What is courage? It’s been on my mind a lot lately, and being a former French student (with a terrible Chicago accent) I remembered that “coeur” means “heart” in French. I was curious, so I looked deeper into the etymology of the word courage and found: “The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant ‘To speak one's mind by telling all of one's heart.’ Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds.” When I saw this definition, I was struck by an intense, existential question: what if the ultimate heroic deed in our current society IS the telling all of one’s heart? What if our new form of bravery is speaking what our heart is saying without fear of judgment or dismissal or punishment or cancellation or doxing or getting fired or losing customers or friends? Though it’s a contrast to our images of knights slaying dragons or Hercules defeating mythical monsters, it seems to me that this original definition of courage is increasingly relevant. And it’s important to note that, according to this definition, courage is not saying what’s on our mind, but rather what is in our heart. In other words, not just saying what we think or sharing our opinions or the soundbite we heard on the news, but rather tapping into what we’re feeling, our sense of right and wrong, compassion, passion, and then speaking this truth, even if it makes us feel vulnerable to outside criticism or censure. And this past week, my courage was tested. I mean, like many of you, my sense of courage has been tested for many months in the transition from full-time work, navigating life mid-pandemic and mid-social unrest, and generally just tackling the challenges of our new paradigm. But this past week, this test of courage took on a new, specific patina. A bit of context: some people seem to be getting drunk on the power of false authority. It could be their fear of the virus, anxiety over the social pressure to comply with various new behavioral guidelines, stress from a struggling business/unemployment, or simply the emotional impact of the collective energy of the moment…but whatever it is, they seem to want to take the edge off of what they’re feeling via an outward compulsion to control the behavior of others. As you can imagine, I’m not a big fan of being told what to do by strangers wired up on anxiety- if I didn’t put up with it as a child, I can promise I’m not going to tolerate it as an adult;) #donttreadonmeandillallowyoutolive This past week, I was asked to leave a public park with my dog by a man who claimed (falsely) to work for the Park District, stating that dogs were not allowed- even on leash- while a kiddie soccer league was underway…even though the game was easily an acre away from me at the time. Now, this would normally not be a big deal but, like so many others right now, I covet the little things- the small, calming, grounding daily rituals that help me feel human and joyful, if only for a few moments. This aggressive, public disruption left me feeling suffocated and spiritually injured. We get so few of the true pleasures we enjoyed prior to Covid, prior to losing our jobs, prior to the troubles of our present moment, that these little nuggets mean the world to us. Who was this man to impede on my joy and personal autonomy? Now, how do I know that this “gentleman” didn’t work for the Park District? I asked. Three times. And three times, he lied. How do I know that he lied? I politely called his bluff. I asked him to provide a business card, which he claimed to have under a tent for the soccer league. I don’t think he expected me to have the tenacity to a.) ask or b.) follow him the length of the park, across many soccer fields, to confirm his job title and contact information. He expected wrong, because I am clinically diagnosed as a Pain in the Ass. I actually continued with his kabuki theater for five very long minutes, as he demonstrated an unrelenting commitment to his character that rivaled that of Daniel Day Lewis’ method approach to acting on the set of There Will Be Blood. In other words: it was elaborate, it was crazy, and it went on for way too long. Why is this relevant to the topic of courage? Because, in this particular situation, I was operating on what my heart was telling me: that this man was lying, he didn’t have authority over me, and that I needed to stand up for myself and my service animal, who is my spiritual protector as well as my physical protector. It felt like it was an energetic and existential moment. I felt a need to protect my own sovereign agency as a living, thinking, and feeling being. So, long story short, we get to his little work area with a folding table and he admits that he doesn’t have business cards…or work for the Park District. Of course, this admission came after the actual Park District employee emerged from their Field House and I asked them: “Does he work for you? For the Park District?” while pointing at the man. She shook her head “no”, and then asked me: “Do you need help?” I replied, “No- but he is telling people he works for the Park District, which I believe is illegal.” I saw her literally make a note of it on her clipboard as his coworker approached him to quietly admonish him and try to smooth things over. The coworker was clearly mortified by this event, and this shame seemed to rapidly navigate to the liar liar, pants on fire (formal title). At this point, he slowly sat down