Monthly Archives: February 2012

Courage Challenge Report: Dealing with Dragons

It being an unusually mild February break, my daughter, the Lovely K., declared her intention to sleep outside in a tent. We set it up on Wednesday, just one step from the porch, and she and a friend piled in for the night. The following morning I found that although the friend had slept the night through in the tent, K. had come in around 11, and slept on the sofa. Her explanation was that she hadn’t taken enough blankets and warm clothes. Mild February, but still February in upstate New York.
So the next night said she would give it another go. This time, no friend, but lots of extra blankets, coats, hats, etc. She was tired and ready to climb into her nest of quilts and covers at 8:30.
Physical courage, as we have said on this blog, involves willingness to endure discomfort. It also involves willingness to withstand the threat of snakes and strangers and things that go bump in the night.  Note: it’s really a good idea if nobody puts rubber snakes in the tent. 
I got a couple of texts in the first few minutes.  Nerves.  Hearing people walk past on the street (the tent was only about ten yards from the sidewalk and street).  Wondering if there were more rubber snakes hidden under her blankets (additional note: don’t tell your friends your daughter is doing her first solo camp-out if they are sort who might sneak over and hide a rubber snake under a blanket).   And before you ask, I’ll tell you that the tent was in the front yard because at this time of year the back yard is full of frozen dog poo.  So yes, the front yard, but on a safe, quiet street.  I told her I was confident she could do it, and that after all she could be inside the house in approximately two long strides (see photo!)  I went to bed.  I don’t use the term “courage challenge” with her too often,  because as you can well imagine she has gotten an earful of “courage” and “challenges” and I’m likely to run into some counter-will if I bring it up!  But courage challenge it was, without question.

In the morning, I checked her bedroom: empty.  Checked the sofa: empty.  I picked up my cell phone to take a photo of the tent, and found this:
I think it hardly needs saying that I felt awful.  Poor kid!  Alone in the dark and the cold, it’s easy to imagine all kinds of lurking dangers. 
But here’s the bottom line: she did not bail out.  She braved the cold and the dark and the rubber snakes and the fear of “someone,” and stuck to her resolve.  Maybe she was too scared to leave the tent?  Maybe.  But still, she did stay.  I woke her up at 7:00 and bundled her into the house to get some good sleep on the sofa, by the fire.  As far as I’m concerned, she earned a medal with this courage challenge.

Amazingly,  she reported a dream to me when she woke up – a dream so perfect to the occasion that a screenwriter or novelist could not have done better.  “I was in a town, and the next town over was destroyed and deserted because there was a dragon.  And people had to get picked to go there and be sacrificed so it wouldn’t come destroy this town too.  And I got picked, and L., (one of her best friends) and we went there and there was a volcano where it lived.  There were tracks and the old mining car things, like a roller coaster, and we got in one of those cars.  We had a blue snake with us – I think it was a magical snake.  And we didn’t want to go near where the dragon was.  We saw a pit full of dead bones.  The tracks were going up and down and were broken in some places, and the car thing we were in had to jump over gaps.  Then ahead of us was this wall — like water standing up – and we had only a certain time left to get through it before it turned to stone and the dragon wouldn’t be able to get us.  Then that snake that was with us was the dragon.  But it couldn’t get through the wall.  And we were safe.”

In the words of Joseph Campbell: “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.”


The fear at the bottom of the hole

It has been argued that there is, fundamentally, only one fear: the fear of death. This hypothesis says that if you trace any fear to its deepest, darkest root, it turns out it’s the fear of nothingness, of non-being, our mortality. But I recently came across a very inspiring passage from How To Write a Sentence and How to Read One, by Stanley Fish (and yes, I read books like this!) that offered me a new insight into this fear.

“Mortality is the condition of being able to die, regarded by many as a curse, but more properly appreciated as a gift, the gift of design and choice, of gain and loss, of hope and desperation, of failure and redemption, all modes of being that are available only to creatures who, like sentences (and novels), have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It is the inevitability and shadow of death that provides life with a narrative arc, and provides moments in that narrative with a meaning; for the meaning of a moment – the distinctiveness – is a function of the place prepared for it by a past and the place waiting for it in a future…Without the specter and period of death, there would be no urgency of accomplishment, no expectations to be realized or disappointed, no anxieties to be allayed. Each moment would bear an equal weight or equal weightlessness.” (p 154)

Part of what we seek to do on Lion’s Whiskers is offer you suggestions for reframing fear and courage. What if, rather than bemoaning and cursing your fears, you looked at them as a gift? What if every fear is an opportunity to create meaning out of your experience?

