I was struck by something I read this week in a story written by my Aunty. In the piece, a little girl is chosen to go on a quest and, while traveling through these magical places, she does all these brave acts. What really resonated for me was how her braveness doesn’t feel over the top or bravado but just what she believes she has to do in the moment. Her extremely courageous acts become quite humble and she acknowledges her fear, even her anger or frustration at having to do them, but with one foot in front of the other, she gently and courageously does them anyway.
Being brave or courageous is often symbolised by an overly assertive force of strength where fears are not acknowledged or dismissed. I tend to think of a lion, showing its strength and force and dignity; and all with a great mane of hair. But, and even though I love lions, that concept doesn’t feel real to me. Looking back, the bravest acts or the most courageous steps I have taken often felt like the most vulnerable, most scary, even the most undignified moments of my life; and not at all like that strong, forceful, well-coiffured lion.
I remember how I felt when I taught one of my first yoga classes. I believe the most accurate way to describe it would be that I was sh!tting myself. I think I cried for an hour before it. I thought about cancelling. I resisted it as much as I could. I told myself I was stupid for wanting to do it, for having organised it. I hated every single goddamn minute in the lead up to it. I was furious at the world / universe for who I blamed for making me do it. I was furious at myself for every stupid step I had taken in my life to get me to that bloody moment. I became overly preoccupied with my appearance and felt uncomfortable and ugly. There was no dignity. There was no sense of elation. I think I had an idea that I would feel some higher, spiritual, divine-type feeling that came from having an opportunity to share something that I loved, but there was really no sense of that at all.
Somehow, despite wanting to turn around every step of the way, I made it there slowly, dragged my feet to the room; put on the music took a deep breath and did it. No fanfare, no glorious trumpets, no great hair. But I did it. And I can see how it was brave now but at the time it felt anything but.
I don’t think we give ourselves enough credit. It’s so much easier to see and feel how we fall down or fail rather than where we rise up and succeed. Braveness also isn’t necessarily about what we do. It can be about what we don’t do. It takes courage to stop, to be patient, to wait and see. It takes courage to trust in ourselves and our intuition, especially when what we feel is right might not be rational or not what other people are telling us is right. It takes so much courage to trust in someone else. To trust what they say, to trust relationships and bonds and allow them to develop naturally and to be patient with them. In a world focused on achievements and progress, we don’t give or get a lot of credit for being patient.
It’s so easy to think of all the things we feel ashamed for and carry that shame around us like a heavy cloak. Feeling proud, brave and strong are much harder to feel, much harder to wear. I know that it’s hard to be objective when it comes to us but I think pride in ourselves is something that is worth nurturing. Why is it that we hold our shame so close to us and our pride so far away? Shame gets stuck in our bodies; in our bellies or across our sunken chests. When shame is overwhelming it’s hard to look someone in the eye, it’s hard to speak forcefully, it’s hard to be seen. It frustrates me because our shame and what we think makes us bad people is never as bad as we think it is. But we underplay our strengths to the point where we can’t accept them at all. We are so happy to accept all our faults and believe all these things are wrong with us and then actually lie to ourselves and to others as we deny what makes us strong. I notice when someone compliments me or tells me I am strong, my first reaction is always a pretty forceful No. I disagree or make a joke or downplay it or say something like, yes but not as strong as some other person.
Sometimes I wish I could shake myself and make myself accept that I do have strengths that I am brave that I have shown courage that I am not as bad as I think I am. That the shame isn’t real, not truth; it’s just a habit that can be lifted, can be let go of. I wish I could do that for other people too. If we can hold on to our shame, can’t we also learn to hold on to our pride? I believe we can. We can learn to keep giving ourselves much-needed pats on the back and acknowledging and honouring all our courageous acts. And we can be patient with ourselves as we learn to do this. Because that’s bloody brave.