The start of a New Year, while mostly associated with festivities and celebration, can often feel like an incredibly daunting time for many. It symbolises stepping into another year, and into a new unknown. For many of you know that this new year will bring the a change in career, moving to a new place, taking on a new challenge, further studies, anticipating the birth of a child, learning a new skill, moving into the phase of married life, starting retirement after a lifetime of work, opening up your own business, following your dreams. The list is endless. And these are just the “known” changes. In addition to the ones we know about, life being life also heralds changes that we cannot possibly foresee. And so mixed into our joy at starting yet another life chapter on our journey, there is often a sense of anxiety and fear. What joys and what sorrows are we to face this year? There is no way of knowing but a wiser question might be: “How can I develop and strengthen my courage?”
Here are some reflections that may help you:
- Understand where to find your courage. The word “courage” is derived from the same root as “heart” or coeur in French. What a wonderful clue! Courage lives in your heart. This is why true love and courage go hand in hand. We see evidence of this in the parent who will face any risk to their own life to protect their child from imminent danger or in the great saints throughout history who lived from such a deep space of pure love that they were prepared to face death if necessary in their efforts to uplift humanity. For living a life out of true love for self and others requires courage. It is for this reason that the beautiful ancient book about living with wisdom, the Bhagavad Gita, proclaims abhayam or fearlessness as the very first virtue we must cultivate. To those who seek growth and evolution, it is a fundamental quality. So to nurture your courage means to nurture your heart. To live from your heart and not just your head alone. This does not imply blind emotionalism but rather suggests that our inner sources of intelligence are far more expansive than that of intellectual reasoning alone. This is a finding which is now being supported by academic research to the extent that leadership modules on MBA programmes are teaching leaders that they need to learn to cultivate their “Four Intelligences”. We may examine that more deeply in another blog. It is for good reason that so many wise men tell us to follow our hearts!
- Have faith in your strengths. Too often we are all too acutely aware of our weaknesses. This fuels our fears and weakens our courage. We are afraid that if we acknowledge our strengths then this might be construed as egotism. That is not so. It is important to cultivate a truthful knowledge about our character and a truthful reflection includes not only our weaknesses but our strengths too. It involves an objective analysis. Reflect on your strengths and write them down if possible. Where the mind goes, energy goes. If we dwell too much on our weaknesses, it makes them grow stronger. Give your attention to your character strengths instead, watering them as you would flowers in a garden. A wise saint once said that the best way to eliminate the darkness is to turn on the light. So turn on that light within you. It will help you meet any challenge with courage. Never forget the very many challenges in life that you have conquered thus far. Just to have made it through childhood is a feat in itself.
- Do what you do with joy. Never forget that the one thing that we can control is the way our mind chooses to look at something and the motives that underpin our actions. Many philosophers unpacked the emotions that underlie our choices into just two: Love or Fear. Make your choices based on love. And transform fear-based motives into love-based ones. It will help you to strengthen your courage and to do what you do with joy.
- Hold the Hand of the Divine. If you believe in God or a Higher Consciousness, there can be no greater ignition of courage in you than to allow that great Power to guide you. And if you don’t yet believe in a higher power, then even just thinking about the great courageous heroes that you admire will help to inspire you to greater levels of courage.
As you embark on this new chapter in your lives, I wish you the highest courage and much joy. There is a wonderful poem that I will leave you with by Pablo Neruda. There seems to be some confusion as to the source and a few different versions out there, but it is such a marvellous poem on embracing change and living fully that I will share it anyway.
You start dying slowly by Pablo Neruda
He who becomes the slave of habit,
who follows the same routes every day,
who never changes pace,
who does not risk and change the colour of his clothes,
who does not speak and does not experience, dies slowly.
He or she who shuns passion,
who prefers black on white,
dotting ones “it’s” rather than a bundle of emotions, the kind that make your eyes glimmer, that turn a yawn into a smile,
that make the heart pound in the face of mistakes and feelings,
He or she who does not turn things topsy-turvy,
who is unhappy at work,
who does not risk certainty for uncertainty,
to thus follow a dream,
those who do not forego sound advice at least once in their lives,
He who does not travel, who does not read, who does not listen to music,
who does not find grace in himself, she who does not find grace in herself,
He who slowly destroys his own self-esteem,
who does not allow himself to be helped,
who spends days on end complaining about his own bad luck, about the rain that never stops,
He or she who abandon a project before starting it,
who fails to ask questions on subjects he doesn’t know,
he or she who don’t reply when they are asked something they do know,
Let’s try and avoid death in small doses,
reminding one’s self that being alive requires an effort far greater than the simple fact of breathing.
Only a burning patience will lead to the attainment of a splendid happiness.