Saturday, 18 April 2015

Courage: Living Wholeheartedly

Everyday I receive an extract from the writings of David Whyte. I mostly love and find them thought provoking and inspiring. I received the following about three weeks ago. It struck me at the time and has been singing in my soul ever since.

“Courage” by David Whyte

Courage is a word that tempts us to think outwardly, to run bravely against opposing fire, to do something under besieging circumstance, and perhaps, above all, to be seen to do it in public, to show courage; to be celebrated in story, rewarded with medals, given the accolade, but a look at its linguistic origins leads us in a more interior direction and toward its original template, the old Norman French, Coeur, or heart.

Courage is the measure of our heartfelt participation with life, with another, with a community, a work, a future. To be courageous, is not necessarily to go anywhere or do anything except to make conscious those things we already feel deeply and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences. To be courageous is to seat our feelings deeply in the body and in the world: to live up to and into the necessities of relationships that often already exist, with things we find we already care deeply about: with a person, a future, a possibility in society, or with an unknown that begs us on and always has begged us on. Whether we stay or whether we go - to be courageous is to stay close to the way we are made."

...It planted a seed in my soul that has been singing ever since...

Last Monday, as part of “The Sylvan Social Group” get together Gwyneth Roper spoke on the “Hospice Movement”. She talked about its history, how it developed through the persistence and pioneering work of Dame Cecily Saunders. She talked about St Anne’s Hospice which serves the people of Greater Manchester and her own personal experiences of working and volunteering there. It was an informative and deeply moving talk, for many reasons. What struck me was the whole approach to those people that are cared and supported by the many hospices up and down the country. That they see their work as not only caring and relieving suffering but of enabling all those experiencing terminal illnesses to live right up to the end of their physical lives. It would seem that often people discover many things they never knew about themselves, even in those last days and months.

As I sat listening to Gwyneth and remembering my own recent experiences with hospices with family, friends and other acquaintances the word courage kept on forming in my heart and mind. I remember as I sat there, with one or two tears forming in my eyes that I kept on thinking to myself that this is what real courage is. This is truly living with a fully open heart.

Now courage is one of those interesting words. It conjures up the soldier on the battlefield or the figure running into a burning building to rescue those trapped in there, or someone standing up against an injustice and saying no. We only need open the daily paper to see examples of this kind of courage. That said I’m not convinced courage is exclusive to such acts; in fact such acts are probably more akin to bravery and or heroic deeds. Now of course a hero requires courage in order to perform heroic deeds, that said courage can be found in many other quarters too.

The word courage itself is one of those fascinating ones whose meaning has altered somewhat over time. It is formed from the French root “Cuer” meaning heart. To have courage is to have strength of heart. I have learnt that courage is far more than bravery and heroic deeds it is a consistent and sustaining love, it is a spiritual energy that holds us in sickness and in health in loss or disappointment. It is courage that animates our lives and inspires us to truly live, whatever befalls us in life.

Courage is that loving sustaining seed that lays within each of us. Courage is about having faith in something and that this something will hold us and guide us through whatever we experience in the journeys of our lives. Some have described it as the warrior spirit, but not in the sense that we usually understand a warrior.

In “Courage: Overcoming Fear and Igniting Self-Confidence” Debbie Ford claims that:

"Courage is a holy gift that exists within you. It's yours when you are ready to reunite with it. When you awaken to courage, it becomes an exciting, life-enhancing force that will lift you back into your power and guide you home to your authentic nature. The greatest act of courage is to be and to own all of who you are — without apology, without excuses, without masks to cover the truth of who you are. True courage comes not just from feeling confident and strong, but from being the honest, authentic expression of yourself. Think about how audacious it is to really believe in yourself. It takes a warrior's courage to acknowledge that your point of view matters, that your truth matters, that your gifts matter, and that your presence on this earth matters. You don't have to earn this right; it's yours as part of your birthright.”

To live as the true warrior, to live with courage is about living authentically with a cracked open heart, paradoxically this how we live truly wholeheartedly. It’s also about showing this heart to the world. Letting the world know you as you truly are, warts and all and beauty spots too.

One of my many roles as a minister is to conduct funerals and to write or at least deliver the eulogy of the deceased, to tell their story. This is always fascinating and moving, as well as deeply revealing. There is far more to the lives of each and every one of us than we could ever know. I recently attended the funerals of three friends and listened to the eulogies of them all. As I listened I realised how much I knew them and yet how little I knew them too.

