Monday, August 16, 2010


For Val and Steve, who are curious about how I distinguish valour from courage, bravery and stoicism. Thank you both so much for asking! The usual disclaimers apply: that these are my personal ideas about the differences; I'm not saying I'm right to the exclusion of other ideas. End disclaimer.

No sooner do I start thinking seriously about valour than the multiverse provides me with an opportunity to practice. Oh man. A roundhouse right straight up from the floor caught me unawares yesterday, knocked the breath out of me. A dear one has dropped below the horizon, out of the blue as they say. We were so close, now we couldn't be farther away from each other. It happens in all kinds of relationships, right?

Imagine me flat out on the ground, gasping, my hair flying around, eyes bulging, my arms and legs flailing. I believe I am mouthing the word HELP.

Yeah, that's me today. Kind of funny, actually.

Courage is the state of being able to speak and act from the heart. So in the case of my current dilemma, that would entail me being able to really take in at the deepest level how much I am hurting. Courage means being able to go much deeper than understanding. Pema Chodron would say courage involves "staying with the broken heart." It's not as easy as it sounds. It is not an active state, but not passive either.

Bravery would compel me to jump immediately to my feet, curse (perhaps), roll my hands into fists and start swinging. Or perhaps simply declare to the world, to God, to the elements, that I'll be FINE thank you!! Here's a great example of my teenage, girly, macho bravery. My father was a piece of work. Sometimes he would go into a rage and start picking on us, his beloved children. His specialty was psychological abuse - humiliation, shaming, insults, cutting us down to size. He knew exactly how to get to us, whew. Poor guy, he was such a mess. Of course I didn't feel like that at the time.

I remember the day he went after me about ... gosh, can't even remember why. It probably had nothing to do with me. Usually I tried to stay out of the way of the raging, but I felt brave that day. I took him on. I have no idea what I said (shouted). Then I grabbed the car keys and drove off ... in his car. Hmmm ... Naturally once I got on the road I realized I had no choice but to eventually drive back home ... that bit is the comic relief that follows brash bravery.

Valour requires courage, and the motivating quality of bravery, but without the histrionics, without the clenched fists and cursing. Valour is sublime, requires grace and resiliency. In the past, whenever I had to be brave, I would white-knuckle my way through whatever was going on. But if I'm to be valiant, I have to soften around the situation; I have to include compassion in the mix. Soldiers exhibit bravery when they march into battle. When the soldier stops to help a wounded brother, in spite of the risk, that is valour.

Bravery has, for me at least, always included blame; identifying the "enemy" then standing up against that perceived foe (situations can be enemies as well as people). I'm thinking that in order to be valiant, I can't spend time or expend energy blaming; that I must stand up for what I believe, but move quickly towards healing rather than battle. I'll fight if I have to, but if I don't have to, all the better.

I'm only beginning to learn about valour, so my fists are clenching and unclenching out of habit. I am standing up, I am breathing. I am not cursing or making proclamations, neither am I smiling, though. It's too early to say whether or not I can be valiant about this one. We shall see.

Stoicism is yet another state of being in which I would take the roundhouse right, endure the pain silently, walk around wounded, ignore the need for justice and for healing, try to "get over it." I am SO not stoic!


Reya Mellicker said...

If I were reading this post instead of writing it, I would want to know what happened. The particulars are too personal to share here, and actually not that interesting. I don't know anyone who hasn't had the experience of a shattered friendship, right?

It's just one more explosion in this summer of surprises.

Personally, I can't wait for fall. C'mon Autumn, please hurry.

Vicki said...

Thinking about you today, much love coming your way....

Reya Mellicker said...

Thanks, Vicki! <3

NanU said...

Intriguing thoughts, Reya. And yes, they certainly apply to lots of situations, so we don't need to know the particulars. This aint no tabloid blog. My ex wrecked our relationship in this sort of knockout, rage-inspiring way, and I'm still working on the valour of my response.

Reya Mellicker said...

Yep, this is not a tabloid. I'm a human, so shit happens as they say. It's not the shit, but the response to the shit, that I find compelling.

By the way, Nancy, would you like me to kick the ass of your ex? I'd be happy to devolve into bravery. Just let me know.

Jo Floyd Lucas said...

Reya, one thing is certain. You are full of bravery and grace, and beautiful spirit...the epitomy of valour.

Be the willow, sister. Much love,

The Bug said...

I'm nosy so sometimes I want the tabloid - not that I'll share MY most revealing things on my blog either!

It's intriguing that you're getting this chance to practice valour so soon after writing about it. I think it's good to talk about that part of the situation - I would have to or else I'd just react like I always do (I often go the passive-agressive stoic route).

If you kick Nancy's ex's ass, can I watch (see first paragraph above for my motivation)?

