There must be at least fifty shades of bravery operating in each of us at any one time. We hear from our doctor health results we don’t want to hear, say no to a child knowing it will lead to being ostracised, offer assistance that may put yourself in danger, open up a can of worms that turns into snakes and slugs. David Whyte talks about being a shade braver, and while this is an everyday invitation, each day we find out about another shade of brave.
Embracing vulnerability is the pathway to finding out what each shade might actually look and more importantly, feel like.
What is a shade? A lighter or darker colour to the colour it references. A shade is comparative, it is in relationship to what it is referencing. The colour of brave is already one of mixed hues. I long to live with more of a light touch, a gentle coax here and there, rather than heavy pushing and pulling. The darkness is an opportunity for the candle to shine brightly and I will never tire of the flicker of a flame to light up a whole room. When my husband had to have oxygen every day we couldn’t have a naked flame near him and one of the things I missed the most was candles and he missed campfires, providing a lightscape for conversations, reflections, intimacy. We get closer to our thoughts and truths in the dark when a light shines and there is the potential to discover another shade of bravery.
Last night, in a new country, in a new car, at night, in the dark and in torrential rain, I drove across the town we are staying in and with the practical help of google maps, a calm navigator, patient drivers around me and lots of deep breaths we all got home safe and sound. Before we got in the car I was already anxious about something else, time for another shade of brave to appear! Everyone in the car, and on the road it seemed, had my back. There was 1% charge left on the phone and between other people’s phones and creativity a solution was banded together and all I really had to do was follow the instructions and keep calm.
This is everyday bravery in many shades. Brave of the passengers to get in the car with me, brave of us all to trust each other and our common shared vision to get home safely. I think this is true of all kinds of everyday bravery in all its shades. We find ways to lean on each other that just look ordinary and necessary and forget it is an act of bravery. We find ways to be vulnerable and pilot one another through dark and stormy times. We find ways to escort each other from threshold to threshold regardless of the conditions we all find ourselves in. We follow our plans to get to a destination and rely on others to give us the directions as we go into unchartered territory.
There is something optimistic about these shades of bravery, tiny glimpses of things get better, getting to your destination. And once you get there the satisfaction of success and safety is a big hug you can receive from yourself (maybe after a good night’s sleep, valium or gin and tonic).
Bravery feels like fear. Bravery feels like fearlessness. Bravery feels like fearlessness and fear at the same time. Bravery is embedded with hope, and that hope is the flicker of the candle growing stronger and drawing you towards the light. Hanging onto the optimism, even when you aren’t feeling confident might just be enough to pull you through. Don’t go alone though, have a navigator, some technology and a cheer squad.
Optimism and vulnerability are bound together in little acts of self-compassion for every shade of bravery.