How can we live with intention in the face of uncertainty? How can we arrive each day to a world in crisis? We see the things going on all around us.
The pandemic has been a central focal point over the past year, and with it, economic downturns, impacts on mental health, and the general unease of people around the world. All of that butts up against political unrest, the ongoing and worsening economic and social divides in this country, ecological damage, tragedy of all kinds, and even a spiritual drought…
There’s a great deal of badness to bear witness to, and it’s easy to think that the solution is to become detached. It’s easy to lean on positive thinking, editorializing the chaos and looking constantly for silver linings.
But this is dishonest. It only acknowledges part of the truth. In fact, it diminishes the truth and moves you away from your authentic self. Purely positive thinking, especially in the face of difficulty, doesn’t allow you to accept reality as it truly is, and that means you aren’t meeting the world as the most open and genuine version of yourself.
So, how do we contend with all of this uncertainty and bad news?
In a word: courage.
Having the courage to show up to the world, open to its possibilities, and accepting all of the good, the bad, and everything in between – that is how we become our most honest, most authentic selves. Doing this, however, also requires resilience. Paradoxically, traits like courage and resilience are built in real time. You gain courage by being courageous. We learn to be resilient by being resilient…
But it takes that first drop of courage to step up and show up, and in doing so, we often encounter a stranger – a version of ourselves that is capable of more than we imagined, that is stronger than expected. When we meet that stranger, and become them, we are building courage.
True courage requires vulnerability. It is only in a state of vulnerability and honesty that we can acknowledge what’s going on in the world around us, as well as what’s going on within ourselves. We do not run from the truth, we do not sugar coat it. Instead, we meet it as it is, vulnerable and open to all possibilities regardless of value judgment.
When we put up a front of blanket positivity, false toughness, or otherwise, we are attempting to be invulnerable – to shut out possibilities and force the world to conform to our expectations and beliefs. Vulnerability, then, achieves the opposite, and creates a state of openness that allows us to experience the imperfect world as it actually is, not how we’d like it to be. This is the kind of toughness and resilience that truly matters.
We tend to strive for superiority over situations we can’t control: loss, death, tragedy, uncertainty… But this false sense of power is a conceit of humanity that needs to be relinquished. If we’re honest with ourselves, we all know that life moves forward with or without us, playing out on its own, and yet we resist, making armor out of expectations and closing ourselves off from what true reality has to offer.
Why do we do this?
Part of it comes from inexperience. In the same paradoxical sense that it takes courage to build courage, we do not see the value of vulnerability because we haven’t allowed ourselves to be vulnerable enough to open our eyes to reality, with all of its flaws and uncertainty, and take in all of its beauty and possibility. When we do begin to move into this space of honesty, we may resist at first, then deny, and ultimately relinquish our preconceptions and gain access to our open minds.
Without an open mind, one vulnerable enough to let the world (and other people) exist on its own terms, we can’t fully access our own experiences. Without openness and vulnerability, every experience is discolored by expectation.
Courage is what allows us to explore the wilderness of existence. We claw for happiness, we chase speed and efficiency, but we don’t explore being present, we don’t slow down to let experiences truly inform us. We try to ignore the things that make us uncomfortable, even though that’s exactly where we grow the most. The more vulnerable we are, the deeper our relationships become – with others, with ourselves, and with the entire universe.
And so, in the face of all his negativity and uncertainty, there is opportunity. Facing up to the unknown is how we create understanding, but it can only be done if we’re brave enough to show up honestly, and leave our proverbial baggage at the door. We all know that pain and suffering exist. Hate and ignorance exist. The pandemic and global catastrophes exist. It doesn’t serve us to close ourselves off from this reality because by doing so, we also close ourselves off from the lessons they have to teach and the opportunity to develop courageous understanding.
How we choose to hold the world determines how we exist within it. Do you hold the world in love, acceptance, and openness? Or do you hold it in fear, resistance, and a sense of superiority?
When you hold the world in honesty, you realize that the self is an illusion, that the universe is teeming with life and death, and that we are a part of something so much greater than ourselves. This realization is the very essence of leadership, and the first step to moving through your little corner of the universe with the willingness to experience everything it has to offer.
Defining moments are all around us, especially when times are difficult. Remember, we build courage by being courageous, and true courage requires vulnerability. It is a cyclical truth that we have to meet on its own terms, just like the rest of reality.
Instead of trying to contend with today’s uncertainties with fear and resistance, instead of trying to predict the future, we can create the future moment by moment, interacting with our experiences as they actually happen, allowing possibilities to flourish. Within the courage to meet life head on, we generate opportunities to let life live through us.
All of this, the willingness to be open and vulnerable, the suspension of expectation, the courage to show up… It all develops resilience, and resilience builds upon itself.
Please enjoy the included audio, where I share some of my own poetry, excerpts from some of my favorite poetic works, and discuss this idea of courage and vulnerability in detail.
These are the challenges that allow us to discover the potential for goodness and creation within our authentic selves, and create an attitude of acceptance toward the world that softens our edges, lowers our guard, and expands our potential for meaningful work, deeper relationships, and existence in communion with the world as it truly is.