When the Voice Shakes–a meditation on courage

 

"Without courage we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency."

~ Maya Angelou

We need courage.

Many times in life we are faced with what seem to be insurmountable obstacles, forces of history, of culture, or of such vastness that they seem to be monolithic and immune to reason or even human intercession. We are faced with that which is beyond our control.

We fear that all this will, if not crush us, will, at the very least, disregard our efforts to such an extent that what we do will be all in vain. So we often remain silent and even turn away. We remain fearful within that silence. We cower under the comforter of that silence hoping hurtful things will just pass us by. We are fearful that we are of no use, that there is no way to face against the wind, that we will provoke a negative response, that what we say or do that is not in concord with the prevailing currents will somehow bring ruin upon ourselves and our loved ones, or worse. We fear these hurricanes.

We fear the mistakes we might make, the return of mistakes we have already made, making the wrong choice, making the right choice at the wrong time. We fear disrupting something which, if we only had the courage to face it, we might recognize as already being disrupted .

Courage sounds like an ominous word sometimes. We apologize for a "lack of courage".  Courage is thought of as fearlessness. Once fears are met and overcome they are removed as obstacles in the path we are told.

Let the wilderness serve for your seat and bed!
From fear; and in the fearless, released.
In places where frightening serpents abide,
Lightning clashes and the rain-god thunders,
In the blinding darkness of the deepest night,
There he sits — the monk who’s vanquished his dread.

Let the wilderness serve for your seat and bed!
Go about set free from the ties that bind.
But if, perchance, you don’t find there your bliss,
then Live in a group — but watch over yourself:
Mindful, proceeding for alms from house to house,
Mindful, with guarded faculties — and wise.

~ Andhakavinda Sutta: Let the Wilderness Serve! translated from the Pali by Andrew Olendzki

The translator Andrew Olendzki writes in a footnote there:

The play on words in the second line is clever, equating freedom from fear with the liberation of nibbana, which is sometimes given the epithet "the fearless." Since fear is always rooted in protection of the ego, working with fear is a useful practice for overcoming the ego’s instinctive defenses. Awakening results in fearlessness because one lets go of the need to protect the limited view of oneself as one gains a much wider perspective.

These are very nice words, very useful words in some respects. If we have the luxury of the time to sit and contemplate them that is.

Unfortunately the moments that courage is called for do not all happen while we are sitting on meditation cushions. Sometimes they happen in our work places, our cars, in hospitals, or in the streets. They happen with other people getting in the way, sometimes with violence close at hand, when we do not have time to recall soothing verses or sit down and think about an appropriate course of action.

We can read those very nice words in one respect as a preparation for further courage, an introduction to practicing courage on a more continuous basis.

Without courage we may believe we will never lose anything, that we will become impervious to anything which can threaten our security. With or without courage we will lose it all, ultimately.

Yes, courage can come at the wrong moment and sometimes it might not come at all. We can even make courageous mistakes. We need the courage to learn from that and we need the courage to be wrong too.

Without courage we will not understand much about this life.

Without courage we remain in stasis, hanging onto whatever we may think of that provides us with a sense of security, however illusory.

Without courage nothing changes.

Without courage we will never extend ourselves to anyone nor be able to accept anyone else.

Without courage we will also never love.

Courage…it’s better than the alternative.

 

"Speak even if your voice shakes."

~Audre Lorde

 



Here’s a song to accompany:

So there’s no simple explanation
for anything important any of us do
and yea the human tragedy
consists in the necessity
of living with the consequences
under pressure, under pressure.

Courage by The Tragically Hip

 

Full lyrics:

Watch the band through a bunch of dancers
Quickly, follow the unknown with something more familiar.
Quickly something familiar
Courage, my word it didn’t come it doesn’t matter
Sleepwalk, so fast asleep in a motel
that has the lay of home and piss on all of your
background and piss on all your surroundings
Courage, my word, it didn’t come, it doesn’t matter
Courage, your word, it didn’t come, it doesn’t matter
Courage, my word, it didn’t come, it doesn’t matter
Courage, it couldn’t come at a worse time
So there’s no simple explanation
for anything important any of us do
and yea the human tragedy
consists in the necessity
of living with the consequences
under pressure, under pressure.
Courage, my word, it didn’t come, it doesn’t matter,
Courage, your word, it didn’t come, it doesn’t matter,
Courage, my word, it didn’t come, it doesn’t matter
Courage, it couldn’t come at a worse time,
It couldn’t come at a worse time,
It couldn’t come at a worse time.
Courage

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