a field guide to quiet courage
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Hope & Harbor

a field guide to quiet courage

on compassion, courage, and creativity

At some point this year, three words began popping up in my mind at random intervals. They werecompassioncourage, and creativity. I was drawn to them as a trio, their collective briskness and the way they fitted together with other favorite words like cozy and comfort and connection. Life in the dependable Cs. Consistency. Completion. Consideration. But it was compassion, courage, and creativity that came around most often. I was seeing and using “compassion” a lot as I began trying to make more ethical choices in my style of living, and I picked “courage” as my word of the year back in January; through my work in therapy I began to understand that “creativity” is my constant mode of expression and conversation, my greatest wish for my own life. It’s a sign to myself that I’m doing okay, so long as I’m creating, because that means I’m continuing to grow and learn.

Eventually, I realized that the three words are interconnected and it dawned on me that each one symbolized a part of my life that I wanted to work on. Not just wanting – these were parts of my life that I was just starting to understand the importance of. They were necessary parts of my life – vital, even. And as the fullness of each began to take shape I recognized in them the refuge and the source of meaning each could hold if I would take the time to tend to them like little gardens of the soul. That would be very important, very lucrative work. It required patience and dedication, and a gentle, hopeful spirit.

The compassion element was first to dawn on me. Compassion means some of the hardest work for me, yet somehow I mistakenly thought it would be the easiest. This is the broadest because it includes self-love, and self-love contains a multitude of struggles. Self-love pertains to body image – a saga of its own – as well as acceptance, permission, and comforting the frightened inner-child. That’s powerful work, and it’s profoundly challenging. Compassion also includes my spiritual practice – whatever that may be – and the acts of giving, caring, sharing. The compassion of the self and the selfless alike. How I treat myself and others, essentially.

Courage is its own small-big practice, but it also serves as an umbrella for its other companions, because the fact is it takes courage to be compassionate and it takes courage to be creative (goodness knows). But on its own, courage exemplifies the taking of action – what I think will be the hardest, and so avoid, but what time and again proves to be not so scary after all. It’s taking the chance, exposing myself to a scary situation. That can be literal (anxiety-provoking), but it can also be hypothetical, as hypotheticals are less scary by nature but sometimes just as big of a deterrent. Courage is the commitment to the whole shebang.

Creativity is the letting out, it’s the expressing and the doing. Frightful business. It’s also about reminding myself that every creative doing is an opportunity for mindfulness, for praying through my hands and finding inner-peace in the stitch of a knitting needle, the pen scribbling on the paper, the stirring of a pot of soup, or the colors layering themselves in the intricacies of a mandala. The creativity is also about the sharing; the act of allowing oneself to be vulnerable by exposing one’s most personal possession (one’s art) to the world. Because if you want to do creative work, you can’t keep it in the four walls of your self. You must put it in the window, at the very least. Sharing it allows you to test the waters of the self-kindness you’ve been nurturing. It helps you to build up your vital truth of being okay with who you are and what you can do, however limited.

Their interconnectedness was what I found most remarkable. It takes the openness of creativity and the diligence of courage to be compassionate. And it takes both gentle compassion and creative expression (for tapping into authenticity) to be truly, effectively courageous. And without the sensitivity of compassion or the daring of courage we cannot reach the apex of our creativity.

None can really be accomplished without the others; at least, not to the level of wholeheartedness with which I wanted to live. So without much ceremony my three little-big practices were born; part of it has been writing down as much as I can, as often as I can, and even going so far as to share my journey. What comes next is anyone’s guess, but I’m convinced that it’s the attention you give your practices that make them successful. That makes it all sound much less frightening, doesn’t it?