On courage

The great epochs of life come when we gain the courage to re-christen our evil as what is best in us. Friedrich Nietzsche

Reading these words hits my heart with such a sense of recognition.

It’s a challenging quote for a world so intent on knowing where the line between good and bad is, so intent on being on the right side of the distinction.

My heart doesn’t know what’s good or bad. My heart just knows how tired it is of all this fighting. It knows that I have been at war with myself for as long as I can remember. It bears the scars that prove it. My heart isn’t concerned with questions of morality. My heart just feels.

Now that it is coming to an end, I’m realizing that I have spent this entire summer on a quest to make peace with myself. Going into it, my goal was to be selfish, in search of self-reliance. But in trying to think of only myself, I was forced to face the enormity of my internal battle. To face how much I seek the gold stars and brownie points that count towards my “good person membership card”. To face that as much as I want to be my own north star, I am in fact keeping my ear to the ground for the sound of the approaching rectitude police.

I got to spend some time alone this summer. Truly by myself kind of alone, not just avoiding others kind of alone. It’s not something I have a lot of experience with. Making every decisions for myself, not having to think of anyone else. Being in that space is what allowed me to open my eyes to the truth of my constant chastising, my constant berating of myself. It’s kind of like opening your eyes under water. It’s not easy, it feels like it would be better to keep them closed. But you keep blinking until things come into focus. And then you see. You see the water. Like Foster Wallace’s older fish passing by young ones: morning boys, how’s the water? The kids looking at each other all puzzled, what the hell is water? My weeks of solitude have opened my eyes and I cannot not see the water anymore.

Let me tell you, turns out it ain’t pretty the way I’m used to relating to myself. And it’s not like I haven’t been on an intense healing path for years, or that I don’t use concepts of non-violent communication diligently, or that I don’t already believe in the importance of trumping hate with love. That’s what really got me. The realization that trying to feel good about myself by doing the right thing is actually the very thing that hurts me. Cause it sounds great, doesn’t it, doing the right thing, being the good person. But when I look under the hood of that, I see how much fear, pressure and shame lives in the pursuit of goodness. It’s like a tension line, propping you up, but it comes at the high price that it might be cut, and that you might fall down, right into hell. Plop.

For whatever reason, I’ve always had the compassion that makes me look at people who have done bad things and still see their humanity. Murderers, rapists, dictators aren’t a different breed, a different race, a different species. They’re just as human as I am. Thinking like this makes me feel like a spiritual hotshot, but it never occurred to me before that by judging my own worth against some sort of goodness template, I’m not being very consequent with myself. Like not at all. You can’t truly opt out of the stigma of bad while still holding on to the doctrine of good. If I really believe that a murderer is a fully worthy human being despite having committed an act of murder, than why the hell am I constantly holding the threat of losing my worth over my own head? And how is that threat not an act of war actively killing my inner peace?

What is my evil? All the ways that I have failed. All the ways that I am different. All the ways that I am difficult. All the ways that I am me. Me. Not the imagined best me that I will be happy with when I finally get to be it. No, me, the me that I am right now. I could make a long list of all the things I wish to change about this me that I am, and I used to believe that working through this list was called living, and succeeding. But isn’t all this saint seeking really not evil avoiding? And isn’t all this evil avoiding really not self avoiding?

This realization has felt like being slapped in the face, hard. The only reason it didn’t topple me over is because it comes with the recognition that I am wholly worthy just as I am in this exact moment. That holds me up like strong roots going deep into the earth. Nevertheless, feeling bad about myself is not just a belief, it’s also a habit. So, predictably, the habit still kicks in, everyday, but now I have a choice. I can remind myself that I don’t believe I am bad because I don’t do good and bad anymore. I choose to opt out, return my membership cards, thank you but no thank you.

It’s funny, it even says it right there in the phrase: I feel bad about myself. Yeah you do, because you feel that you are bad. If I don’t feel that I am bad, I stop feeling bad about myself. It’s deceptively easy. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to see. But my heart has always known, it didn’t need to see it to feel it. It’s been trying to tell me all along, by letting me feel it. But I was all confused, thinking that feeling bad was the proof something was wrong with me, making me feel even worse, leaving me no choice but to work endlessly at making me good, or else give up from exhaustion, making me bad. But good person cards, bad person cards, it’s all just paper. The worth of anyone, of everyone, is not an arithmetic game of good and bad. We are all 100% worthy, 100% ourselves, 100% human.

Oh and about courage, I’m repeating myself here but the root of courage comes from the word heart. What is courage? It’s love. Loving ourselves as we are is how we come to the great epochs of our lives.

