Saturday, December 1, 2012

Captains of Courage (fifth of five)

Courage is proportionate to fear. To fight someone bigger, to jump a larger than usual gap, to trust in the parachute, to take up the dare takes courage. But the most difficult courage, in my experience, happens when alone. Goaded by others we hurtle along the rope-slide over the canyon, jump from the bungee platform, gulp down too much liquor, or swallow the worm; our ego is at stake, others are watching. Yes, it takes courage to overcome fear, insecurity, uncertainty, and unproven ability. But when accountable to others there is a melding of vanity, ego, bravado; a purposeful sense of screwing one's courage to the sticking place. It's when entirely alone that we are most challenged.

Long dark nights in the jungle. Great chasms to be traversed when solo. Interior monologues to be faced with veracity. Dialogues privately to be recalled with impeccable precision of history, feeling, sense, honesty, and one's own culpability. It is the utter integrity with the self that takes most courage. To admit to having slain the dragon when wearing its tooth for an amulet, to bring back the bear carcass, to hoist the enemy's head, to brandish the badges of attainment, to bruit the proof of prowess, to frame the certificate of valour, these are the motivations girding one's loins. But what of being alone, with no one to see you, to know you? What of facing into the temptation, with no one to praise you? What of traversing the divide, with no one to welcome you on the other side? At least, not if you're entirely a believer in the essence of your own heart's point of view. That last-moment bargain with God, in a movie such as The Grey, is so essentially iconic. When at the end of our tether we may well scream out for His aid, and receive no discernible answer. Very many will affirm that in that very moment we are given inner resources through His grace. Deus ex Machina! Others, as in the movie, will realistically rely on the self. But the meaning of courage while being alone (an omniscient God notwithstanding) lies in that we ultimately are propelled by our connection to energy, whether it be that of others, of our ego, of our OverLordships, of our Self, of our codes of conduct and affiliations and ideals and nationalisms, or simply of our own indomitable determination. In the moment of that very real test, we pass or fail the sticking place. We are transformed, or our courage may indeed let us down.

Courage, as the final point of the pentacle of the Knight's Five Virtues, is also the first. It is expected that one be fearless. But fearlessness is a misnomer. We can only exercise courage when afraid, practice patience when impatient, be honest when being tempted, try abstinence in the face of plenty, be selfless through selfishness. The bee in the tent, spiders, mice, the sounds in the night, when alone; these things will give rise to the heart's poundings. More. When ghostly rats scuttle with slithering claws in the slippery slopes of our contentions, and we know that our minds are not made up, our way not clear, our actions uncertain; it is courage and prudence and care and forethought and consideration that must set our course, or courage may be seen as but a protective, instinctual, unconsidered reaction. Many a fool has been so named by a vainglorious moment of courage. To wave the flag and be shot by the enemy is so... sad.

To let go of all the enculturation and prescripts that one has been taught, and to be fully authentic with and in such self as is responsible to and loving of the whole, now that takes courage indeed. We find it so very hard to let go. We are not birds to be turfed from a nest. We are not isolates to be freed into ether. We are beings, bound by fear. 

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