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“Courage is being scared to death… and saddling up anyway.” John Wayne

It was pointed out to me yesterday that I’m really putting myself “out there” by writing this blog. I was reminded that this is indeed bigger than just the Pilgrimage community, and that (yikes!) people are actually reading these entries. Holy cow. This realization brought me face to face with a good friend of mine. . . fear.

So, in turn, I’ve decided to write about courage. You see, I made a choice long ago (about the time I started practicing yoga) to lean into my fears. Being scared of something is hard. It’s uncomfortable. Running away, avoiding, denying. . . these are all ways of “dealing” with fear. But if we don’t turn around and take a good hard look at what scares us, how will we ever be free of it? And this is where courage comes in.

As our good friend John Wayne said, true courage is not the lack of fear, but instead being terrified of something and doing it anyway. It is a conscious choice to say “Hi. I see you (fill in the blank with your fear of choice). I will not let you run my life. I acknowledge and respect you, but I’m gonna go ahead and not listen to you. Thanks for giving me this chance to grow.”

I find opportunities to practice courage often while on my mat, but there’s one particular pose that does it every time. And no, it’s not a full inversion or some level 3 arm balance. It’s urdhva danurasana. Or full wheel, if you’re not a Sanskrit-loving geek like me. Every time this pose is offered to me I have to pause, inhale deeply, and literally brace myself. The voice in my head says loud and clear “You don’t need this; go ahead and take bridge instead. You can do this one next time.” I’m not even kidding. Every. Single. Time. This is what comes up. I made it all the way to teacher training before I even attempted to press up into this backbend. At first I could only hold it for a few seconds. Over time, I’ve gained strength and flexibility; it’s not even super physically challenging for me anymore. But that voice is still there. There’s just something about pressing my heart up, trusting my hands to hold me, and opening up my entire front body that confronts me in a way no other pose does.

Now, instead of heeding the loud voice in my head telling me to avoid and run away, I listen for the quiet one that says “It’s ok. You can do this.” Sometimes it’s hard to hear; the voice of my inner fears can be very demanding and convincing. But the little voice is there too. Nudging me on. And so I do it. I press up. Whether I come down smiling or crying, I know I have grown.

Next time you realize you’re acting out of fear, pause. Take a deep breath in. It’s ok to be afraid; we all are. But perhaps instead of listening to your fear, examine it. Be with it for a little while. Then maybe, just maybe, saddle up. Summon up the courage that I know you’ve got, and just give your fears a big ol’ “Yee-Haw!”

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