Ask yourself: without fear, can you have courage?


Parkour? Or Peace Like a River?

The subtitle for our blog talks about “challenges on the path ahead.” I want to establish some working definitions for the purpose of today’s post. Let’s stay that “the path ahead” means whatever goals you have for your life, for your children, for your family. Let’s then agree that “challenges” are whatever obstacles or barriers lie across that path as you move toward your goal. They might be physical challenges, financial obstacles, emotional barriers – roadblocks come in all shapes and sizes. Please hold these definitions while I digress a bit.
Just recently I read somewhere (and I’m afraid I can’t give credit where credit is due, because I read a lot of parenting content on-line and I don’t remember where ran across this) that being a good parent means making a choice between what is easy and what is right. I puzzled over this for a while and at last concluded that it sets up a false dichotomy. It implies that what is right is not easy, and because most of us prefer easy to hard, it further implies that we would rather not do the right thing – because we’re lazy or scared or busy or tired or impatient or weak. But what if choosing what is right is also the easy choice?
I’m going to assume you know what is right – for yourself, for your children, for your family – and that your “right” may not look exactly like my “right.”  But let’s get back to the challenges and the path ahead. There will always be obstacles on this path toward what is right for you and your kids. So what happens when the road is blocked?
It seems to me there are three ways to react to an obstacle. You can believe the false dichotomy (that doing what is right will be hard) and let it block you, either temporarily or permanently. A second option is what I think of as the “Parkour Method” after the cross-country racing sport: charging headlong at the obstacle in a straight line. Lots of people choose this method, and are energized by the challenge: the narrowness of their escape from failure is their measure of success. A third method is what I think of as “Peace Like a River,” after the song of that name. In a river there can be all manner of obstacles, be they boulders or tree trunks or (depending on where this river is) derelict cars or bridge pilings or herds of cattle. The water doesn’t find these obstacles a challenge. It simply flows around them, continuing on its path. Easy.
Yes, I said “Easy.” Not the same as instant, however, and not the same as effortless.  Easy as in, “Rest easy, you did the right thing.”  I think that using the Six Types of Courage can help me stay focused on my destination, keep me on my path, and help me figure out how to go over or around.  I’m still holding my daughter’s hand on this journey, but it won’t be much longer until she’s walking entirely under her own power. And I think that when she encounters a false dichotomy in her way, she’ll see it for what it is and just keep moving forward.  I hope it will always be easy for her to do the right thing.

5-Minute Courage Workout: Pull Up a Chair and Make Yourself Uncomfortable!

Compiled and written by Lisa and Jennifer:

Part of developing physical courage is to gain, through experience, a comfort with discomfort.  It is impossible to know one’s physical limits and/or capacity without testing them.  It is through conquering our fears of high places, being cold,  underwater, fatigued, thirsty, or whatever particular physical discomfort we may have, that we have the opportunity to boost our physical courage capacity.  It is through confronting physical discomfort and pushing through pain, that we can learn (and teach our children) that we have the capacity to survive situations that may someday truly test our limits.  Our assumed limitations often have as much to do with the story we tell ourselves about our physical discomfort as any actual physical limitation.  Pushing ourselves just that little bit past our usual comfort zone can often reveal surprising strength.

