03.31.12 Truth & Wisdom

Courage

Courage

BY Julia Butterfly Hill

So often, people come up to me and thank me for the things I have done in my life. They tell me they admire my courage, and then follow that up by asking, “Aren’t you ever afraid?”

Well, of course I deal with being afraid. I face fear constantly. The funny thing is, courage does not happen where there is no fear. If we weren’t afraid, we wouldn’t need courage! The root word for courage is coeur, from the French, which means “heart”.

Courage can only happen when we face our fears, grief, anger and apathy and then choose to take action from our heart – from our love, anyway. The reality is more of us stop ourselves from taking action out of our fear of even being afraid than from any actual obstacles we have to overcome. Instead of running from my fears, I embrace them. I see them as an opportunity for exploration and growth. Every time I transform my fear into love and service, I grow and become even more powerful and joyful than I could ever imagine within the limitations of my mind.

I do not choose to waste one precious moment of my life dying in fear. Fear kills off the life of the moment. Therefore, fear is a death to the sacred gift and miracle of each breath. This does not mean that I do not have moments where I am afraid. Rather, it is to say that I choose to live my life from the courage of my heart. Fear makes us hide, become apathetic, judge and point fingers. There is no vision in fear. There is no possibility in fear. There is no responsibility in fear. There is no power in fear.

My first winter while living in Luna, I experienced the worst storm in the recorded history of California. At its most intense, winds were gusting 90 miles an hour. My tarp roof and walls had been completely torn apart, I was getting pummeled by rain and sleet and I was getting thrown around by the wind. I was more frightened than I have ever been in my life. In this moment, I found the most profound state of grace when I embraced life to its fullest by embracing death. In that moment, I found a power and joy that is beyond words. Death is not an end to life because life is ever-evolving, and we all come from and return to the same source. Therefore, death is actually a part of life. Look at a forest or a garden—what is decaying is food for new life to grow. To fully embrace life, we have to embrace death because they are both part of the same cycle. One does not exist without the other. This does not mean we have to have a death wish, but rather that we come to peace with it and not run in fear from it. Anywhere we live in fear, we are not fully living life. As we begin to let go of fear, it creates the space for the fullness of life to be experienced.

Many years ago, I saw a sign that felt like it had been written just for me, “If you are not living on the edge, you are taking up too much space.” I laughed and pointed it out to my friends saying, “They must have known I was coming!” But this saying can be a sign for all of us. Where are we living within the confines of our fears? How can we look inside of ourselves and begin to create and cultivate a practice where we move towards our edge instead of holding back in fear? How can we ever expect to grow if we only stay in our comfort zones?

Even a butterfly has to trust and jump off into the abyss. True freedom can only come from letting go.

We live in a time and in a world where so much seems to be crumbling and falling apart. If we close our eyes and point in any direction, when we open them, we will be looking at a problem. In this space, it is so easy to get overwhelmed and feel like as only one person, it is impossible to make a difference.

However, one of the biggest challenges we face is that we all know we live in a world full of problems, but not enough people recognize we also live in a world full of solutions. And that these solutions begin with each and every one of us. Because no choice happens in a vacuum, every single choice makes a difference. It is literally scientifically as well as spiritually absolutely impossible to make no difference.

When we reawaken to the fact that every single choice has an impact, we stop asking, “Can one person really make a difference?” We realize that every single on of us does make the difference. We then start to ask ourselves, “What kind of a difference do I want to make with the gift of my life?”

Each one of us is an ancestor of the future. What do we want the legacy of our life to be? When we delve into the depths of our hearts, search out what we truly and deeply love, and then offer ourselves in service to that, we change the world, we change our lives, and we enter into the space where love becomes an action— every moment, every breath, every choice.

You really want to live life to its fullest? Face fear and instead of running from it, tap into the courage of your heart and head straight for the fear and leap. Your life and the lives of others, our world, our planet and our future will never be the same again.

Image via beautyredefined on FlickR

Julia Hill chose the name Butterfly while in her childhood years and like her namesake she has undergone a great metamorphosis. She grew up in a deeply religious family as the daughter of a traveling, evangelical minister that later settled in Arkansas. In 1996 she suffered nearly fatal injuries in an auto accident. During close to a year of medical treatment and recovery, she had time to reassess her purpose in life. Two weeks after being released by her doctors, she headed west on a journey of self-discovery. She had no particular destination, but her first sight of the ancient redwoods overwhelmed her with awe.

For 738 days, Julia Butterfly Hill lived in the canopy of an ancient redwood tree, called Luna, to help make the world aware of the plight of ancient forests. Her courageous act of civil disobedience gained international attention for the redwoods as well as other environmental and social justice issues and is chronicled in her book The Legacy of Luna: The Story of a Tree, a Woman, and the Struggle to Save the Redwoods.

Julia is a co-founder of the Engage Network and is the inspiration behind What's Your Tree.”

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