no idea what their archetypal patterns are, for instance. They spend very little time in daily quiet reflection, reviewing the health and quality of their decisions, asking themselves, “What motivated me to say this today?” or “I need to make a major decision tomorrow. What am I feeling and thinking about this decision? What are my thoughts? Are there ethical concerns? Who will be affected by this decision? Am I troubled by a decision I made that has come back to haunt me?” If you believe at all in karma, then you have to at least realize that every decision you make is creating your karma once again. (The reason I do not believe that people actually believe in reincarnation or their own past lives is precisely because of the way they live this one. If they did believe in past lives and in karma, they would be unbelievably mindful and reflective about every single thought and action they initiated, knowing they were building karma for their next life.) Behavior is, at the end of the day, the best evidence of one’s inner theology – not what’s in one’s bookcase, yes?

Back to our woman in the workshop: She was not a person of inner reflection. Rather, she was a person of logic and thus, for her, inner guidance needed to walk, talk, and sound like a human being standing directly in front of her. She had absolutely no sense of that which was not logical. She was terrified of sensual information, information that was intuitive – a sudden knowing that hit the heart or the gut, just like that. It takes a great deal of courage to be wide open to clear, intuitive hits because you cannot argue with your intuition. Unlike your mental system, you cannot make your intuition lie to you. You can, however, bend your mind in any number of directions. You can make up a story about how something happened and even claim you didn’t say something nasty or you can say someone else did say something offensive when, in fact, they didn’t. Tell the story enough times and pretty soon, bingo, your mind can’t tell the difference as to whether the incident in question happened in the physical world or not.

Your intuition, on the other hand, is like truth serum. You often do not like what it communicates to you but you cannot force it to say otherwise. You can create methods of temporary distraction – that’s certainly true. But in the end, intuitive hits win out, because the truth one strives to repress finds a way of incarnating within the events of one’s life. Relationships begin to crumble or your health begins to suffer, for example. It takes a great deal of courage to be clear about your intuitive voice. Your interior matter becomes highly sensitized to that high frequency that can only be described as “truth” – and not just your personal truth. Beyond your personal truth is the realm of “truth” itself, Truth that belongs to the nature of life, separate and apart from your personal life story.

And once again, back to our woman – for the last time. Remember that she could not fathom that she had in any way received any inner guidance that some form of change was coming in her life. For her to acknowledge such a message, it would have had to come in the form of a messenger coming to her door with a warning that she was about to lose her job and further, in order not to lose her job, a list of suggestions would be left on her desk in the morning. She would have had to have guidance that resulted in a happy ending for her. This is the scenario that would validate the reality of inner guidance. But this is the scenario that most people are looking for and it also speaks of the type of guidance that people wait to receive before they take action in life. They cannot imagine themselves acting on anything but logical, clear, specific instructions – emphasis on the word “instructions” – that guarantee a positive and secure outcome. Remember that human beings are in the business of security and safety and nothing about inner guidance seems to offer either of those two outcomes.

Now consider the nature of the Hero archetype, by far one of the leading archetypes of the entire cosmic theater of archetypal figures. Who doesn’t like a great hero? Since ancient times, the Hero has been the leading figure of every society. Look carefully at what the ancients such as Ulysses and Hercules, as well as the medieval Hero, King Arthur, and now our action superheroes such as the Terminator, Spiderman, and others have in common: They all act on intuitive authority/power that requires endless acts of personal courage. They are required to create their own maps in life, to go on their own survival instincts, to rely on their inner resources as well as their wits.

Read the lives of people who survived great or horrendous ordeals, such as the man who cut his arm off in order to free himself from a fall down a cavern while hiking, again his courage blended with his intuitive guidance as he acted on his survival instincts to stay alive. Most survival stories are made from this chemistry of courage and intuition. The combination of the two is the key to a person’s highest potential, whether in the moment or for the whole of their lives.

Every human being longs to know what his or her life would be like if only he or she were truly fearless. It’s ironic that this society of ours is experiencing an epidemic of bullying in our schools these days and the Bully archetype is the opposing force of the Hero. The Bully cannot bear to look at even the potential of vulnerability in another person, much less the potential of courage or personal power. The Bully sees his or her own fear or, in the case of power, sees what cannot be attained from within and therefore must be destroyed. The Bully is on the rise in our society and not only in our schools but in political forces and it is alarming, to say the least. If there was ever a time when personal courage was worth self-review, it is now.

Today we live in a world undergoing a rapid-fire transformation and the impact of the changes in motion are touching all of our lives. If there was ever a time to confront personal fears, it is now. The conscious life is not a life lived in a bookcase but one reflected by the choices we make every second of our life. You are an intuitive, spiritual being and that inner voice is your most valuable resource, far beyond that of any logical, external advice you may hope to guide you in the months and years to come. You are your best guide, as frightening a thought as that might seem most of the time. It remains the truth. So I’ve put together a few questions for personal reflection, as I always do and I hope you’ll take some time with them.

  1. Name your fears.
  2. How many of your fears in life have actually materialized? And if any have, what was your response? Did you find that you broke through those fears?
  3. Do you feel that fear holds you back from making choices you would like to make in life? What are they?
  4. Are you presently receiving guidance to take action in any way? Name that action and write down what your response is – particularly if you are deliberately creating a path of postponement.
  5. Do you consider yourself a courageous person? Sometimes? All the time? Depends on the circumstance?
  6. Has anyone ever come to your rescue in such a way that you thought, “That took courage?”
  7. What do you fear about being healthy?
  8. What does it take courage for you to look at in this changing world of ours? Climate change? The changing situation of the country? The vulnerability of the future?

Remember that we are on a journey together. We are a community of wisdom souls, sharing our learning and our lives, moving through an extraordinary period of history unlike any other time before. It is a privilege to be alive now and you are on this earth now because you matter in ways you will never know. As the brilliant Thomas Merton wrote, “This day will never come again.” We must not waste a day of our lives, not a day, not a moment. Every day is precious. Keep that truth in your heart.


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