Fearless Or Brave?

I learned that courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
— Nelson Mandela

A few days ago, I was sitting on the grass around Lake Merritt with my friend Tevya. He has this thing for asking deep and unexpected questions, out of the blue. He turned around and asked me: “If you had to describe in bullet points what you learned this past year, what would you say?” That was a deep question and I had to think about it for a moment. I answered something like this:

“I learned to trust myself more, my heart and my intuition. Even if the whole world, including the little judgmental voice in my head, tells me that I shouldn’t, that I’m going to get hurt, that I can’t possibly make it. And for the first time in my life, I feel proud of myself. Not of what I accomplished, but for listening to my heart and going for it despite the fear and doubt. "

He then asked me: “If it all stopped, if everything was gone tomorrow, would you regret any of it?” 

“Not one second.” 

I thought some more and added: “I also learned that the closer I get to doing what I love, to being close to whom I love and to accomplishing my soul purpose, the more intense the fear I feel.” 

Before this year, I had no idea this could happen. I thought the closest I'd come to what I love, the easier it would get. But what happened is that things became more simple, but not easier.

Growing up, I was scared of so many things: spiders, the dark, ghosts, talking to strangers, being ridiculed, losing my best friend, speed, the movie Home Alone (for real),… I thought that it was because I was just a kid, that I was fragile and powerless. And that I would grow up and outgrow my fears. Better yet, that I would meet Prince Charming that would protect me from everything I could ever be afraid of with his shiny sword. I thought that fear was a sign of weakness and that being brave meant not being afraid. 

I learned the hard way that no such things happen. That being brave isn’t being fearless, it’s acting despite one’s fears. So the more fears, the more opportunities to be brave! Lucky me! 

20 years later, I’m not afraid of the dark, of ghosts or of Home Alone anymore...phewww. It got replaced by other fears. 

Spiritual teachings say that if we could really see the big picture, we would not be afraid anymore. That the more beautiful we make things up to be, will actually be closer to the real truth... That only our limited mind interpret things as scary. I believe that. And I also know that,(until I get enlightened at least), fear will be there. But it doesn’t have to define me, and certainly not define my life. 

Sakyong Mipham, the head of the Bhuddist Shambala tradition, says that there are 2 ways of being fearless. The first one is to have so much faith in basic goodness (the fact that the Universe and all its components are inherently good) that we don’t experience fear anymore. Because we know that, despite the appearances, we are Love, as is everything else. The second type of fearlessness is based out of ignorance. We can be fearless because we don’t believe in karma. That is, we don’t believe that each one of our action will have a consequence. We are fearless about yelling at our spouse because we don’t believe that it will have a consequence. We are fearless about lying or stealing, because we think we won’t get caught. We are fearless out of ignorance about the consequences of our actions. We are counting on karma not to work. 

That is a fine line for me, to be brave without falling into the ignorant type of fearlessness. How do I try to naviguate this? I agree with Sakyong on that one: meditation is a life-saver.  

But that will be for next week’s post.  

Photos by Amelie Hubert