Courage: The Cowardly Lion Finds Courage Within

There isn’t one of us who has not, at some point or in some area, needed courage. We’re very much like the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. The big difference is that the cowardly lion may be more honest than most of us. He owned his fear, but he’d been stuck in it for a long time. It’s ironic that it takes the very courage we feel we lack to overcome the fear and panic we have.

This weekend I spent time with family celebrating two of my nieces and one niece’s husband as they graduated with bachelor degrees. All of them are in different fields and facing new challenges ahead. As I listened to them I heard a bit of courage, and also heard the fear underlying their future lives. As we all have to do in our early 20’s, they realized a shift in how they will be moving forward, with much more independence and conversely less funding and sense of security. We face changes throughout life, perhaps a career change; maybe a divorce; a move; a new child’s impending arrival; or, even the changes wrought by transitions in the lives of the people who surround us.

There are no surefire fixes, we learned that early in life. But, what do we do to face our fear when courage is needed? The Wizard of Oz offers insight into this as we watch the lion face his.

Name your fear: The lion did share with Dorothy and others that he felt very much afraid. He didn’t always want to go forward, he wanted to hold back, at one point they literally pulled him along the yellow brook road. But naming it, singing about it, drawing how it feels, sharing with safe others our self-doubts, the power behind the fear decreases which in turn allows for the shame to be reduced and support to be garnered.

Start moving: None of the group in the story knows that they will make it to Oz, do they? They are hoping, but they must start to move. Glenda doesn’t start them moving along the path, she merely offers a path – points them in the right direction. Then it is up to each of them to take one step, then another, then another, and keep moving. In fact, though the lion wanted and hoped to gain courage from the Wizard, he didn’t know for sure he could. Often we are also afraid and don’t feel the courage or “enough” courage to bring a new goal or dream to fruition. With each step we take, though, we do bring the possibility closer.

Go to a Higher Power: The cowardly lion and the others were attempting to get to their Higher Power, the Wizard. Glenda was, in a way, a Higher Power, as she knew where to go. One must ask for help – and then wait for the answer. I believe this can be the most difficult step – waiting for an answer and not directing what the answer must be. The lion certainly didn’t expect the answer he got. And often neither do I. But asking and accepting are important steps with our Higher Power.

Get support: Do not do this change alone – reach out to friends, family, support community, coworkers, and/or a spouse. Dorothy, Scarecrow, Lion, and Tin Man all needed something and joined forces to find help locating what they sought. Together they were stronger than any one of them could have been alone. So join hands with others, seek out therapy, spiritual direction, or coaching if you need more directed help. There is no shame in that; rather there is wisdom in knowing our limitations.

Courage is not an easy concept and can be a struggle to find within at times. But we generally do survive, grow, and thrive when we face our fears. All it takes is to name our fear, step out with support, and start moving.

Pathway or Highway?

I have heard two definitions of psychotherapy I’d like to consider. The first one was in a newsletter of my friend and colleague, Dr. Robin Dilley: “a journey into one’s self to help facilitate a deeper awareness about one’s self while developing a passion for living”. The second definition was provided by a psychologist working for a very large managed care firm in town: the process whereby change is made in symptoms that can be measured and that is a result of interaction between a therapist and a client. He went on to state that ideally this should be quick and not a journey on a path but rather a trip down a super highway. Hmm.

I suppose that there is truth in both definitions although those who know me can probably guess that I align myself much more along the lines of Dr. Dilley’s definition than that provided through managed care. Do we want to settle with getting rid of the stuffy nose or do we want to live a life that is challenging, health producing, and joyful? Now the truth is that our insurance policies don’t always pay for the second. After all, the insurance contract is not a personal growth policy but rather a contract that agrees to provide services to return a person to their prior level of functioning.

I urge you not to settle for your prior level of functioning. We only go through this life once, and it is our choice how we live it. To live at your prior level of functioning means that you don’t take the opportunity to grow spiritually, emotionally, mentally and psychologically. It means you do choose to stay where you are. If you are on the pathway then you are choosing to see the ground beneath your feet, smell the air and the flowers around you, hear the sounds of the birds and the animals that are scuttling about. If you choose the super highway you get a fast trip with no smells, few sights and the blare of the other vehicles and their horns blowing.

This year, you can choose the pathway. In her book, “The Invitation”, Oriah Mountain Dreamer speaks of the invitation to live, to grow, to experience life. Much of what she suggests is part of the psychotherapy adventure: “I want to know you can live with failure, yours and mine.” — It is as we face our failures and our successes with another that we learn how to live with them. Psychotherapy provides this opportunity. “I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done.” I would add, can you also stay in bed when you truly need to and take care of yourself? So often we take care of others but ignore ourselves.

Psychotherapy provides time and attention for our own needs and it is through taking time for oneself that one becomes available to others in a truly free and honest manner. Thus so, one can be seen in pain and not need to hide.

“I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back” is a superb description of the group experience one can have through psychotherapy. The women’s groups I have had the privilege of facilitating have born out women choosing to stand in the fire with others and bearing testimony to the pain and the growth.

“I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments”. Ah, the most profound and deeply felt successful therapeutic experience will allow you to say “YES” to this experience.

I would invite those of you currently doing your own therapy to examine your journaling, your heart, your soul to see if you are walking on the path or whether you’ve stopped to enjoy a piece of the scenery. Is it time to move on? Take that next step? Then ask your therapist for assistance with this. If you have been considering taking such a hike, I invite you to call and schedule an appointment with me. If you are already walking down this pathway, enjoy the walk and know it will lead you to further peace, further ability to stand in the fire, and deeper, more meaningful life experiences. As Oriah Mountain Dreamer says, “I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.”