Courage is an expression of faith in life. Life is erotic, not only in a sexual sense but in a moral and emotional sense also. Eros is the quality of being charged up like a battery to undertake an action. Eros is the father of courage.
Popular sayings hold that we act bravely in spite of fears. The "in spite of" is always Eros, the urge to more and more life. They say "feel fear, do it anyway" who do not feel the monstrous fear of the denial of life.
For the are monstrous fears, fears that make courage impossible. Fear is a gift to one who lives to tell the tale. The denial of life simply takes the expression as guilt, embodiment, emotionalism, hysteria, and craving for the new. Eros is like a young god, calm and sufficient in himself. When one has exhausted or outgrown the imitation and lie of aliveness, the quality of courage is calm and assured. Until then, immature courage wavers, admixed with fear.
Courage is rare. Many sacrifice the Eros of courage for material gain. Tragedy and blessing alike force the growth of courage through the concrete of materialist scientist into genuine spiritedness. One cannot long bear great joy, any more than great misery, without the exercise of true courage.
Both rich and poor lack courage, the one through their comforts, the other through their agonies. So that, when the conditions of wealth and poverty change, the courage expressed in those conditions is inadequate to any other conditions. True courage must be humane, liberal multi-purpose. Confucius said it well when he said "a gentleman is not a pot"; courage is not only for the battlefield or operating table, but for all areas of life.
Fear is the beginning to wisdom but not the end, and the end must involve courage. The fearful seek the apparently strong like a tomato plant needs a supportive trellis. The downside of fear is that it misidentifies the strong as the merely loud and proud. True courage passes invisibly by them. Through history tyrants have been glamorized by the fearful as saviors, and the resulting catastrophe was shown fear's downside. So the wisdom of fear is to teach us to examine things without fear's influence.
Those who want to learn best must teach, so the fearful to learn courage must teach it. The teaching of courage follows something like this:
There is (one reflects) in fear some shadow of selfishness, so intoxication of self-interest expressed as emotion, some voluptuous violence done against oneself with sick satisfaction in the repetition. And this selfishness of fear can be healed only by helping others to heal it. The wisdom of fear flourishes as the prudence of community.
The fearful flock together. Only one courageous man is needed among them to spark the tinder of courage. To teach courage to the fearful is to learn courage yourself, to be a Gandhi, a Rosa Parks, a Martin Luther King. One great blessing of fear is to drive one to seek outside oneself for encouragement. The honestly fearful lack the energy inside themselves to act freely. They must seek outside for Eros. Fear is to the spirit what hunger is to the body - an immediate force driving one to nourish it.
Some people wake full of courage. They have a sun shining in their solar plexus when they rise. But when these naturally courageous people lose their courage, they usually have no way to remedy the failure, never having had to go without courage. The man with unsteady courage must be more brave to sustain himself. Many brave men have told me they discover their courage only when they have their morning shower, and wash away the cowardly dreamtime which bred doubts in the unguarded mind. My mother told me psychiatric patients are fired up to shower daily, and that the patients hated and fought it but always became well afterwards for a short time. In my grandfather's time, before hot water showers, he would pray himself awake, and the act of kneeling beside the bed in cold bed clothes demonstrates that almost any act can engender courage if done with fixed care and energy. Eros must respond to any clear repeated request, so long as the petition is in actions not in words.
The spiritual action of courage is encouragement. Encouragement has toxic mimicks, giving advice and giving praise. Advice and praise represent the deficiency and excess of encouragement. Courage is a present moment quality, not a past or future thing, and so needs present and immediate encouragement. The wise man encourages himself with the same words and same tone of voice every time. Encouragement is training the animal within to accept more and more Eros, more aliveness, without exploding into viciousness or lust. So consistently using the same word and tone to encourage oneself engenders courage as a trained quality, just as a fence receives the entrails of a bean plant so that the bean can bear fruiting.
No rules will help courage. No laws will awaken valor. No institutions will engender intrepity and pluck. You must find your own encouragement. Asking, seeking, and finding for yourself is erotic, that is, life-giving, activity. Thinking alone will not suffice.
Indian philosophy says life has four aims, karma, artha, dharma, and moksha. They are four great avenues of aliveness and erotic connection. Karma is the courage to seek pleasure, the courage of the adolescent. Artha is the courage to seek success, the courage of the young adult. Dharma is the courage to seek the one's duty, the virtue of maturity. And moksha is the virtue of seeking the direct experience of truth as inner freedom, the greatest courage of all. In theory we have free will to choose what kind of courage, what kind of aliveness,we want. But in practice, courage chooses us. We do not choose karma, artha, dharma, or moksha. They choose us. We come alive in their pursuit. We cannot HELP but become aroused and passionately alive in their pursuit.
If you love pleasure, then the courage required is to be honest. Do you honestly suppose pleasure will lead to more pleasures indefinitely? Does the present pleasure honestly bring more life, more joy, more lightness of being? Courage for the pleasure seeker appears as restraint and reasonable moderation.
The courage of success is a positive mental attitude. The idea of personal change for the sake of gain is powerfully arousing and alluring, even seductive. The courage of success is vision: we envisage ourselves acting with confidence instead of fear, displaying order instead of chaos, and rewarded for discipline instead of pleased with laziness. We envisage the money, possessions, and pride,and we have the fruits of the courage concerning success in total. High motivation and busyness are signs of this kind of courage.
For the good, courage is not enough. Wisdom and education temper the sword of courage into the ploughshare of productivity. Virtue is the instrument and the flower also of the courage of the good.
The courage to seek freedom is true and complete courage. Andre Gide in his novel L'immoraliste has his hero wonder for what kind of freedom he sacrificed everything. Dostoyevsky wrote truthfully in Karamazov that men cannot bear to be free for long, and will seek slavery immediately for comfort. So the courage to be free is hard and rare, like the wish-seeking diamond that the Buddhists compare to enlightenment. We can make a philosophy from excuses, talking where we are unwilling to act, or we can freely work out our aim, be it pleasure, success, goodness, or freedom, using the kinds of courages necessary for their attainment, the honesty, positivity, virtue, and discernment we have within us, giving us life.
Each kind of courage must be taught to be learned. Each teaching of courage IS an expression of one of the four kinds of courage. For example, it is a delectable pleasure to discuss pleasure itself. It is motivating to talk about positivity. It is inspiring to discuss virtue. But it is an exacting and meticulous labor of love to discuss freedom in a precise and truthful way. The nature of teaching courage is to release new reserves of aliveness. Aliveness must be shared; it cannot be hoarded for tomorrow. Courage is just for today. If just for today you can give encouragement, just for today you will find courage.