Last updated October, 2018.
note: we link to our free guide to mindfulness and meditation at the bottom of the page (no email required).
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, Chelsea - our Chief Mindfulness Officer - 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 and 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.
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. In short, you give it fuel to continue.
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 (i.e, don't indulge or get caught up in them), fear won't propagate and pull you into that familiar "pit of despair."
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 alludes 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 skillfully.
Meditation and mindfulness will help you do just that. Through the awareness it strengthens, 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."
Address the root cause.
Your struggles and suffering - whether it's stress, feelings of anxiety or depression, low self-confidence, extreme emotions...or anything else - are caused by the difference between the way things are and the way the mind thinks they should be.
Does it make sense to continue trying to control everything "out there" to conform to the mind's expectations? Or, is a more skillful use of your time and energy changing the way you deal with the thoughts and stories the mind constantly churns out?
If you believe it's the second option, continue reading...