I read a quote the other day: “Courage is a love affair with the unknown.” I liked the way those words came together in my mind with an invitation for further exploration and discovery.
It reminded me of something my teacher, Guru Singh, had taught the ballsy, less mature me about the courage of going beyond my balls and opening my heart after the death of my mom and the loss of my job. He described the experience of courage in life as the relationship between the sun, a large obstacle, and its shadow.
We often spend our lives in the shadows. Shadows are comfortable and safe because we’ve been hiding in them our whole lives and know there’s nothing new lurking around the corner to hurt us.
But shadows can also be dark and ominous, and sometimes life calls on us to emerge. Tragedies — divorce, a job loss, illness or, in my case, the death of my mom — often act as fuel propelling us from the shadows in search of the sun. Before we find the sun, though, we find what lies in between: that which created the shadow. These are the obstacles of our lives. While the shadows are darkly familiar, the obstacles are new and overwhelming.
For most of our lives we thought the shadow was all that existed and now we see something new and larger than the shadow. So we spend time looking at these obstacles, analyzing them and trying to understand what they mean. In our culture this is called therapy. As anyone who’s been through therapy knows, this can be an exhausting stage that’s often so difficult it makes us retreat once again back into the shadows. We call this relapse … into substance, work, violence, toxic relationships … and we return to our story, once again feeling safe behind the shadow’s veil until another tragedy comes along and we step (again) toward our obstacle. Maybe this time we look at the obstacle with fresh eyes. We might be done with analysis and discussion, and maybe we see a path or a door that wasn’t visible in our past attempts. We move around the obstacle and into the sun, the pure light. And we are home.
Recently, I contemplated on this journey and Guru Singh’s words. I sat for a while alone and then my wife joined me and we sat together. It was evening and there were shadows cast about the room, forming ominous-looking figures on the dark wood of our bedroom floor. I didn’t notice the shadows much though; perhaps it was Guru Singh’s teachings, or maybe I just felt safety from the warmth of my wife’s hand gently touching mine. I sat and stared for a while into the glow of the fireplace, entranced by the dance of the pure light that warmed the room. Beyond the shadows and the objects in between, the fire was a symbol for the courage with which I was learning to live my life.
I spent most of my life confusing bravado with courage. I trembled inside while bravely marching on, hiding my feelings, disguising their existence behind an elaborate suit of armor I called my job, money, and stuff. Bravado is the cowardly lion, hiding the fear and pretending to be superhuman.
It doesn’t ask us to not feel fear; instead it invites us to feel the fear, to feel it fully and then when comfortable to look beyond … and then it calls again to go beyond even that and see what you find.
Bravado is your college frat buddy. Courage is your wife.
This is one of the values of meditation. In sitting with only ourselves, we begin to see beyond the stories that find their home in our daily lives. In life those stories find support in the stories of others, they find agreement in the nightly news and appear to be the truth as they loop around and around in our experience. They are the shadows of shadows. Sitting silently, without the stimulation that feeds these stories, we begin — slowly — to see beyond them. On the first go-around in our brains a story may seem real, and our internal cheering section says, “hell yeah!” But as the story runs over and over again it begins to lessen in intensity and soon, what appeared once as truth becomes a question. It’s in that questioning that truth is found. Courage is the questioning.
This is the courage that sees beyond skin color — and uniforms too for that matter — and allows men with conflicting costumes to meet in the street and truly find each other instead of playing out a tragic and ancient story line. It’s the courage that a husband and a wife call on in the midst of relationship struggles to wind back time before acting out the story of their pain and abandonment and fall in love again. It’s the courage of a new breed of business executives who see beyond the dollars and cents of their jobs to touch and inspire the hearts of their employees. It’s the courage that women around the world discover as they give birth, miraculously replacing the physical pain with a sacred mission of the heart to bring their baby into the world. It’s the courage that can … and will … save the world, uniting us all in the place beyond the illusion where we are all the same — men, women, and children who just want to be loved.
Courage is the calling to emerge from the shadows, to see beyond our obstacles and enter the light. I invite you this week to join me in a simple meditation. Sit or lie down, however you are comfortable. Be aware of your shadows and your obstacles … but also allow for the possibility that they are the manifestation of your light. Breathe and slowly loosen your grip on the stories that have been galloping in your head. Don’t push them away, just loosen the grip a bit and allow yourself to emerge from the shadows. See the obstacles that created the shadows: painful childhoods, abandonment, death, violence. See them, but also know that beyond there is light. Breathe deeply into this knowing … there is light. Comfort yourself the way a mother tenderly cradles her baby, and step into the light …
May we have the courage to venture into the unknown. May we be at peace with all we find. May self-love guide the way.
Big hugs of courage and light,
Jason Garner is the author of the new book, … And I Breathed, My Journey from a Life of Matter to a Life That Matters. Jason is a husband, father, former Fortune 500 company executive, and spiritual student who spent the first 37 years of his life working his way up from flea market parking attendant to CEO of Global Music at Live Nation — never taking a breath in the belief that to be loved he had to be the best. He has worked with rock stars and sports legends and was twice named to Fortune magazine’s list of the top 20 highest-paid executives under 40. A series of events centering on the sudden death of his mother from cancer caused him to re-evaluate what really mattered in life … and to finally breathe. You can find more info on his website and follow him on Twitter or FB.