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8 thoughts on “On courage

  1. So much here to dissect Rain. I don’t honestly know where to start. But I’ll focus on the paragraph that starts with What is my evil? All the ways that I failed. I think I want to start here because we have all failed. In my 20’s and a good portion of my 30’s I WAS a failure. I’m not being harsh on myself, its the truth. When others my age were sowing their oats I was living with my parents and not living life. I was too comfortable. And some of those traits still hit me now as I approach 50. But at this point, I don’t give a shit. It is what it was. I can’t go back, I can only go forward. Once again you have laid bare so much here. So for starters, kudos to you for being able and willing to do that. I’m more comfortable writing, but I don’t reveal all. I fear it for a number of reasons. With you, it seems you need to reveal, and in that epic post from early in this summer, I can now understand just a little bit why that might be. So I”ll just say again that your openness is tremendous. Its easy to say as an outside observer that you are being too hard on yourself. It is true by the way. But I know you need to purge these thoughts and be free of them. And I long for that day. Normally in this position with other people I know I would end with the words, I long for that day my friend. You have been nothing but kind and open, and chatty with me since first we encountered one another but I hesitate to close with those words. Not because you aren’t inherently kind and pleasant to me..because you absolutely have been. But because I’m not sure that is what you have been seeking. So instead I think I’d rather say, I hope this is still getting you in your mind closer to where you want to be Rain. I’m always here to talk.

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    1. Thank you Robert, as always I appreciate your perspective. First, all my posts are absolutely getting me closer to where, and who, I want to be. So no worries there. I have yet to regret a single word I’ve written, and even if my heart still flutters when I hit the publish button, I know that daring to share what I have to say is a healing act for me. Like you said, I do need to reveal. As for your 20’s and 30’s, I hear that you feel what you feel about them, and yet it seems to me that the framing of failure is what we put over any path that is different, that does not follow the normal course. I think that’s what I feel this Nietzsche quote invites us to do, to reframe the evil of our perceived failures and flaws into what is in fact the best of us, to see that we can proud of instead of ashamed of our differences. Failure is what happens to everyone if there’s only one correct way to live. So cheers to not giving a shit, I think that’s a way better way to go. And btw, anyone who considers themselves my friend is my friend. I mean that, our world needs all the friendship it can get : )

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      1. You are welcome Rain. And the Nietzsche quote is entirely apt. Even more so because I have been making some subtle or not so subtle changes to my life. Nothing drastic or bad. It started with a challenge by another blogger to do a bit of a cleanse of certain foods for 10 days. Clearing my body of breads, pasta and sugar really altered my body and mind in a positive way. I found a lot of clarity as a result and that has translated to personal attitude and even appearance. Wearing clothes that others may disapprove of, but make me happy. That sort of thing. So yes, I really get what you say. The not giving a shit thing actually has come from that too. I used to be embarassed by that but now it is what it is. We do need all the friends we can get in this mean world, and I”m honored to be yours. Thank you.

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      2. Food is so powerful, it can definitely be used in ways that harm or heal. I’ve been using it to manage my psychological health without medication for a long time now. And it really works! Recently I also started finding my way back to using exercise consistently and that really works too. That would have been inconceivable for me not even that long ago (physically too triggering) so clearly I must be doing better. Good things come to those who seek!

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  2. Eventually I get to observe the construct that is “me” – this set of ideas, resonating out of trauma and pleasure,out of victories and defeats, this altar of trophies and wounded dolls that my mind insists is “myself”. The “I am” which is, of course, the hurt and fearful self shaming virus that defiantly refuses to regard itself as the ego. The mask. And then, beautiful Rain, in the stillness, in a fleeting glint of consciousness I am no longer my thoughts or my feelings, no longer the victim of my life. Instead, I am the observer of this experience knowing “all the world is a stage and all the men and women merely players” and this construct, this “self”, which carries whatever identity I transfer upon it, is finally revealed as illusion….. an orphan illusion I once sought to soothe with drugs, alcohol, sex, work, status, money, risk and every other remedy it believed would soothe its craving… but it always wanted more. The fear could not be extinguished, no grave was deep enough to bury the shame, no poison strong enough to kill the disappointment, no umbilical real enough to establish connection. I guess some of us have no choice but to travel that dark and painful path back to the garden and surprise, surprise, we are not stronger as a result … instead we lose our fear and understand that, spiritually, we were always there, indestructible observers of the drama.
    I know this out of experience and meditation – the orgasmic “little death” pales to insignificance on the hill of silence. Yet both are exquisite.

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    1. Your words remind me that as much as I am rocked by the ocean of life, my experience with pain and pleasure has been that, when I walk through them, I find myself in the same place of bright light. I don’t know how both pain and pleasure would lead to the same place, but maybe it’s really the process of going all the way to the other side that takes me there. Something about the motion of folding socks inside out, reminiscence of the infinite nature of the universe… I think in this light is where true power comes from. Not the power to control others, but the power that allows me to make things that are beautiful, to see with eyes that know beauty. I guess maybe that light is where grace lives.

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