- Nancy Ogilvie
Tiny Acts of Courage, Part 2
Updated: Dec 22, 2020
This post is a continuation of the previous one,
Principle: I only need the courage to take the next step, not to complete the process.
Practice: Ask for guidance on what your next step is throughout the day.
Another part of my spiritual practice is journaling most mornings. This often takes the form of a dialog with little (as in young) parts of myself. Sometimes my wounded, terrified child needs my loving attention; sometimes the part I call my “true self” wants to express herself and feels afraid because that seemed like such a dangerous thing to do as a child. As you might expect given my depression, it was my wounded child who showed up yesterday morning. She started out saying how much shame she was feeling and how terrified she was that she’d get lost in feeling “not good enough.” So depression – numbing herself - seemed safer than allowing herself to feel the shame and fear. Admitting that was tiny act of courage #4.
Next was a phone call with a friend to plan an upcoming meeting for our spiritual community. We chatted first, and I told her I was feeling depressed. Part of the shame cycle (if I feel bad about myself, it really does mean there’s something wrong with me) has been hiding my depression from others, so this was tiny act of courage #5. She was extremely supportive, and shared some of her own experience with depression.
I still felt at the mercy of the depression at this point, so I decided to call a couple of elderly friends I’ve been staying connected with through the shutdown – tiny act of courage #6! It was not like I consciously said to myself, “Oh, I’ll take my focus off myself and reach out to others,” but that was what happened… my mood lifted just a little as I put my attention on concern for others rather than myself.
And that gave me enough momentum to go out for a walk – act #7. I was pissed off that I needed to put my winter jacket, hat and gloves on to go for a walk in the middle of May – and I knew it would help, too – so put on my jacket, hat and gloves I did. The sun came out briefly on my walk, and that always helps my mood as well. Thank You, God/dess!
As the day progressed, I continued with tiny acts of courage 8-12. I did a yoga class, asked my sister for help with getting my computer to talk with my new printer, and chatted with a couple friends – all things that would have been impossible had I collapsed into the depression.
As I continued to take action, one baby step at a time, an interesting thing happened! The depression shifted into outright, furious rage at my Super Ego (footnote 1) for the many ways she has continued to undermine and betray me as an adult. She tells me stories about myself that are outright lies, that cause me to doubt my lovability, my competence, my worthiness – and the most enraging part is that I still get hooked into believing her sometimes. How dare she!
I was so furious I wanted to pound pillows, kick, strangle someone! And acknowledging that rage was act of courage #13. I stood up for myself instead of collapsing into the depression, and it was empowering! It didn’t break the depression completely, and I was still in an emotional uproar, but there was no question that I felt alive and energized.
As I look back over this day, I see what a breakthrough it really was for me. Not all that long ago, I would have collapsed into the depression – I would have stayed in bed instead of getting up for morning prayer, and the depression might easily have talked me into staying there most of the day, driving me in deeper. Instead, I asked for help, and Spirit guided me to take the baby steps that led to feeling a little better each time. These tiny courageous actions put me in the driver’s seat instead of the depression, focusing on what I could do instead of what I couldn't.
The same was true when the rage overtook me – moving that energy instead of being stuck in it was also freeing and broke me further out of the helplessness and victimization that have been such a part of depression for me in the past. I learned that I only need the courage just to take the next step, not to complete the entire process.
 1 - “Super Ego” is the internalized voice of our parents from our growing up years, particularly the early years when they were trying to keep us safe and socialize us into responsible, considerate human beings. It generally has a self-critical tone to it, as parents are often critical in their effort to help socialize us – sometimes appropriately!