I’m sharing some favorite vintage blog posts this month while I spend time working on my new book. This is one on courage I need to read again and again. xo Courtney
Lurching forward like a toddler learning to walk—this is how I experience life transitions. It doesn’t feel graceful or balanced and I’m acutely aware of my vulnerability as I lean into each next step. I lurch my way through big things like having a baby or deciding where to plant our family after grad school as well as more quotidian things like offering a new service through Bird in Hand, contending with a neighborhood conflict, or managing my own fatigue in the face of a long to do list and a short night’s sleep.
This weekend I left our three little ones and Richie and headed to a gorgeous retreat center on Bainbridge Island off the coast of Seattle hosted by Courage and Renewal. I was deeply restored by the company of wise guides (including Parker Palmer, a favorite author and wisdom teacher) as well as thoughtful peers.
We read poetry, we walked and talked in the woods, we ate ridiculously good food from the onsite garden (and everything was gluten free!) and we talked about the deep stuff of life: how to find the courage to rise up within ourselves and inhabit our own most beautiful and authentic life. Together we explored how to serve and to love in the multiple roles represented — as educators, ministers, social entrepreneurs, community organizers, foundation directors, writers and artists– and how to continually nourish ourselves as we stand in the “tragic gap” between the present moment and the world as we yearn for it to be.
I left the island with a full heart and a new metaphor from Mark Nepo to describe the art of facing change (which is really the art of living– given that change is a constant):
Salmon have much to teach us about the art of facing things. In swimming up waterfalls, these remarkable creatures seem to defy gravity. It is an amazing thing to behold. A closer look reveals a wisdom for all beings who want to thrive.
What the salmon somehow know is how to turn their underside—from center to tail – into the powerful current coming at them, which hits them squarely and the impact then launches them out and further up the waterfall; to which their reaction is, again, to turn their underside back into the powerful current that, of course, again hits them squarely; and this successive impact launches them further out and up the waterfall. Their leaning into what they face bounces them further and further along their unlikely journey. (From The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have (2000))
Now my people are not fish people. I was reared in a city which rises like cotton stalks from blackland prairie– the historic land of the longhorns– and a climate often dry and hot. Maybe that is why this description struck me with its freshness.
Honestly it is a bit of a revelation to even claim some of my choices as courageous. I tend to look at myself through a pretty critical pair of glasses (which has to do with my Enneagram type but critical self-gazing is a practice many of us share regardless of personality type). When wearing these specs I see myself take a step in a new direction and I’m too busy wishing it had looked like a ballet leap to commend myself for the lurch.
But upon further examination I can see the courage flowing under the surface in such moments. Below the static of anxious thoughts in my head, a squeeze in my heart or tightness in the gut—which seems to be how my body holds the tension of change—I do sense a deeper energy propelling me forward when I honor my core desires and soul truth about the work and life which is called out of me.
I’m no ichthyologist but I imagine it wouldn’t really work if the salmon faced the current with their scaly back– the part of their anatomy more suited to deal with the harshness of a wider world. Somehow it’s the collision between the power inherent in the stream and tender fish belly which propels them onward.
So too in my life I observe this paradox: when I am willing to be vulnerable to the beauty and suffering embedded in the moments of my days and to do the work of positioning myself well a midst these tensions I experience a holy encounter with the unfiltered power of life. This feels simultaneously like a smack to the core and a leap toward home. And then I regain my senses, hone in again on the direction I am called, and position myself for another blow.
Sounds fun, doesn’t it?
If not fun this salmon metaphor strikes me as true. And while it can be hard to see the courage within our own lives I definitely see courage flowing through the lives of the women I work with. I see it as a coaching client names a dream for a new career which more fully matches her deeper self and take concrete steps in that direction. And when a different client strives to cultivate her children’s sense of mystery and wonder — reaching for an honest answer to their profound questions even as she herself doesn’t have it all figured out. Women bravely living their own creative tensions.
As Nepo explains: “In order not to be swept away by what the days bring, we, too, must find a way to lean into the forces that hit us so squarely. The salmon offer us a way to face truth without shutting down. They show us how leaning into our experiences, though we don’t like the hit, moves us on.”
Now its not all lounging around and waiting for life to smack you. Salmon tap into a deep inner wisdom and as I understand it work pretty hard to swim the wrong way up the stream to their hatching waters. But when the going gets really rough, when the ascent is impossible to the naked eye, that’s when they rely on the energy of the current rather than their own volition.
What experiences are you leaning into in the stream of your life?
Are you able to identify and align yourself with this deeper energy of courage?
You know I would love to hear about it.
PS. Early Bird pricing for my upcoming Flourish retreat in Mexico expires soon so I’ve set aside some special slots for phone chats next Wednesday, March 1. If you have any questions or would like help discerning if the retreat is a good fit for you, schedule one today. xo Courtney
You are invited to gather with other women in a home with a gorgeous interior courtyard enjoying a consciously curated experience where alone time is balanced with meaningful conversations and lively small group coaching sessions, where you have time to sit by (or in) a heated pool and journal, to listen to yourself and to be deeply heard, practice yoga (or not), enjoy the daily siesta with an actual nap (because we hear ourselves better when well rested) or by exploring the city on a solo adventure or with new or old friends — drinking up its ancient beauty and marketplaces.
Your experience will also include meal offerings of delicious, fresh local food, (breakfast, lunch and a snack, because you need good nourishment) and teaching sessions on incisive tools for self-awareness including the Enneagram and meditation. Evenings are free to explore, to rest, to enjoy local dining, to share, to listen, to read, to write, to get a pedicure or manicure, to buy a fabulous scarf. To drink hot chocolate and crumbly Mexican pastries. To enjoy. Because beyond all of the beauty around you also hear the invitation to step deeper inside your own interior landscape….. I’m so excited to be sharing this new body of work with you for the first time live in this retreat. You will also be among the first to receive a copy of my new book! Space is limited. Reserve Your Spot Today!
Courtney Pinkerton, M.Div & M.PP, is a holistic life coach and the founder of Bird in Hand Coaching. She holds dual masters degrees from Harvard Divinity School and Harvard Kennedy School, is the host of the Summer of Meditation Challenge and publishes a popular blog on soulful living. Courtney teaches regularly on the Enneagram (a personality map), meditation, and mindbody practices to reduce stress as well as supporting other “soulpreneurs,” aka women who want to lead with heart in their work + lives. She lives in Oak Cliff, Texas with her husband Richard Amory where they try to keep up with their three children and remember to water their garden boxes. You can read more about her coaching options here or Courtney can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.