I find there is much to unpack in David Whyte’s writing in his book “Consolations”:
Courage is the measure of our heartfelt participation with life, with another, with a community, at work, a future. To be courageous is not necessarily to go anywhere or do anything except to make conscious those things we already feel deeply and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences. To be courageous is to seat our feelings deeply in the body and in the world: to live up to and into the necessities of relationships that often already exist, with things we find we already care deeply about: with a person, a future, a possibility in society, or with an unknown that begs us on and always has begged us on. ~David Whyte
Remember those moments when you wished someone would swoop in and take care of you? Or maybe you are facing something now that is bringing that wish alive again. Perhaps with a person, what you do, facing the world as it is now. Or simply dealing with experiences or feelings long buried. So how to unpack Whyte in this?
First, we must live our life actively. Meaning, acknowledge what is bothering you. Earlier this week for me I realized it was something as simple as the needs Finley (my pup) has on a night I’m tired and really don’t want to play. I realize this is a very simple example, but nonetheless very real. So, I must acknowledge it, make it real to myself, acknowledge my feelings about it. “Courage is…heartfelt participation.” Obviously, it’s not a relationship in which we can talk it through, so it’s only on my side, but after watching, listening, and seeing Fin’s need through pleading eyes with a toy in his mouth, I can acknowledge I’m tired and feeling selfish in that fatigue.
Second, we must “live through the vulnerabilities” of acknowledging what is happening. Using Fin, his look with the toy in his mouth is saying notice me, play with me, you are important to me, and I need you. If I turn him away when he’s already brought three toys to me, none of which I noticed earlier, then I am not “living through the unending vulnerabilities” of a relationship with him. And he’s really rather good at knowing when my exhaustion doesn’t allow play and plays by himself. The vulnerability for me is the awareness that I do need, have responsibility to Fin and for Fin. Even when I’m fatigued. the inner courage to meet him where he is, even if only five minutes and happily plays by himself afterward.
Third, I must, if living a courageous life, “live up to and into the necessities of relationships … with things [and people] we find we already care deeply about: that begs us on and always has begged us on.” In the example above, I must find the inner courage to meet him where he is, even if only five minutes and watch him then happily playing by himself afterward.
This concept mirrors the journey of psychotherapy—the path of confronting our past, owning our present, and taking steps toward inner peace. It's like holding a mirror to our souls and saying, "I see you; I hear you, and I'm here for you."
So, here's a little challenge: think about something that might bring you pain in the coming month. It could be memories of a dear one, the overwhelming hustle, financial worries, or even that tiny voice of loneliness. Instead of shying away, take a moment to truly acknowledge it. Or, perhaps it is the fact you wish the Thanksgiving dinner would be as it was before someone passed away, moved away, or you moved. Or, as a friend of mine told me this weekend, “I simply hope for very few people at my home this year, I just don’t have it for more.” Name it. Embrace it. And then, consider what you can take from Whyte’s poem to live courage. It doesn't have to be monumental—sometimes, it's the smallest steps that count. Perhaps just acknowledging what it is and writing it down. Whether it's simplifying your schedule, seeking comfort in the presence of friends, embracing meaningful rituals, asking your higher power for strength and guidance, or showering yourself with self-love, the key lies in caring for yourself.
Remember, you have the power to heal your own heart. So, as life unfolds its challenges, know that within you lies an incredible force of resilience and love. You've got this! Take a deep breath, embrace your journey, and step into the beautiful transformation that begins from within. One change at a time.