What keeps you from being brave?
And five short practices that can help
I’ve been thinking a lot over the past few of months about what gets in the way of being brave. Sometimes I want to be brave and do the right thing, but I just don’t.
I wondered, what’s happening there? Is it a lack of willpower? Am I just a bad person sometimes? A coward? That seems too simplistic.
When there’s an opportunity to be brave and and I don’t act on it, I realized it’s usually because I’m acting out of fear or ignorance.
Ignorance comes in when I don’t realize until later that I said or did something hurtful or irresponsible because I just didn’t know better at the time. When I realize later what I’ve done, beating myself up about it isn’t super helpful. But I do believe I have an obligation to keep expanding my knowledge and awareness so there are fewer things I’m ignorant about.
What’s harder is when I know in the moment I could step up and be brave, could do or say something that requires courage, and I just don’t do it. Usually that’s because I’m afraid. But afraid of what?
I’ve learned from my exposure to Buddhist teachings over the past dozen or so years that fear is almost always rooted in either losing something you have or not getting something you want. And not getting something you want is actually losing the possibility of getting something, so all fear is based on fear of loss. Loss of wealth and material comforts, loss of health and bodily autonomy, loss of status and power, loss of connection to others, and the biggie at the root of all of it, loss of our very existence.
I’ve also learned that fear is an emotion that’s focused on the future. We’re fearful of what might happen, how it will affect us or people and institutions we care about. What will we lose? Even what feels like the present is usually just a more immediate future.
So I’m either afraid of losing something in the future and that keeps me from being brave, or sometimes I’m just ignorant of what I could have done better. What good does knowing that do me now?
I wondered if I could come up with some simple practices that would lay the groundwork for being more brave in the moment when an opportunity arises.
With some thought, I came up with five short practices that can be done in five minutes or less that address both ignorance and several flavors of fearfulness. Spending the time to clarify my thoughts to make these practices as simple as possible was a really helpful exercise in itself, and I’m excited to share them with you.
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What I’m reading
I recently finished Heavy, An American Memoir, by Kiese Laymon. This book has been on the periphery of my awareness since it was released in 2018. I kept hearing good things and knew I wanted to read it. But Wow. I was not prepared for how good it would be.
If I could choose one phrase to encapsulate Heavy, it would be “both/and.” The book is both a memoir and an extended letter to the author’s mother. His mother was both a brilliant academic who loved him fiercely and a physically and sometimes emotionally abusive parent. Laymon both loves and needs to distance himself from his mother and his home state of Mississippi. The book is about both the trauma that America inflicts on Black bodies and the trauma all of us end up inflicting on the ones we love. As a writer he is both incisive and playful, reveling in what language can do. The book is both packed with big ideas and intimate, both unsparing in its unflinching honesty and rooted in a deep and abiding love.
Here are just a few lines, at the end of the chapter titled “Contraction,” of the many, many, that gripped me. Laymon and his mother are returning to Mississippi after spending his junior year in Maryland where she had a year-long residency, and he has also just learned he has a heart murmur.
I loved the sound of the word murmur, and I loved that I was coming back to Mississippi with a murmur, a smaller body, and a new relationship to writing, revision, memory, and you.
America seems filled with violent people who like causing people pain. But hate when those people tell them that pain hurts.
I checked out the audiobook from the library, and hearing the book narrated in the author’s voice was definitely worth it, but I can see myself buying a paper version to read again. It’s just that good.
Exciting Bookshop news!
I recently learned one of my Bookshop lists, Books for Writers of Memoir and Creative Nonfiction, was picked to be featured on the Bookshop.org home page! Starting March 7 and running through the 14th, the list will be among a dozen or so featured affiliate lists for the week. Please take a moment to check it out, and remember, in 2022 all affiliate earnings from my Bookshop store will be donated to the Strong Hearted Native Women’s Coalition in San Diego County.
One final thought to leave you with today comes from a recent post about Lent from my writer friend and Episcopal minister Elizabeth Felicetti. She writes the Desert Owl Among the Ruins Substack, subtitled “seeking spiritual strength in the mess.”
Lent is the season starting on Ash Wednesday that goes until Easter in the Christian calendar, and is a time marked by reflection and a Lenten discipline often focusing on self-denial. If you’ve heard of people giving up coffee, chocolate, meat, etc., for Lent, that’s what they’re talking about. (It’s also why Mardi Gras, literally “Fat Tuesday,” the day before Ash Wednesday, is marked by a huge party.)
But Felicetti writes about a different kind of Lenten practice this year in her recent issue titled, “Savoring.”
I want to reframe Lent as gift to God. Self-denial is a Lenten theme, but after two years of giving up things we love due to the pandemic, I want to frame Lent positively. After prayer and reflection, the word that came to me Monday morning on my walk was savor.
She expands on what the word savor means to her and how she plans on incorporating it into her Lenten discipline. I loved it so much I’m stealing/borrowing it for my own Lenten practice this year. Whether the concept of Lent is new to you or you’ve been raised in this tradition, I encourage you to check out her post and see if it speaks to you this season.
So there you have it, my friends. I hope this issue of Be Your Own Hero gave you something to think about. Please let me know if you want the Five 5-Minute Practices That Will Help You Be More Brave, and tell me what you think of it. Leave your response in the comments — all respectful discussion is welcome.
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