About a year ago I found myself at a workshop facing a stranger and answering the following question: ‘What do people think of you that you don’t think is true?’ People have told me that I am courageous but for a long time I thought they were mistaking my ‘status quo’ for their ‘courageous’.
Like the time I drove from L.A. to Costa Rica with a lover I barely knew (we ended up getting married and living happily for a long while) or how I didn’t wait long after graduating as a yoga teacher to stand in front of a room full of people and teach a class or quitting my job and moving into a van. The fact is I say yes to a lot of things that scare other people. But I’ve never been afraid to pack my things and go, or to tell someone that I loved them, or to follow my irrational self. When there is no fear however, there is no need for courage.
What people don’t see is how natural those things come to me. My parents were badass hippie activists who supported several revolutions. We moved around constantly so I had plenty of practice in unsteady waters. I know how to adapt in new situations, new countries, new lives. In Spanish I can fake a country specific accent well enough not to get completely taken advantage of, even when I had my obviously Gringo boyfriend with his surf boards in the car. I don’t have issues speaking in public or teaching a yoga class because I had amazing teachers who taught me how to stand in front of people and command the attention of a room.
What people don’t see is the that I can be overwhelmed by the simplest of tasks. It took me two years to gather up the courage to get a driver’s license at age 30. People don’t hear the self doubt, the negative self talk. When I was 14 I went to see a therapist because I was terrified of ‘monsters’. I didn’t sleep without a light until much… much later in life and in full disclosure, darkness still scares me at times.
Courage, in my eyes, is something that we need to cultivate. I look at the things that scare me now and figure out what the smallest step is I can take to move through the fear. My dog recently died. He died in my arms, unexpectedly, leaving an enormous whole in my life. I am still not ready to fully deal with it, so I take small steps. My fear is that allowing myself to feel all of it will break me. I’m afraid that the pain will be so strong, I won’t be able to get out of bed. So I take it slow, little steps towards healing. Like a pain valve that can be controlled so it doesn’t flood the system.
I credit Brene Brown for helping me through much of my shame and fear regarding all kinds of situations that people don’t consider hard or scary or tough. I started to learn about how to build confidence. You do things that scare you just a little and you do them again and again until you realize you can do them, maybe they even become second nature at some point. You start noticing that you are able to do these things despite the fact that when you stand at the beginning of the tunnel the light seems so far away.
Courage requires moving through fear rather than being fearless. For me it sits on a bed of kindness. A place where I don’t judge myself for being terrified of the simple things. I remind myself constantly that being afraid keeps you moving. Self compassion keeps your rooted in yourself. Some days I still want to answer the primal call to return into the fetal position but most days I’m feeling pretty good about where I am, where I’m going and the open road that lies ahead.
Safe travels everyone!
Photography by my darling friend Eduardo Sczudlo. Check out his IG @esphotonyc