Sunday, August 15, 2010
Ex housemate and his dogs yesterday afternoon. Nice sidewalk couch, eh?
Valour: Strength of mind or spirit that enables a person to encounter danger with firmness, courage, bravery.
I've been thinking about valour a lot lately, about what it takes to embody valour. Once upon a time, I was thought of (in my family at least) as the one who was "too sensitive" - a.k.a. a wimp. Years into psychotherapy I suddenly became aware that the way in which (for instance) I had insisted on wearing my little dresses, in spite of how my little girl fashion sense was in direct opposition to the Mellicker family aesthetic of proletarianism, meant I was a lot braver than my rep. That a-ha moment lead me, over time, to the realization that in spite of how much fear I experience, I'm actually fairly brave.
One of my spirit guides believes life is best experienced while standing tall, putting your shoulders back, lifting your chin, sucking in your gut and walking directly towards whatever is in front of you (whether or not that 'whatever' appears to be pleasant or not.) This guide is trying to teach me how to be valiant, which is a step or two ahead of raw courage. Maybe a few steps ahead, eh? Yes, I'm brave, but am I graceful? Valour requires a kind of gentleness or softness, a subtlety that is not necessarily part of bravery. Valour requires compassion, including self-compassion. Whew!! Valour is a steep learning curve!
Pema Chodron, the baddest ass Buddhist on the planet, also beckons me towards valour. Well, not me personally, but all of us. Her book, The Places that Scare You is such a compassionate call to valour. She posted the following on Facebook last week: "To stay with that shakiness—to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge—that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic—this is the spiritual path."
Wow. Most of my experiences with courage are so much more awkward than what she describes. I've faced scary stuff, yes, but with bravado, with a girly macho. Afterwards, I drink or in some other way make myself numb. I think that counts as bravery, but certainly not as valour.
In the wonder stories, the heroes and heroines are always valiant. They work hard, stay pure in their hearts, meet challenges, keep their eyes on the prize even while undergoing tremendous hardships. They stop to help the less fortunate, march into battle, risk their lives in order to help the ones they love. Even when everything seems hopeless, they hope. They see straight through delusions, they are not ambitious; instead, they are humble. Meanwhile their stepsisters or older brothers, wicked kings and stepmothers, who are ambitious and greedy, never come to anything good in the end. The heroes and heroines of these stories, by virtue of their valour, live happily ever after. I believe Marina Warner is correct when she says wonder tales are socially subversive. They certainly are!
My life is so easy and full of goodness, fun, and beauty. The challenges I face are nothing compared to what others have to deal with every single day. I am very grateful! But into every life, some rain must fall. In the past I have endeavored to meet difficulty with courage. I thought that was the best I could do. From now on, when I am faced with some kind of relatively minor hardship (in the scheme of things), I'm going to try my best to meet it valiantly or as close to that as is possible. This is the spiritual path, as Pema says.
Shoulders back, chin up, gut sucked in, walking forward as gracefully as possible. Oh yeah. Shalom.