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Spiritual Courage

Spiritual Courage at Work— An Inside Job!
By Sandra Ford Walston

To recognize everyday courage, it helps to distinguish the various facets of courage. There is physical courage (the one our culture identifies with the most), political courage, leadership courage, moral courage, and personal courage, to name a few. Some of us manifest certain types of courage well but come up short in other areas. In this article, I will expand on the concept of spiritual courage, and how it works to become an inside job both at work and home. But what is the etymology of courage?

Courage Defined

What is your definition of courage? Do you know the origin of the word? Courage comes from the Old French corage, meaning “heart and spirit.” In other words, courage is an innate, internal quality that resides within the core of your being.

Unfortunately, most people do not recognize their everyday courageous actions as significant; but if you look around, you will begin to notice the courageous people you encounter. At work, they are the people who seize (or volunteer for) the tough assignments outside their comfort zone and the employees who are willing to speak the truth, share an open heart and then hold themselves completely accountable for their “courageous conversation.” It becomes obvious to peers that if their job does not honor the convictions of their heart, they will quickly exit the position rather than have their courage on a short leash. Many times, some form of selfless service becomes a foundation of purpose such as being an advocate. An advocate is a person who encourages the advancement of someone else or takes the time to write an email introduction. These examples support the heart consciousness found in courage. Some people call these examples as “going above and beyond” while other people prefer status quo found in the adage “don’t rock the boat.” We cannot learn courage by doing something we already know!

Courageous people control their own destinies by standing up for their heart-felt values. This is very different from coming from the mind or emotions. Are you able to define what you stand for? In personal life, courageous people bring warmth and love to situations. Even though “love” is often shunned as a forbidding word in corporate America, their love is demonstrated by acts of thoughtfulness and kindheartedness, the antithesis of forms demonstrated by corporate greed masquerading in outsourcing. American poet and writer Delmore Schwartz expresses love and courage this way: “Love is the most difficult and dangerous form of courage. Courage is the most desperate, admirable, and noble kind of love.”   

Unless you have reflected intentionally in silence into your own heart and spirit, you cannot know your true Self. Silence breeds insight. Insights augment learning. What you think you stand for may turn out to be nothing more than spiritual bankruptcy disguised in complacency or conformity (courage killers). Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz showed courage branding when in a speech he said, “No seeds of mediocrity can enter the doors.” Living courageously is not so much about what you are doing as who you are being! The actions of self-aware leaders are founded on their courage branding as they articulate an international call for courageous leadership.

There is virtually nothing that encourages us to reflect on ourselves, on our inner lives and motives. We are encouraged in school to give the right answers. We are not encouraged to expand our imaginations, live in wonderment and curiosity or ask probing questions. The word encourage means “to inspire (someone) with the courage or confidence (to do something).” What inspired you to stop and read this article?

What is Spiritual Courage?

Spiritual courage is defined as a journey that requires you to be in the present. You become a “witness” to your attachments and learn to self-correct. You surrender your ego to a higher level of courage consciousness by setting a “Declaration of Courageous Intention”—that’s what spiritual means. To become courage-conscious is a gift to the spirit. As all this happens, humility steps in to replace arrogance and righteousness. Demonstrating humility comes from something beyond the ego and the mantra that transcends the C-Suite and the cube: “I am so busy.” Soon you begin to exemplify higher levels of courage-centeredness portrayed by “where courage meets grace.” The sacred within awakens, informing us with Spiritual Intelligence (SQ).

The integral levels of courage consciousness lives in Spiritual Intelligence or wisdom—the path of the heart—the missing link at work and home. SQ is used to deal with existential problems such as when you feel stuck in emotional ups and downs or when you fall into a pothole only to find the same old scripts are squeezing the life out of your spirit. The only way out is to cultivate a contemplative lifestyle. It’s a simple choice because simplicity (living with love) is in union with contemplation.

If you have a curiosity about SQ, develop your self-awareness so that you can stand against a crowd (or yourself) in your true Self (true Self means the courageous action to fully develop your individualization). This is how you ascend the spiritual ladder. Kent Thiry, CEO of DaVita understands workplace SQ when he said, “An organization must talk about a strong spiritual purpose, not superficial rhetoric.” Kent believes “a spiritual practice is what you are doing right now.” SQ guided leaders include Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Gandhi, Thich Nhat Hanh, Father Thomas Keating, The Dali Lama, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King, Jr. What is the promise you are willing to make to enhance your spiritual courage, and what is the best approach to start the journey?

