Know our Courage:The beauty of ordinary extraordinary courage

Dear friends,

greetings from the picturesque  Italian hill town of Assisi, the town the locals call the ‘Heart of Christianity’. This is my second visit, a longer stay this time- a mini sabbatical to focus on writing and contemplation. Good food, picturesque walks and heart opening echoes of St. Francis of Assisi add to the pleasure of being here. On my first visit about a year ago I could only ‘drop by’ for a few hours, the time available between finishing a mindfulness retreat and catching a plane from Perugia,
These precious few hours were just enough time for a flying visit to the Basilica di San Francesco, sit a meditation in the cave where St Francis used to meditate and pray at the Eremo delle Carceri and climb the many steps to the Rocca Maggiore, a towering fortress more than 800 years old.
Visiting the museum at the Rocca I ‘got talking’ (in my ‘creative’ Italian) to the old museum keeper, Paolo. He struck me as a traditional kind of Italian man, larger than life, boisterous and charming. He listened intently to my story and suddenly, with great enthusiasm, started touching his chest near his heart and pointing at me said ” Coraggio, coraggio” (“Courage, courage”). While surprised I kind of liked hearing this acknowledgement, it made me pause and helped me see that yes, indeed, a lot of courage had gone into getting to this moment in Paolo’s museum.
Being back in Assisi now, climbing the same steps, I keep reflecting on ‘courage’. It has often been said to me that I am courageous and I can see that much of what I do in my life looks courageous. I don’t,however, set out to be courageous and most of the times I don’t feel particulalry courageous. It’s more like the poet Davis Whyte reflects: ” Courage is the measure of our heartfelt participation with life, with another, with a community, a work, a future.” .
We often admire the grand gestures of courage-the mountain scaled, the survival against the odds, the heroic act of  entering a burning building to save another. Yes, these are acts of courage and witnessing courage on such a scale is indeed inspiring and moving.
But what about everyday, ‘ordinary’ courage? Think of the courage it takes to say a whole-hearted ‘yes’ to being there for another-a sick partner perhaps or an aging parent; the courage to commit to stand up for oneself or another- to say no when needed; the courage it requires to keep leaning into the wounded places seeking insight and healing;  the courage called for to trust again after the heart has been wounded; the courage we sometimes have to dig deep for to have faith in life though we know how uncertain it is;  the courage  to live a life of creativity, authenticity and compassion, to choose and choose again to follow one’s inner compass.
Robert Frost said: “Freedom lies in being bold” and perhaps this quote is also true the other way round: in order to be bold we need to claim a level of freedom for ourselves.
I hope, that reading this connects you more fully to your own courage so that you may draw strength and inspiration from it. Courage begets courage. Qualities that you might recognize courage by are: perseverance, steadfastness, commitment, vision. resilience and curiosity. And don’t be discouraged by the dance courage does with fear, it does this in all of us.

Just as in my response when Paolo reflected my courage at the museum, you might not easily see where in life you are courageous. Perhaps you could make it a practice to notice your acts of courage, small and large and appreciate them. If you find it hard to connect with your courage, perhaps think of your family and friends, see their courage and see how this might help you see your own. Or, if you are all out of examples (which I very much doubt) look at humanity, and the daily acts of courage that we see and hear about. And ask the trusted people in your life how they notice your courage-you might be surprised. It might just be like the poet John O’Donahue says:

“Gather all the kindling
About your heart
To create one spark.
That is all you need
To nourish the flame”

May courage be a solid companion to you. I am off to a gospel concert in the Basilica, tonight is the start of the Sacred Music Festival.


For Courage

by John O’ Donohue

When the light around you lessens
And your thoughts darken until
Your body feels fear turn
Cold as a stone inside

When you find yourself bereft
Of any belief in yourself
And all you unknowingly
Leaned on has fallen

When one voice commands
Your whole heart,
And it is raven dark,

Steady yourself and see
That is is your own thinking
That darkens your world

Search and you will find
A diamond-thought of light,

Know that you are not alone
And that this darkness has purpose
Gradually it will school your eyes
To find the one gift your life requires
Hidden within this night-corner.

Invoke the learning
Of every suffering
You have suffered.

Close your eyes
Gather all the kindling
About your heart
To create one spark.
That is all you need
To nourish the flame
That will cleanse the dark
Of its weight of festered fear.

A new confidence will come alive
To urge you towards higher ground
Where your imagination
Will learn to engage difficulty
As its most rewarding threshold!
by John O’ Donohue