Once a week we highlight quotes that will (hopefully) resonate with you. We may or may not add our own commentary. Most likely, we will.
This week, our Chief Mindfulness Officer (and creator of "ARC: mindfulness for children") provides commentary on this often-repeated quote from Mark Twain:
"Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear."
I love Mark Twain, but given the opportunity I would rephrase this quote to say:
“Courage is acceptance of fear, management of fear, not the absence of fear.”
Why accept and manage instead of resist and master?
When you resist something, you’re essentially telling it “No” by either suppressing, throwing up a barrier, or trying to change it in some way. You are denying or fighting it.
In other words, resistance is an effort in control.
This is fine if you’re dealing with something you’re actually in control of (like how we choose to respond to a person or situation), but we can’t control our thoughts or emotions.
Trying to resist or control an emotion like fear will not only cause you immense amounts of frustration and disappointment, but will actually magnify its effect: instead of banishing it and finding your “courage,” you end up indulging it and allowing it to gain a stronger foothold in your mind.
There’s also the fact that fear is, by definition, caused by resistance itself.
For example, imagine you’re about to give an important speech to a large audience. You suddenly have the thought that they will judge you, think you’re terrible, or not care about what you have to say. You might feel the beginnings of fear, but if you accept those thoughts and move your attention away from them (don't indulge or get caught up in them), fear won't propagate and you’ll remain calm.
However, if you resist the thoughts of possible rejection, they will multiply and become even more intrusive. There's even a name for this psychological process - ironic process theory. Resisting only feeds your fear and amplifies its effect on you. Give it enough attention and power, and it can become debilitating and paralyzing.
Fear is not voluntary - if it were, it wouldn’t exist! And, it isn’t something to be resisted, overcome, ignored, or mastered. It’s simply an automatic physical response that can be triggered any time you sense danger, whether it’s real or illusory, mental or physical.
As such, there’s no need to judge yourself for experiencing it. No one is completely devoid of fear, even the most courageous among us (as Twain eludes to in the original quote). But, those who find their courage don’t do so through resistance and mastery - they simply learn to accept and manage their fear successfully.
Mindfulness meditation will help you do just that. Through the awareness it brings, you learn to ground yourself in the present moment instead of letting your thoughts and emotions send you careening into the land of “what ifs.”
You learn to accept instead of resist, and to manage your thoughts and emotions in a way that allows you to remain in the driver’s seat and stay on the road to peace, happiness, and contentment.
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