Embracing Courage with Compassion

“To live a life of ordinary courage requires a great deal of compassion and empathy, beginning with ourselves.” Brené Brown

Brené Brown is one of my favorite authors on women and empowerment, and this quote has become my mainstay in the work that I do as a yogini, and coach and entrepreneur. The very idea of ordinary living as a courageous act is profound. It gets at the root of how challenging it is to be human. The combination of self-love and compassion isn’t something that’s woven into the fabric of our American culture, but it is something that we can learn and embrace.

It’s easy to forget that fear, shame, vulnerability, and doubt are all normal human emotions. They can be so powerful that they knock us off our game and leave us feeling isolated because no one embraces them conversationally. Nevertheless, they’re part of our shared experience as humans. When we experience the discomfort of these feelings, our first instinct might be to think that there’s something wrong with us. We might run from them — literally keeping ourselves so busy we don’t have time to feel anything. Or we may hide by drawing inward or presenting a façade that protects us from being seen. We might come up with a plan to “get it together” and try to beat ourselves into submission to align with some pre-conceived formula for who and how we ought to be. None of these strategies help us feel better in the long run, nor do they serve anyone. No one benefits when we aren’t bringing the best of who we are, out into the world. We’re left feeling crappy and our work is subpar if it gets done at all.

So how do we find the courage to show up as ourselves? One way is to take inspiration from examples of courageous humanity. I find everyday people like Emma González, the high school student from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in South Florida who’s become the face of the movement challenging gun laws and the NRA incredibly inspiring. The many women who’ve come forward in the #Metoo movement remind me that I too can face my challenges. Another way is to remember the times you have taken courageous action. For me, leaving a job that was secure but no longer good for me took incredible inner courage, especially not knowing what was next. Putting myself out in the world as a business owner is a completely new world for me, one where I often feel inept. Sometimes just showing up when we feel vulnerable is courageous.

Compassion and empathy are the fuel we need to keep us going when we struggle. They help us see a bigger view and tap into the courage of the heart instead of giving into the gremlins of the head. When the little voices in my mind that represent fear and vulnerability chime in (I can usually recognize them because they start with “I can’t . . .” or “I’m not enough…”), I quiet them with Abhayamudrã. This practice helps me stay in my courage and live with compassion. Instructions for Abhayamudrã are below. I hope they help you open to the beauty of who you are. The world needs you just as you are.

Abhayamudrã — Sit comfortably and raise your right hand in front of your right shoulder, palm facing out, fingers extending upward and left hand relaxing on your lap, palm up. Stay relaxed and still. Imagine soft light extending outward from your right palm, connected to and coming from a radiant light in the center of your chest (your energetic heart center). Feel a growing warmth in your heart center and extend that warmth into your palm. Imagine that whatever is causing you to feel vulnerability, shame, or fear is looking into the center of your palm. See it subdued by the emanating light. Feel your courage, love and openness. Know them to be unwavering. Hold for 5–15 minutes. Practice daily and you’ll find your way to transcend fear and live from the guidance of your inner knowing.

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