There is an art to imparting strength and confidence, to inspiring and heartening what is already within us. In many ways, to encourage is to help the heart unfold. And each time we do so, another aspect of our true self unfolds. Very often, the art of encouragement is needed to counter some sort of fear, which blocks us from what we already know. Fear makes courage forget itself. Encouragement reminds us of what we’re capable of.
In the modern classic The Wizard of Oz, the lion is afraid of everything and is sorely in need of courage – not to be heroic, but simply to make it through the days. So he joins Dorothy, the tin man, and the scarecrow – all off to see the wizard. In particular, the lion hopes the wizard can magically give him some courage. En route, he is tested in unexpected ways, and, though afraid, he manages to cope quite bravely.
Once in the Emerald City, the wizard not only informs the lion he can’t give him any courage, but he confesses he is fearful himself. Still, he does give the lion the gift of telling him that the courage he seeks has been inside of him all along.
Fear and Courage: Tools to be Used
This, of course, is a contemporary myth that holds the fear we all experience and the truth we all need. It reflects the timeless quandary between fear and courage, between withdrawing from what we know and standing by one’s core. Experientially, fear and courage are already at home within us, tools for us to clean and use.
So I want – and need – to explore the relationship between fear and courage, between acting on what we know and standing by one’s core. For each of us, like the lion making his way through Oz, has to live with fear and still act on what we know, sometimes to be heroic as life and love demand, but mostly just to make it through the days.
On a more subtle, but just as crucial level, we all need to stand by our respective cores, in order to keep the world possible. It is an age-old truth that when we can stand by our core and act on what we know, we keep ourselves and the web of life intact. Each time courage finds its face in the middle of fear, the world grows.
Tools of the Heart: Sincerity, Curiosity, Gratitude, Encouragement
Maureen O’Hara, the former president of the Saybrook Institute, tells how her mentor changed her life with a simple, gentle, clear instruction. She was studying biology at the University of Leeds with Irene Manton, the first female to ever use an electron microscope. After four days of trying to see a cell, Maureen, frustrated, cursed the bloody thing, and Dr. Manton put her hand on Maureen’s shoulder and offered from a place of practiced wonder, “O Maureen, you won’t see it if you hate it. You will only see it if you love it. Then it will come to you. Let it come to you.”
Such a gentle, profound lesson. It is not enough to recognize the larger order – we must love it. We must not just look at it, but appreciate it, move toward it with awe, and then, that awe emits its own gravity which pulls everything into view. It is gravity that confirms our place in the Universe. This is why sincerity, curiosity, and gratitude are such strong, compelling tools of the heart, which, when inhabited, bring us back into the web of life where we can feel how everything is connected.
Courage: Being Fully Alive Requires Taking Risks
Maureen goes on to speak of how this small moment has affected how she views risk. Loving our way into the web of life, being fully alive requires us to consider what will be missed if we don’t try, if we don’t take the risk. So we have an equal if not greater need to enhance risk, so as not to slip into a lifeless watching of life passing us by.
This is why sincerity, curiosity, and gratitude set the larger order of things in motion. As W.H. Murray says, “The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision which no one could have dreamed would have come their way.” And the world grows.
Taking Turns Helping Each Other Stay Afloat
The Jungian analyst Helen Luke strongly asserts that we take turns seeking a guide and being a guide. But either way, she declares, “It is mostly surely true that no one can safely enter the dark gate of the shadow world without knowing that some deeply loved and trusted person has absolute faith in the rightness of their journey and in their courage and ability to come through.”
We sorely need each other’s belief. And how we take turns. In the stormy seas that overtake us, we rely on each other to keep our heads above water. In the Hawaiian tradition, families and friends often swim long distances together, and when one becomes injured or exhausted, the others will keep the tired one afloat, massaging them in the water before the group swims on. They stop, tread water, and encourage their loved one to keep swimming.
This is an apt metaphor for the art of encouragement: keeping each other afloat when we’re tired, keeping each other swimming and guiding each other back into the current. The psychologist Ira Progoff puts it this way, “Love depends upon the capacity to reach beneath the surface of persons, to feel and touch the seed of life that is hidden there. And love becomes a power when it is capable of evoking that seed and drawing it forth from its hiding place.” O how we take turns. And the world grows.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Conari Press,
an imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC. www.redwheelweiser.com.
©2007 by Mark Nepo. All rights reserved.
Finding Inner Courage
by Mark Nepo.
About the Author
Mark Nepo is a poet and philosopher who has taught in the fields of poetry and spirituality for over thirty years. He has published twelve books and recorded five CDs. His work has been translated into French, Portuguese, Japanese, and Danish. In leading spiritual retreats, in working with healing and medical communities, and in his teaching as a poet, Mark's work is widely accessible and used by many. He continues to offer readings, lectures, and retreats. Please visit Mark at: www.MarkNepo.com and www.threeintentions.com