"You cannot be truthful if you are not courageous. You cannot be loving if you are not courageous. You cannot be trusting if you are not courageous. You cannot inquire into reality if you are not courageous. Hence courage comes first and everything else follows." - Osho
When I left my 9-5 office job in August 2012, courage became one of my core values. I committed to doing all the things that had previously scared me and prevented me from living a fuller, richer life. Living my value of courage is now so important that if I fall short, life can begin to feel pretty off-centre.
But that's exactly what had happened to me over the last month. I had begun to shrink back. I was finding it increasingly difficult to practise courage and the result was a rising up of immense internal frustration. I felt massively out of integrity as I continued to challenge and push my clients to go to their edge, whilst I remained firmly in my comfort zone.
A war was raging inside of me. Courage versus comfort. Comfort had been winning out for weeks but the problem was I wasn't even able to find comfort in the comfort because I knew how badly I was letting myself down.
Finally, on Thursday last week, I snapped.
If you've been following along for a while, you'll know I started venturing out onto the streets of London last year to ask people their thoughts on various questions related to fear. I filmed the latest of these videos with a friend just over a week ago. If you haven't seen it yet, you can check it out here.
But even though doing that still scares me, I've even reached a level of comfort with that and knew that it was time to push myself further. Several weeks ago I wrote in my ideas journal that I wanted to go out and do something similar, but on my own and without filming. But could I find the courage to do this without a friend by my side? Taking to the streets alone was a whole different ball game.
So on Thursday I made a new cardboard sign and on Friday I left the house with it tucked under my arm along with a little stool and headed to Central London.
I paced around Waterloo for at least 30 minutes. Then I sat in The Royal Festival Hall for a further 45. "I can't do this", I thought. "There aren't really enough people. Maybe I should come back during rush hour or at the weekend. Or maybe I should find a different location. No one will stop to talk to me. This is ridiculous, what am I doing here?"
Courage versus comfort. Courage versus comfort.
Courage eventually won out and so, in the centre of the walkway between The Royal Festival Hall and a string of restaurants busy with lunchtime service, I set down my stool, sat down and opened up my sign.
A well-dressed elderly lady immediately appears before me. What would she do if she didn't care what other people thought? She'd dress differently, she tells me. But she's worried that the clothes she'd like to wear would cause people to think that she was 'mutton dressed as lamb.'
A young woman appears. Her name is Sarah. Soon she'll be running her first art exhibition and what people are going to think of her work has been on her mind a lot lately. Two young men appear now, telling me how brilliant it is to see me here with this question.
Meanwhile, my own fear has totally evaporated. I'm engaged, connected, and I'm having fun. Why was I so scared?
Now a man from the South Bank security team arrives and very politely explains I'm not allowed to sit here. So I move on to a different area and set down my stool again. More people pass by. Some read the sign and I see the beginnings of a smile cross their lips. Some engage in eye contact but quickly look away. Others don't want the discomfort that comes with that direct contact and shift their gaze to the floor. Others give me a thumbs up.
A couple and their two children walk past. A few seconds later she comes back alone, asks to take a photo and congratulates me for doing this. A street cleaner smiles from across the street and shouts over, "people think I'm uneducated because I do this." He's right. People do think that. Hell, even I think that sometimes. How short-sighted our thinking can be.
A young man comes to talk to me. He tells me he saw me earlier but was on the way somewhere and he's glad I'm still here. I acknowledge his courage for stopping to talk. Even that, I think, takes guts. He tells me about his big dream. I meet the super cool Rodney from Washington DC, in town to see a game at Wembley. Men and women of all ages tell me "often", as they walk by. A cute guy walks past, turns around several times, and then comes back for a photo. I should have asked for his details. I need more courage!
After 90 minutes I fold up my sign, pick up my stool, and set off back home. But for the last 90 minutes some of my core values of courage, connection, adventure and play have been lived to the max and I feel like a new person.
