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I showed up. I opened my heart. I stayed.

Monday, April 6, 2015 by Marianne Elliott

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A guest post from Jill Salahub

I spent many years not being myself. I attempted to live in accordance with what was expected of me, even when it didn’t match up with what I wanted or knew to be true, even when it wasn’t really me. When I measured myself in comparison to external expectations and standards, I felt ashamed and uncomfortable and awkward. Things about me that didn’t fit with the norms, I hid, rejected, hated. I tried so hard to be a good girl, pretty and fit and nice — agreeable and acceptable.

I was confused about how to be in the world. I thought I needed to fit in, make people like me. I thought the way to get my needs met was to make others happy and comfortable, that when I did they’d return the favor and help me, protect me, care for me, keep me safe, love me, stay with me, make me happy. I thought that happiness was achieved by gaining someone else’s approval, permission, affection, support. This kind of thinking led me to get married for the first time at 18, to pursue a career that I barely tolerated, to push and punish my body, to years of disordered eating, to multiple toxic relationships, to deny and abandon myself over and over again.

I can see it now for what it was – self-aggression, bewilderment, a strange culturally sanctioned co-dependence, socially acceptable dysfunction. I was driven by external pressures and expectations, beliefs that I had internalized as my own. My own knowing wasn’t to be believed, unless confirmed by an external source, and my innate wisdom had been so drowned out by other noise and distractions, I could barely hear it. I got the message that without constant manipulation and control, I was too loud, too weird, too creative, too sensitive, too generous, too hungry, too much, and I couldn’t be trusted.

Then an encounter with grief changed everything. My sweet dog Obi was diagnosed with cancer at the same time as my dear friend Kelly. His cancer was incurable, hers was not – at least that’s what the doctors said. This became my secret deal with the Universe – Obi would die, but Kelly would be okay. I could accept losing him knowing I wouldn’t lose her. Nine months later, Obi died. Six months after that, Kelly died. It wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. He was too young, but I knew from the beginning our relationship was temporary. But Kelly… she was the most vibrant, talented, loving, cheerful, strong person. She had a young baby and a husband who loved her, needed her. She had family and friends who weren’t ready to let her go, and she had so much left she wanted to do. The fierce energy of my love unbound from those forms, the depth of that loss felt like too much.

Jill Salahub - Marianne Elliott

At the time, I’d been practicing mediation and yoga for three years. I’d also been working with a therapist because of a difficult work situation, as well as an underlying anxiety, a sadness I couldn’t name. I was working really hard to keep it together, and then it all fell apart. I was completely heartbroken, utterly lost, so confused. In that moment, I had a choice: I could give up or I could find the courage to go on.

Courage as it found me then was the strength to keep going in the face of confusion, pain, loss, grief. It was somehow finding a way in each moment to stay, to not give up. I would cry during yoga, but I was there, on my mat practicing. When I finally made my way back to my meditation practice, I would sit on my cushion, sobbing and raging, but I kept my seat. I showed up. I opened my heart. I stayed.

Courage doesn’t have to be big or bold. It can be quiet and gentle, soft and simple. You don’t have to save someone from a burning building, or make a grand gesture to be brave. As Mary Anne Radmacher says, “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says ‘I’ll try again tomorrow.’ ”

With time and practice, things shifted. By staying with myself during this period of grief and strong emotions, I started to reconnect with the truth, my basic nature, my fundamental wisdom and compassion. I befriended myself. I quit the job that had been such a difficult situation. I started a daily writing practice after years of struggling with writer’s block, decades of trying to deny what I knew was true – that I am a writer. We got another dog. I started blogging. I acknowledged and honored my four primary practices: yoga, meditation, writing, and dog.

As I continued to practice, courage manifested as confidence in my fundamental sanity and power, knowing who I was and what to do, a quality of wakefulness that is my natural state. Courage arose from relaxing into my true nature, both as an individual and as a human being. When I developed faith in it, my path was clear and present. I developed confidence in my own goodness, in the goodness that is the ground of all things.

I am already whole, all of us are — this is basic goodness, our absolute true nature. We are not broken or damaged; we are not basically bad, even though we sometimes do bad things. As Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche said, “we think we are rocks, but we are gold.” We have basic goodness, a deep wisdom and compassion, available to us every moment. We can’t earn it, so we don’t have to worry about deserving it. No matter what mistakes we have made or bad luck we have, it remains constant. It cannot be used up or smashed to bits, no matter how hard we might try, how violently we resist, how fast we might run.

Basic goodness is what is precious about each and every one of us. It is what fuels love and right action and great work. It is medicine and magic and maitri, (“loving-kindness”). It is the only thing that is unchangeable, unconditional. It is the ground of courage.

What is an act of courage for me is just that, brave for me. Cultivating courage isn’t about becoming anyone else’s idea of brave. Courage means cultivating confidence, the kind that Susan Piver describes as “the willingness to be as ridiculous, luminous, intelligent, and kind as you really are, without embarrassment.” Courage is trusting myself, having faith in my own voice, showing up with an open heart, even when it’s hard and even when it hurts.

Courage for me was staying with Obi when he died, sitting with his last breath, knowing that after all the love I couldn’t look away. It was the warmth that lingered in his soft body even after he was gone. Courage for me was studying and training to become a yoga teacher, being a complete beginner again, falling over and faltering, feeling awkward and uncomfortable but trusting that trying was worth it, that staying with it mattered. Courage for me was putting pen to paper and committing to show up every day no matter what, which led to that first blog post and all the ones that came after – every page, every word an act of faith, of courage. It was remembering that six year old little girl who upon hearing for the first time that she could grow up and be a writer said a holy yes, “that’s who I am,” and choosing to trust her again.

We can have the courage to love and accept ourselves, our reality, exactly as we are and exactly as it is. No need for self-improvement. We can simply drop the trying and accept ourselves, exactly as we are. We are basically good and we can’t change that, no matter how hard we try or how little effort we make. Certainly, we can change habits or opinions or affiliations or memberships or addresses or hairstyles, but that fundamentally true part of us, that collection of love and wisdom and courage and dirt and breath and blood is basically good, and in a way that only we can manifest it. It is the best, most brilliant one can give, and the most brave one can be.

It takes courage to trust in basic goodness, to believe that it is our fundamental state, to believe so of others, to stay open and willing to be wounded, but if we can it is the path to freedom and love. It is the seat of courage. Relax completely into who you are, aware in each moment of your basic goodness, your natural wisdom and kindness, your innate wakefulness, allowing confidence and courage to arise, and in this way you will be of benefit both to yourself and the world. In this way, you will be free.

Jill Salahub - Marianne ElliottMeet Jill.

Jill Salahub is an Introvert, INFJ, Highly Sensitive Person, Scorpio, and Four on the Enneagram – in other words, a passionate mess. She’s a wholehearted practitioner of writing, yoga, meditation, and dog. She is generous and gentle, loves laughter and pie. She teaches yoga and writing and meditation, with her mission being to ease suffering, in herself and the world. Jill writes about the tenderness and the terror, the beauty and the brutality of life, and of her efforts to keep her heart open through it all on her blog, A Thousand Shades of Gray.



30 Days of Courage: a guide to bravery in action

30 Days of Courage is for people who want to step out of their comfort zone, through the small acts of daily bravery that add up to a courageous life. The next course kicks off on 20 April. I’d for you to join me. Registration is open — click HERE to find out more, or get signed up.




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