It’s About Choice, Not Courage | Steve's Quest: The Animated Musical Web Series

It’s About Choice, Not Courage


Recently, I told a distant relative about the career change I’d made, the book I just released, and a few other things I’ve been up to.  “I would have been too scared to do all that,” she said.  “You must be a pretty courageous person.”

This conversation got me thinking:  am I courageous?  If being courageous means not feeling afraid, I saw, the answer is clearly no.  I definitely recall feeling afraid before changing my career, putting out my book, and doing lots of other stuff.

If I’m not particularly courageous, how was I able to do these things?  After thinking about it a bit, I realized it was because I’ve developed the ability to choose how I’ll act when faced with intense sensations.  This is one of the most valuable gifts my mindfulness practices have given me.

Learning To Let Go

For many years, when faced with that chill in my solar plexus I call fear, I didn’t really have a choice about how to react.  Automatically, without thinking, I’d withdraw from what I saw as the source of the fear.  If the prospect of changing my career, or something else, sounded scary, I’d instinctively avoid it.  This habit was so deeply ingrained that I didn’t even know other ways of responding to fear were possible.

One important thing I learned to do in meditation was to let my thoughts and feelings pass away, without resisting them.  If I felt anxious during meditation, I learned to simply allow the anxiety to flow through me and dissipate, rather than trying to distract myself from it or convince myself I shouldn’t be scared.

What I gradually recognized was that I could bring the same approach into my day-to-day life.  I came to see that, when I experienced fear, I didn’t have to revert to my old habit of resisting by running away.  There was another option:  I could simply allow the fear to pass away on its own, and then go do what I wanted.

As you can probably see, this way of relating to fear is different from a lot of approaches out there.  It’s not about “crushing” or “killing” your fear, convincing yourself you shouldn’t feel afraid, or imitating the behaviors of confident people.  All of these are forms of resistance, which in the end only holds the fear in place.

Taking Ourselves Off Auto-Pilot

Of course, dropping our resistance to fear is easier said than done.  Our habitual ways of reacting to fear, and other thoughts and sensations, have often been with us a long time — so long that we’ve forgotten we can relate to our fear differently.  This is why, I think, it’s important to develop a practice of watching the ways we react to the thoughts and emotions we experience.

When we watch ourselves carefully, we start to notice our habitual, automatic ways of reacting to how we feel.  We may realize, for instance, that we always seem to yell at someone when we’re feeling angry.  Or perhaps, like I used to do, we habitually withdraw whenever we’re starting to feel afraid.

And when we become aware of our unconscious habits, we also start to get conscious of our power to choose how we respond to the situations we face.  Maybe, we start to realize, we don’t always have to blame someone else whenever anger arises.  Perhaps we don’t always have to back away whenever fear comes up.

In a nutshell, I don’t see fear as something we need to overcome, but as something it’s best to allow.  When we learn to do this, I think, our sense of freedom and control over our lives greatly expands.

16 thoughts on
It’s About Choice, Not Courage

  1. Davina

    Hi Chris. When you mentioned “reacting” it got me to thinking that when we respond as opposed to react to fearful thoughts we empower ourselves to move through it or experience it differently. I imagine that when we’re on autopilot, we tend to react more than respond; we’re more sensitive to change. I enjoyed this post.

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  3. Amanda Linehan

    Hi Chris – When I’m at a “decision point” in my life, something that helps me is to focus on going towards what I want, and not running away from what I don’t want. That deliberate choice is powerful.

  4. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Davina — yes, I think that’s a useful way to express the point — that much of the time we’re automatically reacting in ways that we don’t even notice, and observing ourselves gives us the capacity to respond to the situations we face.

  5. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Amanda — it sounds to me like you’re noticing that urge to run from something that looks scary and just allowing it to pass — that sounds like a valuable practice.

  6. Jan

    I completely agree. I think when we can let go of the perception of the emotion (oh, this is bad to be feeling this…) we begin to detach energetically from it and it does not have the same hold upon us. Even just naming the emotion for what it is—”fear”—can pull the plug on it. I also just read (via Pema Chodron) that an emotion has a wave length of about 90 seconds. It fades on its own after that. It is our story and the emotion we carry about it that keeps refeuling it and keeping it alive. I loved that! And I’m discovering it’s true. And it’s changing my life in amazing ways.

