Remembering Courage

I remember the first time I heard the definition of courage I’ve come to love. I may have told you this before, but humor me for a moment.

I was sitting on a comfy couch, I believe while doing a housesit in Sunny Southern California, and was watching one of my favorite shows on Netflix, The Last Kingdom. The main character, a warrior, was talking to a less experienced soldier on the eve of a major battle.

When the younger man admits to the main character that he’s afraid, the main character tells him something along the lines of, “Courage is finding the will to overcome your fear. Nothing more”. The next day in the midst of battle when the junior man cowers before an enemy, the main character yells to him: “Use your courage!” The younger man finds his courage and overcomes. The battle is won, and the series continues.

These scenes impacted me so deeply they are what I reimagine each time I hear the word courage.

I’ve written a bit about courage here before when I shared a quote from Brené Brown’s book, Dare to Lead. It was being reunited with this quote recently, through sitting on a comfy bed in Lisbon watching her Netflix special, which jolted me back into remembering to use my own courage.

I think it’s pretty courageous of me to be traveling around several foreign countries alone, but I don’t always remember to, as Brené mentions:

Choose courage over comfort.

Sure I remember to do so in the BIG life moments, but it’s when I don’t remember to do so in the smaller ones that I falter. By being courageous, and thus vulnerable, in only one area of my life, I create incongruity, and thus angst, in other areas.

For example, I may choose to travel alone around Europe, but also choose NOT to be brave enough to try to order my morning coffee in the local language. I’ll tell myself how brave I am overall in order to quell my shame, then I’ll make the excuse that “everyone speaks English anyway” so there’s no need for me to order in the local language.

In reality, I’m simply too scared in this smaller seeming moment that I’ll screw it up and be laughed at OR worse, that I won’t screw it up and receive a reply I don’t understand and thus will have to admit to my lack of knowledge. This imbalance of choosing courage on one end of the spectrum but not the other is what I believe causes much of my anxiety.

Thus, choosing courage over comfort in all of my life moments has been a mantra of mine since being reunited with these ideas.
When I spent last Saturday exploring Lisbon both alone, then meeting up with friends to explore with them, the exercise of choosing courage over comfort came to life.

I spent the morning hours muddling my way through ordering coffee and treats in my terrible Portuguese, but then succeeded beyond measure.

Coffee and pastry
A delicious espresso and a pastel de nata as my reward. mmmmmm.

I spent the afternoon hours first venturing into the cramped tourist land of Central Lisbon to see the famous St. Jorge castle. The castle was nice and all, but wasn’t really what I expected. It had amazing views of the city, and tall brick structures, but it wasn’t the grand event I’d hoped for.

I normally would have stayed longer at the castle because I should AND to “get my money’s worth”, but I instead left early to sit in quaint a cafe on a tight Lisbon street and enjoy some pizza and beer (or cider, rather).

Lis in front of the view of Lisbon
Me and a view of Lisbon.
Castle grounds
I loved the castle grounds.
Fish sculpture
A fun sculpture on the castle grounds.

It doesn’t sound courageous to leave behind history for vices, BUT I assure you that’s the point! To let go of the “shoulds” and do what I want is not an easy thing. It involves me betting more on myself than on the opinions of others, a bet I haven’t taken much in my life. In fact, I’ve told myself I’ve insured my own safety by not betting on myself. I’m kinda done telling myself this, but back to the story.

The friends I was meeting, an English woman and man about my age who have lived in Lisbon since March, arrived at the cafe and ALSO decided on a pizza and beer before we took in any culture. They were inspired by my leisure and wanted to stay out of the now very hot Sun as long as possible.

Being honest and courageous was paying off!

We weren’t in too much of a hurry to get to The National Tile Museum of Lisbon, and since one of the friends used to come to Lisbon in his youth, he wanted to show us the Flea Market (or market of thieves) where his father took him. His desires rewarded me with a wonderful view of books everywhere!

Books on bookcase
Books everywhere! This is just one example.

After the market, the three of us walked down the steep, crowded, and winding streets to sea level, where we continued our now flat, but incredibly hot walk. Along the way I noticed when I would think to be funny or quirky in order to try to “win people over”, my comfort zone.

