Fear is not a weakness, nor a childish indulgence. Fear
plays an essential role in the unfolding of our lives.
Fear keeps us from touching fire, swallowing razor
blades, and kissing rattlesnakes. Fear in and of itself
is not the problem. It’s the misapplication of fear that
causes all the damage.
For the ancient Greeks, courage was the most
important of virtues, for without it, none of the other
virtues are possible. How can we be compassionate
without the courage to love? How can we be strong
without the courage to push past the limits of our
endurance? And how can we be smart without the
courage to admit ignorance and press onward into new
areas of learning and mastery?
But courage is frightening. It asks us to risk everything.
I think we’re afraid of courage because courage asks
us to abandon the supports we have worked so hard to
construct. Courage asks us to sacrifice our safety and
comfort. To be brave is to venture beyond the reach of
our protections. To be courageous is to be vulnerable.
Courage begins with the willingness to let go. Courage
and renunciation are two sides of the same coin. Not
only do we have to let go of our old support systems, but
we also have to let go of the idea that we are not enough.
To be courageous we have to understand we have
unrealized qualities and strengths within us; realizing
them requires renouncing our old, limited, and limiting
Courage is also an affirmation of the goodness
of the universe, while fear is often a misguided
overreach of the ego feebly asserting its so-called
power in an attempt to control everything. The
fearful mind believes that we are not enough, and
the universe is not enough either. But courage
means letting go of control and trusting that if
the means are pure, the ends will take care of
themselves. We must learn to use our egos and not
let our egos use us.
Debilitating fear is possible only when we have
forgotten our original relationship with the Divine.
Again and again Jesus counsels his students to “fear not”
because anxiety and fear sever our delicate tether to
the eternal. Coming out of fearfulness and into courage
opens the portals to higher consciousness.
The hero’s journey says that the hero must face the
monster again and again to be tested, and even more
important, to have everything about the hero that is
underdeveloped and inauthentic stripped away by
the ferocity of the ordeal. While we may not literally
be fighting monsters, the underlying truth remains:
Obstacles stand between us and the life we were born to
live. Without cultivating the courage to face them, we
rob ourselves of the healing elixir our transformation
would bring both to our own lives and to the lives of
innumerable others. When we heal ourselves, we take
an enormous step toward healing our families and
communities. Instead of running away from fear, we
should be running toward it.
As Joseph Campbell wrote, “The cave you fear to enter
holds the treasure you seek.” Without courage we will
never know who we really are. Only courage unlocks our
sacred potential, latent within us and, for now, hidden
behind a fog of fear. Courage is not the absence of fear.
Courage is the willingness to act in spite of the fear—to
feel the fear and do it anyway.
Spirituality, philosophy, and mythology from the world’s wisdom traditions
PETER BOLLAND, CHAIR OF THE
HUMANITIES DEPARTMENT AT
SOUTHWESTERN COLLEGE IN CHULA VISTA,
CALIFORNIA, ATTENDS THE UNITY CENTER
IN SAN DIEGO, WHERE HE TEACHES
CLASSES ON WORLD SPIRITUALITY. VISIT
The Fear of Courage
A TO ZEN
TO BE COURAGEOUS
IS TO BE VULNERABLE.