What is courage?

‘The willingness and ability to act outside one’s comfort zone.’

***  You won’t find this definition in any dictionary. Mostly you will find other words to define courage such as ‘bravery’, and ‘valor’, etc., and all in terms of facing extreme dangers without fear.

Seems to me that with this textbook and cultural view of courage, we run the risk of associating ‘unfeeling’ with the experience of courageous action. For fear is such an all consuming, deeply unconscious part of being human. ‘Feeling nothing’ in the place of fear should not pass in the World or in our Yoga practice for the application of courage. While effective in allowing humans to perform what we might think are courageous actions, ‘feeling nothing’ is the farthest from what the word essentially means.

“The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity.”

-George Bernard Shaw


Etymology of Courage

Courage comes from the the word ‘cor’ which means ‘heart’. So courage most literally means ‘to engage the heart’. While this definition is amorphous and sounds vague, it is quite evocative and from the perspective of Yoga an unending source of inspiration and enquiry.

Getting out of the Comfort Zone

I participate in a men’s group that meets once a week. Among other purposes, this group aims at the maturing of intimacy between men. This is not easy, or comfortable. While the men in this group are all very willing to be there, one thing I have noticed is the tremendous resistance to being and staying vulnerable when sharing in this group. At first it was quite uncomfortable to just show up. Once I got over the discomfort of attending, I found that it is very uncomfortable to share with other men any limitation or weakness I observe in myself without using rationale, justification, reason, etc. attached to my story. I found that I might start out with some vulnerability, and within moments of sharing about weakness or making mistakes, I would tend to revert to a comfortable male posturing and rerender the story so that I sounded “altogether”, “fixed”, “confident”, or worse, “justified”, and “reasonable”. Over time in this men’s group, I have learned to more often share my problems, shortcomings, weaknesses, and more without “fixing” myself in my own story. I also notice that it is very uncomfortable to sit still silently and listen to another man express his own weaknesses and problems without trying to fix him! This group has been invaluable to me to engage the feeling part of my self; that which ordinarily gets trained out of a man growing up in the world today.

Recontacting the Heart

I recently listened to a Brene Brown podcast where she talked about courage and fear. In her research she finds that humans can and often do experience fear and courage at the exact same time. I am often worried that we seem to need to hear facts about humanity such as this from research science in order to digest them, and at the same time I am glad that someone is willing to do the work and get the message out. I highly recommend checking out her work.

She said in the podcast that she asks herself daily,

“Do I want to be comfortable, or do I want to courageous?”

I immediately empathized with the value of this question and realized that I have implicitly held the same position in my life for years without consciously knowing it. I started to look back at events in my life when it took courage to get through, or the feeling of courage was elicited after going through it. I noticed that in each one, I was asked to make a move outside of my comfort zone. Since hearing Brene’s talk, I have adopted this view of courage more explicitly and see it as a very needed step in the direction of humanity’s cultural maturation for both men and women who wish to live from the heart.

If we are going to get anywhere with engaging the matter of the heart in issues that actually pertain to our life on a daily basis, we need to stop positioning courage against fear. We can instead start to ask ourselves, “Do I want to be comfortable, or do I want to be courageous?” I do not see this as a fix all solution, but rather a way to shake up the dominant culture’s inversive grip on this word; a practical way of coming into contact with the power, magic, and mystery of this word. A word that is so central to having a body, a mind, and a complex center of feeling and sensation in a field of challenge and demand.


By: Brent Kuecker – Yogi. Musician. Educator.

Join us at Udaya Live, Yoga and Music Festival this August 16-21 in Bulgaria! 

Go ahead. Shake things up. Find a new feeling.

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