It got me thinking about who really knows us at all? How many of us truly reveal our whole selves, our whole hearts? Do any of us have the warrior courage to truly do this, at any stage of our journeys through life?

I know that for long periods of my life I lived in a kind of bubble, in my own little world. I was recently reminded of this during a conversation with a friend. As we were talking a long forgotten memory came back to me - Sadly there are large chunks of my life that I have little or no memory of, although over the years these memories keep on returning. From where, I have no clue - When I was a teenager and at other times in my life I would often take myself off into Huddersfield, or sometimes Leeds and just wander around the streets alone and yet completely surrounded by people in a kind of bubble, not speaking or even communicating with others, looking at them but not really connecting. I did it at times in my twenties too, but thankfully it is not something I need to do any longer. I found the courage to burst that bubble of self-protection, as it no longer serves me. I have found the faith, to live open heartedly, to live whole heartedly.

I wonder sometimes as I sit drinking coffee outside Café Nero, as I did the other day, how many others amongst us live in our own little bubbles? How many of us circle around one another in our own little planetoids, never really connecting to one another. How many of us live lives of deadness, of non-being, closed in, shut down, in our own little jails.

It really does not have to be like this. We can live with courage and it begins by truly knowing ourselves. This is where spiritual practise comes in. Through spiritual practise we can reveal the inner landscape of our own lives, we can truly know who we are. We can reveal our authentic selves, which will enable us to live our lives fully. By doing so we can open our hearts and therefore live wholeheartedly; by doing so, I have discovered, we also begin to see the landscape of our common humanity. By knowing ourselves bridges are built that can help us better connect to lives of others. It helps us to see that whatever our different stories maybe, at whatever stage our lives may be at, the same spirit that animates our lives, animates theirs. We each of us live with the same longings, fears, doubts, hopes and regrets. Yes our stories are all different and yet they are all the same.

We are each of us adventurers on a journey, but it’s a journey that isn’t really going anywhere. The journey is not one of distance at all, but one of depth and one of revelation and above all else deeper and deeper connection. And what do we need to keep journeying on, we need courage; we need genuine sustaining courage, which enables us to live wholeheartedly.

We need to live with the spirit of the warrior, at whatever stage of life we are at. We need to bring this courage to life right to the very end and we can. Things can be revealed to us right up to those last moments before we draw our last physical breaths. We can continue to connect with others on a deeper level, even at the very end, if we keep the courage to live with cracked open hearts, if we live wholeheartedly.

Courage is a way of living and breathing it’s about living openly and vulnerably in the world. It is about living with our hearts cracked open and therefore wholeheartedly. It’s also about bringing this into our relationships with others. It’s about allowing them to truly know us, while we are still alive and therefore encouraging them to do likewise. We can do this at any stage of our lives, whether we are at the beginning or very near the end.

It's about en-couraging them opening our hearts to them and encouraging them to do likewise...

When does life really begin or end? Well I do not know the answer to this, but increasingly it seems that there really is no beginning and or end. We are a part of something that began way before we were born and continues on and on after we are gone. And what of the possibility of an after life? Well I cannot answer that. Whatever happens after our bodies breath their last breath, surely it cannot be any more strangely beautiful than this one we live now. Let's enjoy this beautiful journey, on the Road to Nowhere.

My message, in this little blogspot, is to live with courage whatever stage you are at in life. I say let courage open you to life whatever befalls you. Remember it is courage that is formed in the heart; it is courage that is the ultimate act of faith; it is courage that keeps us open to life; it is courage that allows us to know ourselves; it is courage that builds bridges between ourselves and others; it is courage that allows people to truly know us, no matter what stage of life we find ourselves.

Courage friends, courage…

I'm going to end this little chip of a blogspot with these rather lovely words "“Nothing to Fear” from “A Long Time Blooming” by Marta I Valentin

Go forth young child, and know that you do not walk alone, nor ever have.
You carry with you ancestral bonds that do not sever.
You carry with you familial love that does not end.
You carry with you the scents of sweet friendship a long time blooming…

Go forth, young child, with nothing to fear.
Open your heart to the crosscurrents of living.
Let others enter the circle of your tender loving arms.
Let others know the profundity of your sharp, inquiring mind.

Go, leave your mark upon the world, and continue to lift up your voice, there are many waiting to listen.

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