in a folding chair and put his head down between his knees in regret. In this moment, it was nonverbally acknowledged that the emperor had no clothes. And I’m not going to lie to you: it felt good. It was satisfying to watch him spiral. I felt energetically vindicated. Yes, I can be very petty. But more to the point, I HATE a lie. I started to reflect that there have been a lot of lies and gaslighting lately, sometimes seemingly for no reason. I quickly recalled a dozen or so instances in just my own life during the preceding week, the insidious energy of manipulation now coming into focus for me- like one big music video montage of humanity…well, losing its humanity. So, what does this all have to do with courage, you ask? Well, this experience pushed me into a binary choice: 1.) be courageous and stand up for myself by speaking and demanding the truth; or 2.) accept the lie and lose energetic real estate for the sake of staying safe and avoiding conflict. I chose the former, obviously, and in doing so perhaps shifted that man’s consciousness such that he understands he cannot lie or direct other sovereign beings as he sees fit. I did not elect him. He is not the police. He has limited powers, as we all do, and now maybe he understands where the boundaries are. Maybe. Courage is uncomfortable. Exercising it made me feel scared, for a moment, assessing the worth of seeing this disagreement through to the end. What if he had called the cops? What if it had escalated and my dog felt the rush to protect me, causing a series of other, more unfortunate events? What if I got kicked out of the park I love, effectively blacklisted for life? What if he was violent or had a gun and this exchange was going to push him over the edge? But this is all the fear of the mind. And, while occasionally useful in preventing us from engaging in dangerous or harmful situations, the mind and its ever-playing movie of worst case scenarios is not the seat of truth. Or courage. In fact, this man’s behavior was likely driven by fear- he said as much, stating that the parents of the children in his care would be very upset with him if anything happened with a large dog. So, instead of tapping into his heart and into truth, he chose the mind and fear…and see how that worked out for him? Not. Well. B*tch. On my walk back home, I reframed this inner conversation regarding the rampant lies and gaslighting of late and started thinking of examples of courage…and the positive outcomes associated with it. My clients are courageous, embracing the wild unknown of their future via tarot cards or diving into the cosmic stew of shamanic journeying. You guys are dedicated to working through your “stuff” via energy work with me or meditations on your own, learning and connecting to the divine magic all around us. You inspire me: your unrelenting curiosity and the bravery you exhibit when you go inward, acknowledging and addressing the profane, the ugly and the profound in the hopes of achieving greater awareness and joy. It’s not easy work. It is, at times, scary. But you still do it, and working with you every day reminds me that everyone is not that a-hole at the park. Quite the opposite. So what do we take away from this right now? The seat of courage is the heart. When you tap into your heart chakra, you find your truth. And there is nothing easier to defend than the truth, which has the uncanny knack of always coming out in the end. There is something much simpler, easier, and lighter when operating out of this chakra in our current paradigm. The mind, brilliant as it is, has a tendency to rattle on. To debate. To indulge in noise and fear and flaunt statistics as a means of justifying its mutually opposing, contradictory assertions. And there is a place for the mind, but when it comes to basic, common sense questions around right and wrong, check out what’s going on in your heart. And listen to it. The world is very stressful right now, and whether we want to admit it or not we are all connected. Our interactions with others can be meaningful, healing and supportive or they really can cause harm, intended or not. We do not know the secret struggles of others, what they’re navigating or what they’re processing, and the heart chakra will always resonate appropriately with the unseen tensions or pain of others around us. Tell the truth. Live your truth. Seek out the truth. The truth will always connect you to your heart. The truth will always take care of you, even if it seems scary in the moment. The truth has a ring to it, a vibration, and this connection to ourselves is going to be the most integral aspect to our personal, spiritual survival over the coming weeks and months. Keep being courageous. Don’t put up with lies or bullies or others’ attempts to control you. You are a divine being, and no one has the right to separate you from that to which is yours. Feeling a bit drained from all of the social negotiations and bad behavior and pressure lately? Want a space where you can speak your truth and be safe? Come by and get some energy work, or join us for a safe, small restorative yoga class. Email me, even if you just want to talk or run something by me or share a frustrating experience. TOTEM is here to support your heart and other chakras during this very confusing, destabilizing and challenging time. You are not alone. We will get through this. Until then, courage. -Rachel