Reblogged from my blog on SageWoman’s channel at Witches & Pagans: http://www.witchesandpagans.com
As the darkness approaches, I find myself thinking more and more about courage. What is courage? Personally, I think courage is so subjective – there is no one definition that would suit everyone. Yet I shall give it a go in any case.
The dictionary defines courage as: the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery. I would posit that courage is the quality of mind/spirit that enables a person to face difficulties, etc in spite of fear. It is just not true that the brave know no fear – I believe that they simply get on with it. There is no such thing as a fearless person, unless that person has not the mental capacity for it, having suffered physical brain or emotional trauma.
What causes fear? For the most part, fear is the unknown. As humans, we crave constancy, security. We’re not especially fond of change, at least in great quantities. We fear what we cannot see – many are afraid of the dark. Is this an instinctual fear, based on what could attack and eat us from the shadows? I had an experience a couple of weeks ago, in my own backyard, where I went to offer some food at my altar – a large dark shadow that was not usually there made me stop in my tracks. A bear, my first thought was. Then my brain worked through the processes of logic – there are no bears in Britain. I’m not in Canada anymore. What animal would be big enough to create this? A stag? Would he attack me in this, the rutting season? No, he couldn’t get through the hedge with his rack at this time of year… After going through these thought processes (which probably took less than a second) I simply stepped forward to investigate, and found it to be a large branch from the beech tree that came down in the high winds. I smiled at the brain’s way of dealing with it and made my offering, honouring the darkness and shadows as well.
Growing up in Canada, in bear country, you are taught to be afraid of large, dark shapes at night and early morning. You stay away from them. That learned behaviour has stayed with me even though I have lived in the UK since 1998.
So, what is the great thing about learned behaviour? It can be unlearned. My fear of the dark, of the unknown, can be investigated, experienced fully. Now, of course it is healthy to have a certain instinctual fear of large shadows in the dark, just in case I find myself alone in the woods when I get back to Canada for a visit. I can’t expect my brain to make these logical leaps in time to deal with the situation of a real bear being there – my brain would rightfully tell me to leg it. However, dealing with a fear of the unknown can be unlearned.
In new situations, I don’t have to automatically feel apprehension. I don’t have to worry. I don’t have to react. I can breathe, and work with what is actually happening at the moment, rather than living in the past or fast-forwarding to the future. In the present moment, we cannot know fear – we can only fear outcomes. When we are hurt, when we are in pain or in danger, if we are thinking in the future, “when will this stop!” then we are not in the present moment – we have given over to the future. Facing the current moment of pain, of danger, requires us to be totally present. This very easy to say, not so easy to do. Still, it is worth the effort, I think.
While working on this concept, in the meantime one can learn to live with the fear, in the form of taking on the notion of courage and running with it. Face the darkness in spite of your fears – they may only be tree branches anyway. Fear is a very human emotion, one that has kept us alive for millennia.
For me, fear is a god. Fear can be crippling, fear can drown us in its depths; it can suffocate us until we know no other escape. As such, fear can kill. Yet, like most gods, only in submission to these raw flows of energy would we risk death. By working with the flows, riding the currents of fear, developing a relationship with it, we can better understand it as well as its place in our lives, and the rest of the world. In the meantime, may all your shadows only be deadwood. You’ll only find out by checking it out, at any rate…