Courage is a big word. It brings to mind fierce determination, or fighting against all odds. But today I’m thinking about a more subtle kind of bravery, one that requires no less strength, in my opinion. I walked my son to the bus stop this morning for the first day of middle school. He is my oldest, so no one in our family has made this transition before. He looked at me and said “Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to be the first one to do new things.” He wasn’t anxious in an outward way, but his comment showed the small worries that must have been on his mind. He got on the bus and rode off to a totally new school anyway, ready to move forward despite any qualms he may have had. He wasn’t riding off into battle, but this morning certainly required him to be courageous.
Each day there are many small situations that require us to make a courageous choice. It takes bravery to strike up a conversation with a stranger, to present a new idea at work or to try a new class at the health club. When you really think about it, it takes a leap of faith to even leave the house each day. We are courageous and bold when we choose to live our lives in spite of the things that may go wrong. Every one of us has that strength inside, so imagine if we could connect with it whenever we need a greater level of courage.
A hot topic in neuroscience these days is neuroplasticity. This is the ability of the brain to create new connections and pathways, even as a full-grown adult. The great thing is, we can directly affect this process with practices like psychotherapy and meditation. We create new pathways by using different parts of the brain together. In the meditation practice that follows, we will connect with courage while we are in a relaxed state. With repeated practice, these two states of being can become connected, leading to a sense of calm even in situations that require us to be brave.
Meditation: Inner Strength of Courage
Find a quiet spot where you’re unlikely to be disturbed. Sit comfortably, but with an upright, alert posture. Gently close your eyes and breathe normally, in and out through the nose. Begin to focus your attention on the sensation of your breath, noticing the temperature of the air as it flows through your nostrils. Allow this mindful practice to calm your body and mind, releasing any thoughts that arise without judgment, returning again and again to the breath.
When you feel ready, allow the Inner Strength of courage to emerge into awareness. Recall a time in your life when you experienced courage, perhaps bringing to mind a memory or image that evokes this more fully into your body. Notice any associated sensations, emotions or images that arise in your body and mind. Experience courage in this moment right now: fully embody it. Now release any thoughts or memories and stay with the felt sense of courage in your body. Let go of thinking, simply feeling the strength of courage throughout your body. Breathe into this sensation, and recognize how this strength is always present, there in the background of your experience. Sense how your inner courage is always present in your awareness.
Now return to the sensation of your breath, coming back into your body. Sit quietly with a soft focus on your inhale and exhale. When you feel ready, return your awareness to the room around you, noticing any sounds and sensing the space around your body. Allow your eyes to open, taking in your surroundings and returning fully to the present, ready to take on whatever comes with a sense of strength and courage.