Finding Courage in Challenging Times

Acknowledging fear, and guidance for transforming it.

Posted Jan 08, 2020

Have you ever felt as though too many challenges were coming at you at once? Here’s what happened for me: First, I attended an invitational conference on the climate crisis and saw for the first time, in one place, all the realities of what’s happening to our beloved planet.

It was utterly overwhelming and yet strangely a relief to see the truth of the situation laid out so clearly. No more second-guessing, no more avoidance, no more calling it a hoax. Just the harsh, scientific truth, followed by sharing how to live in these troubled times.

Then a few weeks later, the immanence of war between Iran and the U.S.—the assassination of Iran’s second-most-powerful leader followed inevitably by Iran’s bombing of U.S. bases. Whatever unfolds from here, the U.S. and the Middle East are in the most perilous situation in many decades.

The question is: How do we deal with our fears for the world, for ourselves? An essential first step is to cultivate an inner core of resilience and courage consciously. We need to stop in the midst of our busy lives and find refuge in the most basic, time-honored way of interrupting the mind’s wild antics: Bring awareness into the body and let the breath be your anchor in the present moment.

Furthermore, we need to set aside some time each day—15 or 20 minutes, at least—when we sit with ourselves in silence, in meditation, prayer, or some form of spiritual practice. This is the surest way to cultivate steadiness and inner resilience. It also helps to have an affirmation or a mantra that turns the mind in a positive direction: “May I be calm and have ease of heart.” Or “breathe in courage, breathe out fear.” Or recite a short prayer or mantra that helps to keep your mind steady and focused.

“But that’s so basic, so simple,” you might respond. The truth is, the mind spins off into endless scenarios, “what ifs,” worries, even outright fear. Obviously, the mind’s tendency is to think, but if we are not master of our minds, we find ourselves living more in the future or the past, completely disconnected from the present moment—the only place where life happens. That’s when we end up living in what the Catholic theologian Henri Nouwen called “the house of fear.”

Nelson Mandela once said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but triumph over it.” When you ponder his story—threats against his life, 27 years in prison—his statement carries the inspiration of someone who has learned how to handle his fear. Perhaps it was the strength of his inner life, his resolve, his perseverance, his faith in something beyond himself.

We, too, have these qualities. We need to claim them and to cultivate them, for they are the foundation of resilience and courage.

My deepest wish for all of us is to have the courage to live with a wounded heart, face our fears, allow our vulnerability, and keep loving everyone and everything in our imperfect world. It helps to remember that we’re all in this together and that each one of us contributes to the healing of the world by healing ourselves one small step at a time.

With blessings and love, Olivia