my word! (what's yours?)


Just a few days before drummer and teacher, Jim Donovan, emailed his annual question, "What is your word for the coming year?" I had decided on mine.

Or, it decided on me.

Because I wasn't thinking about it. It just felt delivered, like a whispered message, while I was totally just doing whatever I was doing.

My word?


Yeah. I don't think I would have picked that one had I been asked. But the more I considered it, tasted it, rolled it around in my palms, the more it made sense.

Courage is currently defined by most sources as: ".. the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery..."

(No, don't worry, I'm not expecting to be facing difficulty or danger any time soon - not that I know of, anyway... :)

Besides my disagreement that courage means to be 'without fear' - as, it's more a matter of having fear but going forth anyway - I prefer to go deeper into the word's origin: 'Cor' or 'cour', from Middle French, c. 1300's, meaning, 'heart'.

Ah, the heart. In our culture, associated with our deepest feelings, who we really are, our 'core', if you will.

From Brene' Brown: “Courage originally meant ‘To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’ … today, courage is more synonymous with being heroic. Heroics are important and we certainly need heroes, but I think we’ve lost touch with the idea that speaking honestly and openly about who we are, about what we’re feeling, and about our experiences (good and bad) is the definition of courage. Heroics are often about putting our life on the line. Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line.”

Speaking our truth certainly can be an act of courage. Hearing truth is as well.

And yes, this is a little closer to what I want to practice more in the coming year. But, for me, it's deeper than that.

In Chinese Medicine, the Heart* is considered the resting place of the Shen - the 'divine spark' of consciousness. As the Chinese associated the various Organs with government officials, the Heart held the role of Emperor, the 'son of heaven', the embodiment of the divine on earth, which all the other Organs protect and serve. The role of the Heart then, is the meeting place between Heaven and Earth in humanity.

 It was also believed that the Heart 'opens into the tongue', and so, again, there's that theme of speaking one's heart.

For those versed in the Hebrew Bible, I had once heard an interpretation of the Holy of Holies (the inner sanctuary of the Tabernacle in the wilderness where God dwelt), as actually referring to the human heart. (File that where you will… I’m just passing it along...)

There seems to be a theme here.

As Shizuto Masunaga, author of "Meridian Exercises: The Oriental Way to Health and Vitality", noted, the Heart/Small Intestine stretch position resembles that of a prayer pose, saying, "... withdrawal into stillness in the core of our self must alternate with outward responsiveness in order to maintain balance in our emotional life. Thus the movement of the Heart energy is similar to that of the blood in and out of the heart organ." (Bold face mine.)

Responsiveness. Responsibility.

For me, courage is not really being all out there with my feelings. Not as much, anyway. I think there's plenty of that in the world right now - for better or worse.

Not that Knowing Yourself or honoring your feelings aren't important. I just think that there's only so far one can go inward, exploring and defining one's precious individuality. Even the ocean has a bottom.

I’ve spent a lot of timethese past few years clearing out clutter in my heart house. Jettisoning what isn't mine, polishing up what is. It’s cozy and safe in there. Lovely, really.

I usually am very reluctant to step out of it. To go beyond just 'feeling bad' when I see the suffering of others, to being responsive - stepping into their space to take action, ask what they need, offer help. Maybe even risk rejection.

Why this is act of courage for me, I cannot say.

Some old stuff about being intrusive, nosy, prying, inappropriate, enabling, ill-equipped, I'm an introvert, blah blah blah ... I don't know. I only know that if it's something I'm afraid to do, or I find myself making excuses why I shouldn't, then clearly it's something I should do.

Enough thinking and journaling and ruminating over how I feel. (Yawn...)

The truth is, we are also defined by our relationships. In fact, in TCM, health was defined by how well a person fulfilled their societal roles - in family, work, community. We Americans tend to scoff at this, this tribal mentality, the tyranny of the wheel over the cogs. But emphasis on individuality can be taken to extremes as well, as we are seeing - isolation, narcissism, depression. Heartache.

At the end of the day - even all alone in the wilderness - as long as we walk this earth, we are in relationship with something. We exist always between Heaven and Earth.  We are always in proximity to something to which to respond, even if just to take it in and let it go, like the air we breathe. To cultivate a clear, untroubled, placid heart, the Taoists say, is to be able to respond from the highest wisdom in ourselves. But we are expected to respond. That is the balance.

The paradox of the Heart is that, though it is our inner of inners, our deepest, most interior residence, it is the place from which we meet the world. It is the fulcrum of our relationship with Everything.

For me, to live with courage is to live with an ever-abiding awareness of and participation in Right Relationship, with my heart at the center.

So, that's what I'm doing in 2016. What's your word? :)



*Heart here is capitalized, in the TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) manner, to differentiate it from the western anatomical understanding of the heart.