Reya Mellicker said...

Maybe if I get to kick Nancy's ex's ass, we'll film it and put it on youtube.

willow said...

Ah, life. It's complicated, isn't it. I love your attitude, Reya. Hope things straighten out in the long run. Yes, I'm SO ready for fall.

Everton Terrace said...

So sorry your lesson in helping to improve your valour came so darn quickly and obviously so painfully. I have "let go" of several friendships in my life but more out of a need to move away from negativity. I tend not to stay with my broken heart, I leave it struggling on the side of the road. I'm not sure I have enough valour to stay with it.
Please count me in on the pummeling of Nancy's ex. I can bring friends - I know people.

Amanda said...

i've heard (and you probably know a lot more about this than me with your knowledge of metaphysics) that we choose our parents. i can relate to what you said about yours. and perhaps some of that valour/courage/bravery part comes out of having to deal with that from an early age.

by the way, i love your photos. you should consider doing a book...reflections from the hood of a car.


Reya Mellicker said...

I have heard that thing about choosing one's parents. My thoughts on that are that either, between lives, we forget what it means to choose the people from whom we can learn the most, or maybe (at least in my case) I had some kind of parental choice dyslexia.

Not to speak ill of the dead. There were many wonderful things about my parents and I honor them, I do. They were really interesting people, well intentioned, and wounded. Sending love through the veil to them right now.

Linda Sue said...

AND there is a difference between REALLY being all buddha about it or just stuffing it and doing the what oughts in the highest human/spiritual sense because that is what OUGHT. Stuffing and pretending is worse than expressing even if it is to moan and cry and shriek...I am no where near valour- I am not even sure what you are talking about- stoicism seems to me to be natural, might be a Scandinavian thing...When close friendship gets shredded it hurts deeply - needs to have plates and saucers thrown at it- then to go off and whimper in the corner , never quite the same ever...friendship will indeed take you to task.Stuffing hurt will come out wonky or create illness so go ahead and do what needs doing - behave accordingly- which is to throw , shriek, cry and be hurt on your terms.So sorry- I do know this is the best teacher. ( a teacher that should be fired, by the way)

Elizabeth said...

For some reason this Mary Oliver poem wanted me to send it to you:

"White Night"

All night
I float
in the shallow ponds
while the moon wanders

bone white
among the milky stems.

I saw her hand reach
to touch the muscrat's
small sleek head
and it was lovely, oh,

I don't want to argue anymore
about all the things
I thought I could not
live without! Soon

the muscrat
will glide with another
into their castle
of weeds, morning

will rise from the east
tangled and brazen,
and before that

and beautiful
hurricane of light
I want to flow out
across the mother

of all waters,
I want to lose myself
on the black
and silky currents,

the tall lilies
of sleep.

Reya Mellicker said...

I think of stoicism as very Scandinavian, a behavior based on restraint, which is really not my thang, eh?

Valour includes courage (at least I think so) so there's no room for stuffing or denying, nope. Sticking with the broken heart, as Pema would say. But I don't have to act out, take it out on others. Choosing to be compassionate to myself and others, bearing the hurt, behaving with grace while holding the boundary, now THAT's valour.

Elizabeth the poem is exquisitely beautiful! Wow. Thank you!! It's new to me. Thank you. And much love,

C.M. Jackson said...

reya--I drove my step-dad who was very much like your dad home when I was 17 and very angry...two things came out of the experience--1) I found I could drive fast and well and 2) he never ever messed with me again. That however, did not remove the pain --here's hoping that the pain you are feeling goes away soon--valour and bravery are yours-thoughts with you..c

Miss Kim said...

I'm a new reader of your blog and just wanted to say "hi" and to let you know how much your writing speaks to me. Thank you for being as open as you are. Peace.

The Pollinatrix said...

I have been contemplating exactly the definition of courage that you put forth here, staying with the broken heart. And yes - it's the hardest thing in the world for me, and also the most essential. I realize this at deeper and deeper levels all the time, so that at this point, it really strikes me as a life or death proposition, spiritually speaking.

I have been trying to learn this lesson for upward of twenty years. It's astonishing how long it takes to learn such a simple thing, to truly integrate it into my being in a way that it becomes my conditioned response.

Reya Mellicker said...

Well, Polly, 20 years isn't actually very long in terms of this kind of practice. Also, it's HARD to stay with the broken heart.

I believe it is a survival skill as well, physically as well as spiritually. So many people have heart disease. There is definitely some kind of connection.

Silver Fox said...

I love the experience of bravery without

Steve Reed said...

I read this post last week, but apparently I forgot to comment. I appreciate the semantic clarifications, Reya! (And I think you're right -- there are subtle differences between all those words.)