Witnessing Courage

by Simon Goland, April 1, 2013

22 willing and engaged participants. 2 wonderfully supportive assistants. One me. A journey of 4 days, marking the retreat part of the Right Livelihood Quest, which we finished at the Whidbey Institute several days ago. Actually, the whole journey was of 3 weeks, if we include the first part of the Quest, which sets up the stage for the retreat. In reality, though, there is a whole lot more that has been playing a role in such an inquiry, and for much longer. For all involved.

There is a story of a woman at an exhibit of Picasso’s work. As she stands beside one of his paintings, she sees the artist standing right beside her. “How long did it take you to paint it?” she asks, pointing to it. “Oh, about an hour,” comes the reply. “And all my life.”

What leads one to step on such a path, looking into what gives meaning and purpose to their life? What causes one to set sail, leave the familiar lands of the comfortable and known life, and venture on a journey of unknown seas, not knowing when and where will land show up again? Or whether it will at all.

“Any structure – whether at the molecular, chemical, physical, social, or psychological level – that is insulated from disturbance is also protected from change. It becomes stagnant. … We must therefore be willing to get shaken up, to submit ourselves to the dark blossoming of chaos, in order to reap the blessings of growth.” – Gregg Levoy

I am thinking about my own journey here, and how it unfolded for me. Probably the earliest moment was during university, when I was doing my B.Sc. in Math and Computer Sciences. I actually studied computers because I did not want to go and study medicine. Yet, by the time I reached the third, and last, year, I realized that this is clearly not what I want to do with my life. I desperately wanted to take a year off and do something unrelated, like going traveling. Exploring. Finding out where my passions engage me, even though I was not anywhere close to even use this language to articulate what I really wanted. I just knew what I did not. Still, I didn’t take that year off, because I would not have been able to face my parents, who were very clear and adamant that I must have higher education if I am to amount to anything in life.

And so I finished my studies, got my degree, and promptly went to work as a courier, zooming through the streets of Tel-Aviv on Isolda, my white and nimble Vespa Piaggio scooter. For about six months, life was easy, simple, and carefree. Then it became cold and rainy, and friends convinced me that I could actually work in an office, using my computer degree and get paid a whole lot more.

This started a career of ten years, which eventually ended in the Spring of 1999; the details of this journey are on my website, here.

“The world never stops calling, never stops acting as though it belongs to us, and its pain is always gathering force like storms offshore.” – Gregg Levoy

Courage is one of the necessary ingredients needed for such a journey. No coincidence that it comes from the Latin ‘cor’ – for heart – the birthplace of these quiet, yet persistent, voices, whispering, “Is that all there is to life?” at very inappropriate moments, day or night. The willingness to open up, to listen, to share, to laugh, to cry, to dive deep into the darkness of our shadows, to emerge and claim and own our beauty and gifts, and to have the heart to follow those elusive “bread crumbs” (which is what some of the Quest participants called these subtle clues into the depth of the yearnings of the soul) through the ups and downs of the Right Livelihood inquiry – no richer and more authentic way to express one’s courage. And no greater honour, privilege, and a gift than to have witnessed the process of all the participants during this Right Livelihood Quest retreat.

Namaste, y’all.