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Introduction and Table of Contents - Finding Inner Courage - Mark Nepo

Finding Inner Courage

by Mark Nepo

"... a deep and graceful exploration of courage that will illumine your mind, strengthen your heart, and nourish your soul."

~Parker J. Palmer, author of The Courage to Teach

"Reading Finding Inner Courage made me stronger, clearer and more honest with myself. This book is a cornucopia of inspirational stories and insight - a wonderful achievement, an honest and brave book."

~ Robert Inchausti, author of Subversive Orthodoxy: Outlaws, Revolutionaries and Other Christians in Disguise

"Mark Nepo is a beloved teacher, poet, and storyteller, and the author of the bestseller The Book of Awakening. In his latest book, he invites us to live in our inner core in ways small and large, every day. That is all we can do in life, and all we need to do for our lives to bear witness, to make the world a better place. To read the stories in this book is to find our own place of peace and courage.

"Pained by war and aware of injustice in the world, we are in need of wisdom, hope, encouragement. Mark Nepo gives us all that in this poetic, profoundly thoughtful rumination on how we might live."

~Howard Zinn, author of You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train

To My Reader

  1. The word COURAGE comes from the Latin COR, which literally means HEART. The original use of the word COURAGE means TO STAND BY ONE'S CORE. This is a striking concept that reinforces the belief found in almost all traditions that living from the Center is what enables us to face whatever life has to offer. This book is an exploration into how to find our way to our core, to stand by our core, and to then sustain the practice of living from our core - to live, out of our courage. To ENCOURAGE means to IMPART STRENGTH AND CONFIDENCE, TO INSPIRE AND HEARTEN. So the questions unfold: How do we ENCOURAGE ourselves, each other, and the world? And just what does it mean to live a life of ENCOURAGEMENT.
  2. If to find our way to our core is to FACE THE LION, then to stand by our core is TO BE THE LION. And to sustain the practice of living from our core - to live out of our courage is to find our way in the world by tracking INNER COURAGE AND WHERE IT LIVES. These notions frame the journey of this book.

Inner Courage and Outer Courage

  1. The courage we all admire - where ordinary people summon unexpected strength to run into burning buildings or to stand up to tyrants, whether an abusive father or an abusive leader, this inspiring and mysterious impulse to rise and meet a dangerous situation, which Hemingway referred to as grace under pressure - grows from another kind of courage: inner courage. By inner courage, I mean the ground of quiet braveries from which the more visible braveries sprout. These are the ways of living and being that makes bravery possible in the first place, not just as an event, but as an approach to life, as a way of life. This book is devoted to exploring those quiet braveries, in an effort to understand not only what constitutes courage in its deepest sense, but what is the soil in which it is seeded, watered, cared for, and grown.
  2. Thinking about courage in this way opens us to an array of small and constant efforts that no one ever sees, but which have changed the world: the courage to feel, to see, to accept, to heal, to be. Efforts of this nature often go unnoticed and unrecognized. Like the courage to break life-draining patterns and let the story of our lives unfold. Like the courage to persevere through the doorway of nothing into the realm of everything. Like the courage to choose aliveness over woundedness, to remember what matters when we forget, and to build on the past instead of hiding in it. Like the courage to choose compassion over judgment and love over fear, to withstand the tension of opposites, and to give up what no longer works in order to stay close to what is sacred.
  3. These subtle yet essential states, and more, make up the elements of living, and so it serves us well to explore how they grow singly and together. This is an education I never had in school, but which life has been shouting for as long as I can remember. This is an education of what matters.

What Does Courage Mean?

