An interview with the inspiring Jen Lemen ~
How would you describe courage? Is it a muscle that needs to be flexed in order to be developed, an enlightened state of mind or something we are either born with or without?
I think courage shows up for different people in different ways, but for me courage involves standing firm and strong in the face of disrespect or disregard and moving forward with boldness when the path isn’t completely clear yet. I do think that everyone of us has the chance to become more and more brave, but it requires that we find our edges of comfort, confidence or compassion for ourselves (and others) and push out from there into new territory. I don’t really subscribe to the notion that some people are more brave than others, but some people so seem to have a much more natural affinity for the adrenal rush that comes from taking a big chance–whether it’s emotional or practical.
Are there any practices that can lead to having more courage or enough courage to take risks and big leaps?
For me, the only way i can be brave is when I know that i am loved. Love always gives me courage, so I need to constantly stay connected to all the ways I’m surrounded by kindness or tenderness. This always helps me leap.
I also regularly practice rephrasing my fears on little slips of papers. For example, instead of focusing on the fear of being alone, I’ll write: I’m willing to receive deep companionship and partnership that lasts for a long, long time. this practice calms me and also helps me stand in a brave place where Im open to the future and willing to take greater risks to make that dream happen. This helps me reverse the closed down feeling fear leaves you with that naturally puts walls up.
I also do little things like talk to strangers, give ridiculously honest answers when asked and throw rocks in rivers to symbolize my willingness to let go of worry and make more space for action. These are small rituals, but they help me mark my commitment to keep moving forward.
I recently had the crazy task of going to a foreign country in East Africa and haggling with corrupt officials of all kinds so I could bring two young girls home to the United States where they could be reunited with their mother after a painful four year separation. (!!!) the only way i could get through that harrowing task was to be kind to myself and to appreciate the toll it was taking on me to face down resistance from almost everyone i met in order to complete my mission. I had three long weeks of very few people understanding what i was up against, so that support for myself was critical.
That’s an extreme example but there’s a way that we all have to be extremely gentle with ourselves when we’re doing something new or hard or challenging. That gentleness is a kind of self-love and when we persevere in going easy on ourselves when we’re being brave, we develop a determination to get to the other side because we know we are worthy of the peace and calm waiting for us. Idon’t think you can be brave unless you know on some level that who you are in the world is needed and loved.
How can we know when it is safe to stand in our courage versus when it’s time to back out?
I think the only way to know is to listen to your intuition and to stay rooted in your values. I teach a class called Mondo Beyondo where we focus on identifying those beliefs/ideals that are uniquely you. When you are standing strong in the essence of who you are, you never regret forging ahead. I think it’s when ego gets in the way and I realize I mostly want to win, that it’s better to surrender.
How can we respond to fear from a courageous place?
Fear is a normal part of being alive. To recognize our fear as part of our experience of being human helps us to stave off some of the shame that comes from feeling fragile or scared. Most of our fears, I think, are protective impulses that we’ve carried for a long time–often as an expression of loyalty to people who we’ve loved who may have wanted us to be more cautious or safe.
I have a ritual I like to do where I name those old fears, write them on leaves and then take them to a stream by my house. I thank each fear out loud for trying to keep me safe and then I release them into the river, and declare I don’t need that particular hesitancy or cautiousness anymore. I’ve been amazed at how that simple act creates instant courage for my next steps.
The fear may or may not stay with me, but I’m able to move forward without the old paralysis that used to weigh me down.
Can you share some courageous peeps you look up to, that can also be of inspiration to our community?
I’m really moved by my best friend Jen Lee who routinely stands up in front of an audience in new york city and tells very honest, true stories about growing up as a small town girl in the west. She knows how to show her heart and that isn’t easy to do in a place like new york city.
I’m also in awe of Renu Shah Bagaria right now, a thirty-something woman in Nepal who daily defies the social conventions of her elite circle to make sure that 65 street children are clothed, fed and educated in a manner that would make any woman proud. Renu is unassuming and in many ways under-supported, but she stands for values and follows her heart with passion. I admire her so much.
I love my friend Mark Thomas who later in his life decided he wanted to live from his heart more instead of his head. He is a living example to me of what it means to change and grow, even when it’s really scary and you’re way out of your old familiar ways of being.
There are so many more, but there are the three who come to my head in this moment.
YOU STILL HAVE TIME!
Jen Lemen’s Mondo Beyondo dreams have carried her across continents and back again to her artist studio where she generates hope in every essay she writes and every illustration she creates. Jen recently won $50,000 from Lenovo/Microsoft to travel the world and gather images of hope. Jen is a regular contributor to pbsparents.org/supersisters — a child development blog she writes with her two real life sisters. Jen is the the author of Beginnings, a Mondo Beyondo inspired e-zine about making your dreams come true. You can read more about her adventures here and abroad on her influential blog jenlemen.com and at shuttersisters.com/picturehope.