Cultivate a Contemplative Dimension

If you merge your professional and personal life you find that with courage, you are able to transcend a slogan of “have, do, be” to one of “be, do, have.” In the spirit of “be, do, have” you are making a gift of your life and ultimately, that choice touches all of mankind. This is not an easy task when our society values who you are. This type of spiritual learning is not in the head nor is it in the form of a Roman numeral outline that requires you to follow sequentially the details or is it a rote form that requires you to fill in the blanks. This attachment to processing content details is the opposite of a contemplative lifestyle. Contemplation means nonattachment. Therein lies the sacredness of the small things in life.

So to begin this type of learning, you are required to cultivate a contemplative dimension grounded in a practical conviction of Being. In spiritual courage there is acceptance in every circumstance, including death. Acceptance should not be confused with resignation, but rather the ability to accept what is at the moment. You can do this by asking a couple of questions: “What can I control at this moment?” and the cosmic joke is “nothing” (other than acceptance, free of struggle, judgments and angst) and “What prompted me to create this circumstance?” The person aligned with their true Self accepts rather than resists by giving what you are doing your fullest attention such as when you are angry. Anger (not aggression) is an attitude that offers an opportunity to be vulnerable in heartfelt courage. This is spiritual maturity and presence is the gateway to spiritual development.

Attachment Traps

A contemplative life may include a meditation practice keenly aligned with reflection. This spiritual commitment to reflection resides in simplicity and yields a harmonious and natural life. Probably the biggest trap to this lifestyle approach is attachments. Attachment, like the word courage, is old French, attaché, meaning “nailed to.” If instead we choose an appreciation for the present, we will not be nailed to future “things” that might seduce us to think we have that illusive control. Besides, every day is a day of uncertainty. Only the ego mistakenly believes that you have a schedule set in stone when you walk out the door. Why? The ego strives for certainty.

Letting go of attachments to outcomes diminishes the unhealthy desires and emotional ups and downs that start to move you to your heart or true Self. This work becomes easier when courage actions are implemented such as self-discipline to refine your inner observer or simply a declaration that you will give yourself permission to claim your courage. The heart matures during different stages of courage development. Soon you begin to diminish the distortions of the false self-witnessed as “instant opinions.” For example, your relationship with work is a deeply personal choice. You may be vacillating about retiring during economic uncertainty, but as your courage consciousness matures you will notice huge shifts in your perspective about fear, blame or how to transition to a new phase in life. Lack of courage stymies a positive shift in behavior.

While you are alive, attachments, whether to material items or social values, may make you feel safe and comfortable, yet they limit your spontaneous enjoyment of new experiences in the present moment. Ironically, in order to step up in your life or your career, you must first delve deeper into your true Self to find a solid foundation that supports living a courageous life. Ask yourself:

  • Do you seek security through an attachment to your home?
  • Your ethnic group? Your denomination? Your job title?
  • Do you have a staunch attachment to some belief that prevents you from manifesting your courage?
  • Do you hover in scarcity mentality and unconsciously stay attached to the almighty paycheck while your dreams wither for lack of spiritual nourishment?
  • Are you willing to let go of your possessive attitude toward everything?
  • What do you pine for?

Try making a list of the things to which you are attached. Review your list and assess where and how these attachments found a home in your psyche. Stopping is the tool to eliminate this draining energy, and learning to become indifferent to the outcome should not be confused with loss of spirit or passion. Spirit and passion remain constant, only regrets diminish. Non-attachment centers you in Being and all its daily joy.

The decision to be content with only the material world or to strive after the spiritual world is always your choice. As one dear friend said at the last stages of her life, “Honey, you ever seen a U-Haul truck pull up with the Hearst?”

About the Author

Sandra Ford Walston is The Courage Expert and innovator of StuckThinking™. She’s an organizational effectiveness/learning consultant, speaker, corporate trainer and courage coach specializing in understanding courage behaviors, courageous leadership and individual personality and leadership styles with a focus on tricks and traps of the human condition. The internationally published author of bestseller COURAGE (2001) and winner for the Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, Sandra facilitates individuals and groups in discovering the power of everyday courage. Her follow-up book, STUCK: 12 Steps Up the Leadership Ladder (2010) is for all working women regardless of age or position who wish to learn how to employ courage actions at work. Her third book,FACE IT! 12 Obstacles that Hold You Back on the Job (2011) is not about how to get a job, but about learning to apply courage techniques to overcome work-related barriers to self-fulfillment.

Sandra is qualified to administer and interpret the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® and is a certified Enneagram teacher. Sandra has been published in several periodicals such as Chief Learning Officer, Training & Development and Strategic Finance. She provides skill-based programs for public and private businesses, including Caterpillar, Inc., Nolte Engineering, Hensel Phelps, Auburn University, Procter & Gamble, Farmers Insurance, IBM, Wide Open West and Hitachi Consulting. Sandra instructs at the University of Denver Graduate Tax Program. She offers a free courage newsletter and posts a courage blog, and she can be reached at www.sandrawalston.com.




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