    I hope you stay tuned to my blog as I am making a big announcement tomorrow about a meditation challenge for the month of January….And because you are a meditator, I’d like you to be involved. I’ll e you privately about an idea I’ve got to include you as a “guest expert.” Until then, Happy New Year! Believe, breathe and be well!

  7. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Jan — I like that way of putting it, that removing the judgment from the emotion that we’re feeling, and maybe just seeing it as pure bodily sensation, can help us let go of a lot of suffering.

    I’m honored by the opportunity to contribute to your blog and I’m looking forward to hearing about what you have in mind.

  8. Megan "JoyGirl!" Bord

    Chris, this feels very wise to me. The only thing I’d add, which I’ve come to discover from personal experience, is that in those moments of recognizing how I feel about something (fearful, resistant, etc.) I may not choose to act any differently than I have in the past. I may still give in to my ingrained habituated response patterns, but awareness – as you so beautifully said – lets me choose. It gives me that split second of separation between thought/feeling & response.
    And if I can have compassion for myself even when I do what I’ve always done, all the better.

    Happy New Year!

  9. Robin Easton

    Dear Chris, YES!! I love this. I have found (for myself) that courage isn’t acting in the absence fear, but rather CHOOSING to act even in the face of fear. It is, as you say, about not becoming JUST a reaction, where we respond on auto pilot, but are actually aware of and move forward irrespective of our fear.

    I also liked what Megan wrote above. This whole post is very very wise and beautiful.
    Thank you Chris. And may this year be filled with all good things. There is so much goodness and wisdom that is already YOU. It’s a gift you share with the world. Bless you. Robin

  10. Sara

    Chris — I enjoyed this post because I can truly grasp what you are saying. That’s not always been the case. I mean I used to read about accepting and/or sitting with a feeling and I would know what the words said, but not fully understand the action of doing it.

    Thanks to you and others, I am learning to acknowledge and allow my feelings without judgment or running away from them. I am learning to sit with them and see what they have to say to me and the power of making a conscious choice.

    Thanks for this great reminder to start my new year:~)

  11. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Megan — yes, I think that’s important — to see if we can just let those moments go where we end up following our old patterns, rather than beating ourselves up for it and holding those patterns in place as a result.

  12. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Robin — thanks, I appreciated what you said about so much goodness and wisdom already being me — occasionally I can fall into the trap of basing my sense of worth on how much (or little) goodness and wisdom I think I’ve spread so far, rather than seeing that I am those qualities (and that I am value as well in the end, instead of having value). I’ve really enjoyed the contributions that you’ve made both on your blog and here and I hope you’re having a fantabulous new year.

  13. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Sara — I’m really glad to hear that the idea of allowing your experience is making sense on a deep, intuitive level, instead of just a logical one — that does seem to be the level on which we have to know something to really “get” it. Happy new year!

  14. Robin Easton

    Dear Chris!! Just read your response I want to reiterate that YOU most definitely ARE value…already. One only has to look at your open, warm and sincere face and read your words, the words of a free thinker, to experience value.

    And since there essentially is no time, only what is happening right now, your contribution is only what you give NOW. So all YOU have be is YOURSELF at any given moment and you give the world the MOST AMAZING gift. I mean this sincerely and uniquely to you. Yes, it’s true for us all, but you are ALREADY living this just in the choices you’ve made and continue to make, and the path that you consciously are choosing to walk.

    It’s an odd thing. We could meet someone whom we’ve never seen before and if they are SOOOO fully in the moment with love, vitality, compassion and so forth…we not only instantly feel at ease with them…BUT we can feel like we’ve ALWAYS known them….even though we may never have met them before. THIS is what YOU are giving those around you.

    And a fabulous new year to you Chris!! :)

  15. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Robin — thanks, I’m really glad you’re getting something out of this blog. Yes, that’s true, it’s amazing how hard it can be to see sometimes (even for me, “Mr. Enjoy The Process”) that what I’m doing in this moment is enough, as opposed to comparing what I’m doing right now to some imaginary ideal, and I can always use a reminder around that. I’m very grateful to have met you and to get the chance to experience your boundless enthusiasm and love. Hugs, CE

  16. Jannie Funster

    I shake your hand with a big “Amen” on this, brother!

    I realize that my recording a CD of songs I had written, and releasing it at a party where I sang the songs from it was all a chain of choices. All while allowing fear to walk beside me.

    – Miss “Enjoying The Process.” (Mostly.) :)

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