What do you think of when you hear the word courageous?
I think of someone being strong, brave, and trembling. They are not without fear; they are just with courage, which gives them the strength to face their fear.
When we are courageous or when we are encouraged we feel inflated, filled up, hopeful, inspired, and strong. When we feel discouraged the deflation is almost palpable.
The word discourage has the French root des, meaning away. The second part of the word, courage, comes from the Latin cor, which means heart.
To feel discouraged is to lose heart or to have our heart taken away.
The things that discourage us are numerous, but here are four that come to mind:
ILLNESS. When we fall ill or become injured we lose our ability to engage in the world in a physically healthy way. We become limited, dependent on others, and can perceive ourselves as weak.
Weakness is not a quality we’ve been taught to embrace. It makes us more vulnerable, more fearful, and requires submitting to the needs of our body instead of pushing our body to meet the demands of our minds.
REJECTION. Rejection discourages us because instead of receiving rejection as an opportunity to reflect and improve if need be, we tend to use it as a mirror from which we think our true value is reflected. Since our self seems to be of no value to the voice rejecting us, we lose heart.
LOSS. Loss feels like our heart is being torn out of our chest. It’s as if we lose a part of ourselves and not just a person we loved or an object we owned. It reduces us to our neediest and weakest state of being and it can feel like we will never recover.
SHAME. Brené Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging.” She explains that “there are specific memories that we can recall that can bring up shame for us, but there are also very insidious quiet messages that we just marinate in over a lifetime.”
Shame does the opposite of encouraging us to love and live freely. It makes us feel like we shouldn’t be taking up space in the world and discourages us from speaking our truth.
At their best these human experiences deflate us. At their worst they crush us. They make us question our worth, our value, and bring us face to face with our deepest needs and fears.
When we feel discouraged is when we need summon the courage from deep within to stay mindful, stay attentive, and stay rooted in our experience.
These experiences might appear to be more shadow than light when we’re in them, but just as a literal shadow changes depending on where you stand and how the light falls, so can the dark times in our life change shape depending on the perspective we choose.
The next time you feel encouraged, notice how your body seems to lift itself up from within.
When you are in need of courage, look within and listen quietly until the sound of your own breath is the only thing that whispers in your ears the truth of who you are; a truth no one can give you or take from you.
You were born with that truth and will die with that truth. The only question is what will you do with it in between.