Here’s a list of 5-Minute Courage Workouts by age range to help you and your child to develop some comfort with physical discomfort:

                          Grab Some Lion’s Whiskers Today!
  • Toddler:  the next time you are hanging out together on the jungle gym, taking a walk, or tumbling in gymnastic class, see if you can create an opportunity to push yourselves just a little bit harder, just a little bit longer.  When your child says “I can’t.  I want to be carried,” see if you can coach him/her to build some endurance with the play.  Promise, “Let’s just play for 5 minutes more, and then we will take a break.  I know you can do it!”
  • Preschooler:  the next time you are headed out on a wintery walk, let your child choose if he/she will wear a coat.  Pack the coat along with you, just in case.  After 5 minutes or so on the walk, ask your child “Do you feel cold enough to need your coat?”  Let them have the experience of needing to wear the coat, instead of just assuming or wanting that for them.   
  • Early elementary student: ever been drenched in a rainstorm or fallen overboard?  Uncomfortable isn’t it, to be walking or swimming around in water-soaked jeans.  How about simulating such an experience for your child by encouraging them to take a bath tonight fully clothed?  See if they can stay in the tub or shower for 5 minutes in their soaking wet, heavy clothing! 
  • Upper elementary student or ‘tween:  have a sit-up challenge with your child tonight.  Before heading to bed, ask your child if they would like to see how many sit-ups you both can do in 5 minutes.  You can do them as slowly or quickly as you want.  Teach them how to do a sit-up, if they don’t know how, or google how to do one effectively if it has been awhile.  The goal is to experience the pretty much immediate discomfort and encourage one another to push through that feeling until the timer goes off.    
  • High schooler or teen:  The next time your teen goes to raid the fridge, ask “Are you hungry?  How do you know you’re hungry?”  Have a 5-minute discussion with your child about the difference between craving and hunger.  Sometimes we crave sugar and simple carbohydrates, when our bodies really need a muscle and brain building protein-enriched meal.  Sometimes we are hungry for time, attention, rest, or human connection, more than we are for food.   Sometimes out of emotional discomfort, we hope food will fill the void.  True hunger is different.  A discussion like this can also help us develop compassion for what it might be like to be truly hungry due to poverty or famine and to develop gratitude for the food that we do have in our fridge.  Pausing before eating can also help develop tolerance for being “just a little bit hungry” and still being okay when we can’t immediately satisfy every craving. 
What is one of the physical courage challenges you or your child has faced recently?  Have you quit smoking, run a half-marathon, learned to juggle, moved on from the bunny hill,  joined a new gym, or completed chemo? 

We love to hear your stories! 

Here are some other 5-Minute Courage Workouts to tackle physical courage:  

Playing With Fire, Navigating the Neighborhood, Talking Dirty, It’s a Dog Eat Dog World.

On Stories, Narrative and Storytelling

This again is from Bruce Jackson’s wonderful The Story is True: The Art and Meaning of Telling Stories, and speaks to our human urge to reframe our experiences into coherent narratives so that we can understand what happens to us and around us:

“When we can’t figure out the plot in real life, people say, ‘It’s senseless, just senseless.’ And that may be true; it may be senseless. Sense is a product of our intelligence, not a condition of the world. But few of us are satisfied with ‘it’s senseless’ as an explanation. We want bottom lines. We want villains and conspiracies and plots like those in movies and novels; we want to live in a causal universe, a universe in which things make sense.”

Courage Question of the Day

Here at Lion’s Whiskers we are hoping to collect examples of physical courage.  To recap, here’s how we define physical courage:

Physical courage is the one type, from the Six Types of Courage, that most people think of first.  It is the type of courage that allows us to risk discomfort, injury, pain or even death—running into burning buildings as a firefighter, facing an enemy on the battlefield, undergoing chemotherapy, climbing a mountain, protecting a child from a dangerous animal.  We are right to be wary of pain: pain tells us where our boundaries and limits are.  However, sometimes there are things more important than pain, and our physical fear becomes a border to be crossed.  Physical fear is often blown entirely out of proportion: pain is often greater in anticipation than in fact, and that dread can become an insurmountable barrier.  Physical courage also involves recognizing that your body is how you participate in the world; keeping it healthy, strong, and resilient prepares you for all kinds of challenges, not just physical ones. 

Do you think it takes more physical courage to climb a mountain or battle an illness? Do you think it takes more courage to learn to sleep in the dark, take your first steps, or try diving off a diving board for the first time?  Do you notice a difference between your son and your daughter, in terms of how they define physical courage and what it looks like in their lives?

Can you remember a time that you or your child had to have physical courage?  Please post your thoughts or stories here. 

We would very much appreciate hearing from you!