The Courage to Be: The First of the 4Cs

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This is the fourth post in the year-long series of Walking the Path of Heartfulness in 2023, a monthly meditation gathering. This post focuses on the first C (COURAGE) of the 4Cs that guide my work: Courage, Compassion and Connection with Curiosity as the kind, wise guide. 

What does it mean to be courageous in our lives today? How is practicing/meditating a courageous act? 

In its earliest form courage meant “to speak one’s mind by telling all of one’s heart.” 

To tell all of one’s heart is the essence of walking the path of heartfulness. When we choose to meditate we are opening ourselves up to the longing of the heart, to the wisdom of the heart, to the burdens of the heart. We learn to listen deeply with kind curiosity. 

This requires a willingness to open the heart, to be vulnerable with ourselves, to allow the cracks in the heart to let light in. This takes courage.

As Lama Rod Owens writes, “It is hard to let go of our ways of being in the world, because we simply do not know who we will become after we let go of our old selves.”

About 5 or 6 years ago I was trying to get participants for a compassion cultivation course, and one woman said to me, “This sounds like a great class, but I don’t want to know myself that well.” This barrier to knowing oneself deeply is built by most of us throughout our lives. Some do not see that it exists. For those that do, they either choose to take a closer look or keep the barrier as protection because it is simply too painful or scary to scale the barrier. This is not a flaw or a deficit. It is quite understandable; it is a survival strategy. 

It has taken me a long time to face the unpleasant truths of my conditioning, my actions, my beliefs. I am still facing the uncomfortable truths. It has taken a long time to heal the pain of unworthiness, to release the limiting beliefs and narratives that perpetuate this pain. Again, this is ongoing.

However, I am also seeing with the heart my growing access to self-love and acceptance, to be with the discomfort of being human in this body and mind, in this social location, with my particular history. And this has wonderfully improved my engagement and relationship with life and others.

Meditation provides the space to see honestly who and how we are right now and the possibility when we release or let go of the old – the conditioning, the unskillful responses or habitual thought patterns, limiting beliefs, the inner critic, the stories of unworthiness, on and on.

Perhaps a 5th C is choice. We choose to practice. We choose to sit with ourselves. We choose to heal our pain and free ourselves from unnecessary suffering. We choose to sit for many reasons. Why are you choosing to read this and listen to the guided meditation? 

In Brene Brown’s most recent book Atlas of the Heart, she explains that curiosity (“heart investment”) does not exist without interest (“head investment”). We have to be interested in exploring our inner landscape, in the possibility of freedom from suffering, in accepting the complexity of our human condition. We have to be willing to take the risk of not knowing who we will become. This is a courageous act of love. It relies on trusting in possibility. 

“Choosing to be curious,” she writes, “is choosing to be vulnerable because it requires us to surrender to uncertainty. We have to ask questions, admit to not knowing, risk being told that we shouldn’t be asking, and, sometimes, make discoveries that lead to discomfort” (p.65).

Curiosity is our kind, wise guide. It supports our courageous choice to open to our vulnerability, which Frank Ostaseki describes as “the doorway to the deepest dimensions of our inner nature.”

Part of embracing our vulnerability through meditation practice is cultivating “don’t know mind.” This phrase comes from Zen Buddhism, a koan that helps us perceive our direct experience beyond our usual ways of seeing and knowing. It’s meant to help us step outside of our conditioning (our old ways of being).

Frank Ostaskei describes it this way: “Don’t know mind is characterized by curiosity, surprise, and wonder. It is receptive, ready to meet whatever shows up as it is.”

When we enter meditation practice, we are free to discover. We have the opportunity to see beyond what our ordinary knowing allows us to see. We can see with the courageous heart. We can make friends with the parts of ourselves we run away or hide from, we can experience the mystery of life with awe and wonder. 

We can see how feelings and emotions are human not personal, and so we can rely on our kind and wise guide, Curiosity, to help us soften, stay and open up to the wisdom in these experiences.

We uncover bodhichitta or our awakened heart, that which is already within us but has been buried or barricaded. This process of discovery, of awakening our hearts is a courageous act, one worth the risk. Just like the sapling determined to become a full tree, we can awaken our hearts through love and compassion. This is walking the path of heartfulness.

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