Instead I chose courage and self honesty. I listened more than talked. I walked in the internal discomfort of this choice, but found that it didn’t take long to find solace and ease in the practice. I watched my mind become more quiet and myself become more present. I was even able to rediscover some wonder along the way.

mural along a walk
Some Lisbon street art.

We enjoyed the tile museum immensely. It was a simple, focused place, and with the practice of choosing courage, I saw with fresher eyes. The gardens were awe inspiring, and the mix of indoor and outdoor was perfect for a hot day:

Pink flowers above a doorway
The entrance to the museum.
Garden courtyard with a large fountain.
The courtyard garden at the museum.
Tile walls of an outdoor courtyard
Tiles line the walls of the courtyard.
Tile picture of a soldier
A piece at the National Tile Museum

When we parted ways later that day, I continued to keep my practice top of mind. I realized how I often think of fear as being afraid of “real” and “big” things, but then remember how so many of my everyday existence can be motivated by it.

I know a large part of my behaviors and reactions I’ve put into place due to a fear of either experiencing disappointment from myself or others or a fear of not succeeding or a fear of personal discomfort of any kind. I see now how much energy I waste trying to avoid these fears.

As I continue this journey I look to become aware of these everyday fears and eradicate them with the simple power of choice.

Can it be as easy as choosing courage in our moments of discomfort?

Come on, I didn’t say the choice was an easy one!

Fear, Anxiety, and Possibilities?

The past week or so has been another tough one full of anxiety, worry, and doubt. I spent much of my time letting my thoughts spin out of control and got very little sleep in the process.

What was I spinning over? The usual culprits (money, career, etc) were certainly present, and they were accompanied by an overarching concern of not having “a plan” for my life.

I thought I had a plan once. I was going to progress in my career, buy a home, get married, etc, but then there was the realization that many parts of said plan weren’t mine. With this realization my current life path began.

As I unfold myself then let go of, add to, and realign parts of my life plan, there are moments were I feel quite exposed. These are the times where I haven’t yet filled the gaps left by letting go of parts of the old plan, and these times leave me feeling uber vulnerable… and scared.

When this fear and vulnerability arise (as they did this past week), I question everything and find myself only focusing on these reactions; hence the spinning. I think we all do this as we go through the process of rediscovering and realigning with our true selves, but knowing this doesn’t make it any less challenging.

One line of thinking that I brought to the surface this week was how I choose to see life as final and of two dimensions. I view circumstances as “If this, then that” as opposed to “if this, then maybe a whole lot of different things”. I think this two dimensional thinking is a thorn in my progress. Since it came to the surface I’ve been working to release it and extend my perspective.

The line of thinking came to the surface in two ways. First was a response to an email I sent a dear friend updating her on my current thinking on letting go of old friendships. She replied to said email with, “I’ve tolerated some people who were on their path and maybe not in a great space and you know what, I don’t know what to tell you, I was in the same place I think at your age, just be okay with it, you’re fine, people are fine, life is fine!”

Second, a friend was telling me about a similar discussion she had recently. Her response to the parties present, who were bringing up similar thoughts to the ones I was having, was “the friends you’re letting go for now may very well come back”. I know this idea seems obvious, but it’s something I’ve never considered. I never thought that all that I’m letting go could indeed return to me one day in a new, improved form (or in a old, unimproved form).

I believe it was having these insights, then targeting my two dimensional thinking, which allowed me to start to calm down enough to push past my fears and dig deeper. I mustered up the courage to share my story with yet another friend whom I was visiting in Connecticut.

He responded to my fears of not having a plan with the usual advice. I need to figure out myself first. I need to continue to question everything about what I like, what I don’t, and why. By doing this, by exposing my core, I can create a plan and walk a path that is true to me. Until then any plan I put together will be someone else’s plan, and following someone else’s plan will ultimately cause me angst and discontent.

I question why this message is so hard for me to keep in mind, but now I think I realize it’s because that journey of letting go, having gaps, and needing to fill them feels so scary and daunting.

What if we just let the gaps stick around for awhile? What if instead of rushing to fill the gaps, and focusing on the fear of never having the gaps filled, I focused on the possibilities of filling them? What if I choose the positive and not the negative?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but given how much sleep I lose to the former, I think I’m finally ready to try the latter. Here’s hoping.