-Dis: a Latin prefix meaning “apart,” “asunder,” “away,” “utterly,” or having a privative, negative, or reversing force.
Courage: the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.
-Ment: a suffix of nouns, often concrete, denoting an action or a resulting state.
Discouragement: the state of being discouraged.
Look, we all get discouraged. I have this going on in my life, right now. Looking at it from outside my own ego, it seems often to originate from expectations that are unfulfilled. From a Buddhist perspective, I can assign the “blame” (this is sticky, be careful) to “desire.” In this case, the desire for a different outcome that what is manifesting in my life. We all experience this.
So, what do we do when we feel discouraged?
For me, I first acknowledge that it’s painful. I’m going to be present with the pain. I know that the Universe doesn't desire that I be in pain, yet pain is present for me. At least it’s discomfort. At any rate, it’s not what I wanted, right?
I can cover up the pain, it’s true. I can bury that stuff with the best of them, believe me. I have full-on psychic backhoes parked in the recesses of my mind that can cover damned near anything. In the past, those backhoes have been made, not by Case or John Deere, but by the NFL. By heavy metal. Or, by alcohol, weed, or sex. It’s counter-intuitive to consider, but psychic backhoes can even be made by spirituality.
Isn't that interesting? We run to our practice to cover the pain of discouragement, rather than face it head on, on its own terms, going afterward to our spiritual practices for healing. There can be a huge difference between using a practice for distraction and using it for healing.
(Some of this is hard to write, but honesty is a “good” type of pain, right? Light shed on ego always makes it recoil. Ooh, look! Mine is recoiling right now! How cute!)
But, if we acknowledge the pain, we can often trace that pain to an expectation. From there, we can ask ourselves where the expectation came from.
Did it come from an exalted opinion of Self? That we "deserve more,” or something of that nature? We have to be careful here, because an affirmative answer to that question may completely absolve us of responsibility. Yet with discouragement, that’s not always true. Besides, it leaves no room for gratitude, which can't breathe the kind of air that "I deserve more" exhales.
We have to take responsibility for our part of the situation that's discouraging, right? Even if it IS true that we deserve better, that idea is easy to track to an ego that may or may not be healthy by simply asking Self why we believe that to be the case. Exploring it deeper may reveal an idea about the Self that may or may not belong there.
If we do indeed track the discouragement to a belief that doesn't serve us, we can release what needs to be released and keep what seems prudent and healthy to keep. In the end, we end up with a clearer view of what part of that ego we want to use.
Again, returning to my own situation, I need ego; I just don't want to identify with it. I don't want to accept it as the full truth. I want to see what is true and identify with that, and release the rest. Ego doesn't care what is true: that's the job of Soul. Ego just wants to rule, no matter what. So, I want to use ego rather than letting ego use me.
Another question to ask is if the discouragement comes from something someone else said. This is tricky. Assuming I understood their words or actions correctly – another good question to ask - were they maliciously trying to fool me? If so, appropriate action might or might not include direct confrontation. Not with violence, but primarily with curiosity.
If I was indeed deceived, was this deception unintentional? Might it have been a matter of the other person using methods of communication that were substandard, even while making an honest attempt? If so, it's my responsibility as an evolving person to extend compassion. After all, they did their best at the time, substandard or not. That's been my case plenty of times.
Or, were they misunderstood because my hopes (desires) were out of line, or egoic? Was I hearing what I want to hear? If so, I extend compassion to myself, too. It may also be true that I need to learn to listen more carefully. For me, I know that IS true. At any rate, I'm looking for what is mine to own, what is not, and exploring it by conscious questioning, then releasing what "wants" to be released.
What if there was deception and it was intentional? Unfriend them! Maybe.
If we do take that tack, the direction of dissolving an acquaintanceship, friendship or even familial bond, we want to do it consciously, without the energy of pushing away, and more with the energy of managing what we let into our fields. Ideally, we actually bless what we release. "Pray for them that use you and persecute you," the Prophet of Galilee said. Easier said than done, but this is the way, no question. If we do choose this course of action, the point is to do it from a less reactionary place, and more from a conscious place.
Now for the King Question, the Crux… what if our discouragement is a result of our own actions, alone?
This can be a tough one, a gaping door to the underworld of our own psyche. If this is the case, well… since this is also where I am in my own life with the situation I referenced at the beginning of this essay, all I can share is my own plan of action.
This is the plan for using my discouragement for my benefit: I’ll go within. (Yet again.) I’ll seek solitude in the mountains or by a river or in my little cabin in the woods, or all of them. Feeling my pain and releasing it as it tells it's story, I’ll look at my actions and my expectations. I’ll analyze these from a place outside of ego. In other words, ego will be on trial from a meditative, more soulful place. Where was I / my ego out of line, without health or balance contrasted with my own standards? Answering this, I can extend compassion to myself – since I generally do my best but I find that I'm imperfect – and do better next time.
If there was a misunderstanding with someone else, it’s my responsibility to allow them to vent their anger (with appropriate respect), without taking it on. I didn’t do it intentionally, after all, but maybe I need to work on my communication or be clearer with myself. If so, I admit what's true and take action. But no matter what, the other person gets to have their feelings. I facilitate their own healing by allowing them to speak their truth. And I may learn something in the process.
In the end, by following these procedure and principles, I can begin to release discouragement in myself and others.
Discouragement can be a tough pill to swallow. But it can also provide access to our inner selves and be the doorways to answers to questions that need to be asked if we’re going to evolve.
As long as we’re increasing our identification with Soul over Ego, our courage to face our egoic selves will increase and we’ll enjoy more empowered, conscious versions of ourselves. And, as discouragement diminishes, courage will replace it, and joy will be easier accessed.
Courage brings confidence, and confidence brings embodied faith: in ourselves, our communities and in our relationship with the Universe.
(photo by Jeremy Perkins)