Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

On Being Discouraged

courage

“Sometimes I wonder if this is worth the struggle. Sometimes I wonder if this is worth the fight. I never have made my mind up about it; I’ve just decided to let it all ride.” – Tom Petty, Deliver Me, from the album Long After Dark

I’ve had a problem concentrating lately. I can still get my work done, yes, but it’s a constant battle to keep focused on what I need to do and not allow myself to stare off into space, letting my mind roam around from topic to topic. This has been happening a lot, and one of the things that keeps running through my head is this song. It’s one of my favorites by Tom Petty, without whom I would have never made sense of much of my life. I owe that man a debt, and now I’m wondering why I can’t shake this song. It’s there when I get up in the morning, as I drive to and from work, and in the moments between active thought. So I finally decided not to let it ride, but to try and figure out what the soundtrack in my mind is telling me.

So I sat down and started scribbling the first things that came into my head. I listed them out, bullet-point fashion. I was as honest as I could be about how I’m thinking and feeling right now, knowing that my thoughts and feelings can change in an instant in response to either good or bad news, or an unexpected phone call from a friend, or having one of the endless plots I conjure for my own amusement pan out. Or not.

When I got down to the end of the list, I wrote “I am so discouraged.”

When I read that back to myself I hear a very loud voice in my head say “You don’t deserve to be discouraged. Look at everything that’s going right in your life. With all of the suffering and pain in the world, you have NO PROBLEMS.” Which is true.

Then another voice, which is yelling at me as I write this, is saying “And you can’t post a blog about how discouraged you are – think about the people who may read it! Your family! Your friends! They might get upset that you feel this way and even possibly get upset at you! How can you put them through that, for your own egotistical, selfish need for – what? Validation? Consolation? Commiseration?” But then I figure that y’all will get over it. So I press on.

I took a look at that word: Discouraged. When you break it down into its parts, the word becomes “dis-couraged”. Which, to me, means being robbed of your courage, of your ability to fight off the demons who would have their way with you. In the battle against fear, being discouraged means you’re losing.

“Cour” also means heart, which explains why a synonym of “discouraged” is “disheartened”. So in this context, losing heart is the same thing as losing courage. Does our courage come from our hearts? I always thought of having courage as having “guts”, which would put the seat of courage in the belly region. But now it makes more sense to me to think of courage as stemming from the place that holds our capacity for love. And if the opposite of love is fear, which I believe, then the idea of being “discouraged” is actually a lack of love and a prevalence of fear.

So I’m not discouraged after all. I’m afraid.

This makes more sense to me. Fear isn’t rational, and it doesn’t respond to pep talks. It is an insidious force that invades your mind and heart and squeezes out all the love and light, replacing it with things like anger, resentment, hopelessness, despair. And it mostly runs in the background, unnoticed, until a triggering event that brings it straight to the forefront, at which point you either give in because it’s been undermining your defenses for ages, or you fight.

So that’s what Tom has been trying to tell me. I’ve been giving in, letting it all ride, because the fear has convinced me that it isn’t worth the struggle. It says “You won’t win. You never win. Just give up.”

Well, anyone who knows me knows how I respond to messages like that. It doesn’t end well for the messenger.

I’m happy to say that this little dive into my psyche has been helpful. Having named my enemy I am better equipped to combat it. If I can get back to the sure and certain knowledge that whatever happens I am loved and not alone, I will win. And I will.

Thanks for listening. And stay strong. Don’t listen to the fear. Love yourself, love your people. It’s the only thing that matters.

photo credit: symphony of love Sir Winston Churchill Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm via photopin (license)

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