  1. How we hold this question is important. It's interesting that the question, WHAT DOES IT MEAN? in Spanish, QUE QUIERE DECIR?, literally translates as , WHAT DOES IT WANT TO SAY? The difference inherent in the Spanish view is that whatever holds meaning is alive and has its own vital authority, and therefore, demands us to be in relationship to it in order to learn its meaning. The English view readies us to apprehend meaning, while the Spanish view teaches us to EXPERIENCE meaning. The Spanish view tells us that meaning can only be revealed by listening to the life waiting in the voice of every thing, and only by staying in relationship to that living voice will we experience meaning in our days.
  2. So, when we ask WHAT DOES COURAGE MEAN? in Spanish, QUE QUIERE DECIR "COURAGE"?, it literally translates as, WHAT DOES COURAGE WANT TO SAY? This is the question at the heart of this book. No doubt, courage will have something different to say to each of us. And like a friend who we each experience differently, our understanding of courage will live in the mysterious sum of all that we hear. In this way, this book is an invitation to begin a relationship with life itself, always listening for what it wants to say.

How to Read This Book

  1. You will encounter many examples of courage in this book, many stories of ordinary people invoking the best of who they are in all kinds of moments, great and small. It is important how you relate to these stories. For it is easy to feel diminished rather than inspired by such remarkable events, so great is our urge to compare. But INSPIRE means TO INHALE, not MEASURE AGAINST. In truth, each of us is remarkable, and the little seed buried underground would blanch at the sight of its kind already in full bloom, never dreaming that such a magnificence would be possible in itself. Yet it is not only possible, but inevitable. It is the same with the potency of our souls. So I invite you to INHALE these stories, to let them fill your lungs and circle your heart, to let them empower you to stand more firmly by your core and a little taller in the world.
  2. I confess that I began writing this book, looking to uncover and sustain my own courage. I confess that the part of me that is a poet is in awe, busy retrieving the aspects of the mystery that we are privileged to, while the part of me that is a philosopher is busy talking about what I find, always trying to understand what is retrieved. And the part of me that is a cancer survivor is always eager to turn mystery and understanding into food, to make use of it.
  3. I have come to believe that we can only discover the capacity and meaning of our courage in the context of our struggles, in how we face and inhabit the challenges life presents to us. In this, courage is an applied art of spirit. It is not something we can manipulate, but only live into. Recovering the Source and living it out in the world, alone and together, is a lifelong devotion. One that we must, ultimately, inhabit alone, but one which we must enliven together.

Table of Contents

Movement 1: Facing the Lion

1.1 Wings of the Butterfly

1.2 Vengeance or Music

1.3 Wrestling with God

1.4 Letting the Story Unfold

1.5 The Boy and the Drum

1.6 The Swan and the Tailor

1.7 Loving What You Fear

1.8 Living within Patterns

1.9 How We Stumble

1.10 The Three Dangers

1.11 Facing Ourselves

1.12 The Life of the Lion

1.13 Facing Each Other

1.14 Sympathetic Fibers

1.15 The Art of Encouragement

1.16 Standing by One's Core

1.17 The Heart of It

1.18 God of the Broken Tusk

1.19 The Heart's Blossom

1.20 A Sacred Becoming

Movement 2:  Being the Lion

2.1 Fires Looking for a Sea

2.2 Aliveness and Woundedness

2.3 Everything or Nothing

2.4 The Fall Into Life

2.5 Four in the Morning

2.6 Between the Tiger and the Dragon

2.7 What Gets in the Way

2.8 Near Enemies

2.9 Tendencies

2.10 Believing the Guest

2.11 There Is Something Else There

2.12 Wholeheartedness

2.13 Beginner's Heart

2.14 Trust of This Kind

2.15 Building on the Past

2.16 Tensions of Awakening

2.17 Breaking Patterns

2.18 In the Middle of the Path

Movement 3:  Inner Courage and Where It Lives

3.1 The Interior Blessing

3.2 The Secret Life of Detail

3.3 Our Fierce Impulse to Live

3.4 The Art of Facing Things

3.5 The Work of Self-Return

3.6 Burning the Raft

3.7 Giving Up What No Longer Works 

3.8 Judgment or Compassion

3.9 Experiments with Love

3.10 The Gateway: Acceptance

3.11 Sniffing Out What is Sacred

3.12 To Be a Clear Vessel

3.13 Ways of Living

3.14 The Beauty of It

3.15 A Myth of Encouragement

3.16 What is Necessary

3.17 Humility and Awe

3.18 Beginning Again

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