My tube ride home that day was filled with thoughts and feelings, but none so clear as the reasons why I choose to live this way; always willing myself to go beyond what's comfortable. Facing fear certainly isn't easy, but my goodness it's worth it. Here's why I think it's all worth the effort and why it's for you too:
1. FEAR AND DESIRE
Fear and desire are two sides of the same coin. To quote Joseph Campbell, "The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek." If you choose never to venture forth into that cave, you can be sure that you will never have to experience the painful discomfort that comes with going after what you really want. But you will also be guaranteeing yourself that you will never achieve what your heart truly desires. Our biggest dreams lie on the other side of our fears.
Are your dreams worth the constant opening up of yourself to your fears?
2. SPIRITUAL GROWTH
M. Scott Peck writes in The Road Less Travelled:
"Again and again I have emphasised that the process of spiritual growth is an effortful and difficult one. This is because it is conducted against a natural resistance, a natural inclination to keep things the way they were, to cling to the old maps and old ways of doing things, to take the easy path."
He goes on to say:
"Each of us has his or her own urge to grow, and each of us, in exercising that urge, must single-handedly fight against his or her own resistance...Those who achieve growth not only enjoy the fruits of growth, but give the same fruits to the world."
When you do the things you're scared to do, you change. Every time you step out of you comfort zone and take a risk to follow your heart, a shift occurs. Each time you go to your edge, a little more of who you truly are comes out of hiding. The resulting growth that comes from being willing to take the difficult path is a gift not only to yourself, but to everyone you come into contact with.
3. MEANING & PURPOSE
Whilst I was working up the courage to sit down with my sign, I read a few pages of the book I'm reading right now: The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance. I'd reached a section of the book dedicated to the state of 'flow.' The author quotes Maslow, who used the term 'peak experience' instead of 'flow state.'
"During a peak experience, the individual experiences an expansion of self, a sense of unity, and meaningfulness in life. The experience lingers in one's consciousness and gives a sense of purpose, integration, self-determination and empathy."
It was reading this paragraph that eventually had me on my feet and following through with my mission. From the very first time that I stood on the streets with a cardboard sign asking passersby questions about fear, everything made sense to me. The authentic connections that this sort of activity creates brings an incredible sense of meaning to my life. I feel on purpose and that I'm where I'm supposed to be.
Being in a state of flow is pure joy. But as Csikszentmihalyi describes, getting to flow "often involved painful, risky, difficult activities that stretched the person's capacity and involved an element of novelty and discovery." Want more joy? Find what puts you in flow and commit to going there even if it's scary.
Osho writes, "You are leaving the shore of safety. You were perfectly okay, in a way; only one thing was missing - adventure. Going into the unknown gives you a thrill. The heart starts pulsating again; again you are alive, fully alive...For the first time you start feeling that life is not just a boredom but an adventure. Then slowly fears disappear; then you are always seeking and searching for some adventure."
And this is it. This is why we go there. This is why we do the things that scare us. This is why we venture into the unknown. This is why we take those risks. Because without it there is no adventure. And when life is not an adventure it is stale and stagnant. In fact, it's not really life at all because life is movement and flow and energy.
Knowing what scares you and doing it anyway makes life an adventure. And adventure brings life to life.
As I walked through the underground on my way home, I swear a couple of good-looking guys caught my eye in a way that never happens to me. It was as if they were seeing something that isn't usually visible on the outside. Was it my imagination? Maybe this happens all the time but I just don't notice? I don't think so. When we extend ourselves beyond our current limits and go to our edge and when we experience flow, the essence of who we are, our spirit, expands within us and becomes visible to the outside world.
Both in my own life and in the work I do with my clients, the single biggest obstacle that prevents us from having the impact we could have in the world is ourselves. We are standing right in our own way just about all of the time. But when we dare to extend ourselves and take the more difficult path; when we live more in flow - our egos, our worries, and our constructed identities that are vulnerable to outside judgement, fall away. And when all that falls away we are left with the deeper truth of who we are: pure love, pure spirit. And then, right there, in those moments, we are fearless. When we get the hell out of our own way and allow our spirits to shine, that's when we can change the world.
Love and courage,