There’s a cliché running around the world these days: “Do one thing every day that frightens you.” Taken in its tritest form, this little saying could mean something like “Zophiel should pick up and kiss one spider every day.” Which is ridiculous, as everyone knows that spiders are the handmaidens of Satan, and thus should be exterminated with extreme prejudice. That aside, the sentiment is a good one, with the understood caveat of “But don’t be a stupid-head”: I am afraid of accidentally driving my car off a steep mountain pass, this does not mean that I should seek to do so.
However, the true sentiment of the phrase is to confront your fear on a daily basis. Not necessarily your phobias, whatever they may be, though if your phobias impair your ability to function in your daily life, they need to be addressed. Still, phobias and reasonable wariness aside, we all have fears that hold us back. Fears that sap our will and our ability to be who we want to be. These are the fears that must be confronted on a daily basis.
This has never been more necessary than in these chaotic days, when it often feels like reality is unraveling all around us. We need to be courageous. We need to stand up without fear, to raise our voices and plant our spears and push back against those who would destroy all that is Beautiful, Good and True.
But how? So many of us are so well groomed in “Civility” and being “Nice”, which is really just training in “STFU” and “Censor Yourself!” Sadly, there have been but a few, shining examples of courage, and so many of us stand by saying “I wish I was like that!”, but no idea of how to get there from here.
The key, then, to Courage is this: Detachment.
I find it interesting that both Christian and Buddhist traditions mark attachment as block. While both spiritual systems have different goals (Nirvana and Heaven are not interchangeable), both find that disordered attachment is a major stumbling block to those who pursue Something More.
Attachment, the way I intend to use it, is the feeling of need of any noun—person, place, thing, or idea. Most of us reading this understand that attachment of things is not useful. Things pass away—tornados, earthquakes, fiscal crises. . . things are simply things. They can be replaced. As nice as they are, as very useful as they can be, they are still simply things. I think that most of us, faced with the loss of our things, would be frustrated, perhaps anxious over how to provide for those we love. . . but the loss of the television, the car, the house . . . these things we could let go.
Moreover, if faced with a decision between speaking the truth aloud and losing our things as a result, or staying silent and keeping our things, most of us would pick the former. What good are things if you lose them all to the tragedies yet to befall us?
Where things get hard is: If you speak, and are arrested, and all your debts are dumped upon those you love? Even worse, now they will have a harder life, being under suspicion, perhaps unable to find work due to what you have said. Now, the consequences of your actions affect not just you, but those you love. You lose family, you lose friends. Because as a result of your words, they are made to suffer. Do you speak, and subject those you love to this suffering? Do you speak and lose all your friends? Or, out of love for them, do you keep silent?
Let me tell you that right now, the biggest block on my courage is my family and friends. See, I’m a shy girl. I don’t make friends easily. Therefore, those I have I treasure. I don’t want to lose a single one. I don’t want them to think ill of me. I don’t want to cause my family trouble, because they love me, and have helped me through so very much, and I never want to be a burden to them again. And this is why my courage fails me. I can face being arrested. I can face, I want to think, anything that happens to me. But my parents? My brothers? Can I speak out if it means most of my friends—including those I love most—hate me for it?
And this is where my courage fails, and is revealed to be merely bravado. I am yet unable to detach myself from my love for my friends and family. My love for them is no bad thing in itself—it is when my love for them is greater than my love for Truth that it becomes a weakness.
I hate being weak, but there you have it. I am weak, pathetically so, because the thought of loosing certain friends, of being a burden to my family, literally makes my muscles weaken and the adrenaline to upset my stomach. And so. . . I am silent. I swallow words and allow the fear to take control of my brain. It’s pathetic, and I hate it, and I hope that hate grows to the point that it counters the fear and Truth will finally be loosed!
A few days ago, I wrote about an episode of Soul Eaterthat aired on Funimation Channel shortly after the news of Breitbart’s death came across the wires. This episode, the final of the series, is an excellent lesson in how to find courage. I’d like to go into a bit more detail here in a breakdown of the episode to show how, through the episode, our heroine Maka Albarn finds the strength of her courage, and uses her courage to confront the embodiment of Fear and Madness, the Kishin (Demon God) Ashura. This is the sort of lesson we used to learn, but our culture has been neglecting these past generations. When watching it, consider that this is a metaphor– Maka stands for you, and the Kishin everything that is against you and us. I would very much recommend watching the episode, even though it’s one massive spoiler for the entire series. It can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XvFh-LF6fDY
The show opens with Maka and her weapon companion Soul looking across the carnage that happened while Maka was in Soul’s mind, saving him from the madness of the Black Blood (previous episode). They see their teammates and friends—Blackstar and Tsubaki, Death the Kid and Liz and Patty—unmoving on the ground, the Kishin’s barrier still in place. They are isolated from family and other support by the barrier, and their only other help was knocked out while they were otherwise occupied. It’s just Maka, Soul, and the Kishin.
Noting that Maka is trembling, the Kishin speaks:
“Are you afraid? Yes, that must be it. Fear is the cause of all trouble. Failure, setbacks, jealously, misdeeds, betrayal . . . and defeat.”
Maka: “Be quiet.”
Kishin: “Don’t deceive yourself. Poor little thing . . .”
Maka: “Be quiet!”
Kishin: “It’s no use to threaten me. I have no fear. But you’re afraid of me. Our fight might as well be over already.”
Maka: “Nothing you say to me will change anything!”
It’s useful to note that everything the Kishin has just said is absolutely true. Especially that last line of his. While she is afraid of him, the conclusion of the fight is already determined. However, hear fear is already starting to subside in the face of her sense of duty. Continuing:
Soul: “She stopped shaking. She shrugged it off!”
Maka: “I will fight! That’s all there is to it!”
And so the fight begins, Maka utilizing every technique and skill she’s learned from her teachers, while thay watch outside the barrier, concerned, and speculating over how she might possibly attain victory. Knowing she hasn’t much time, she quickly pulls out her most powerful attack, the technique that her teachers have believed would be her advantage—the anti-evil Kishin Hunter attack– and although she pulls it off beautifully, against the Kishin, it fails, utterly.
The Kishin, approaching her prone form, asks:
“Is the madness I emit impure? No, Madness is an emotion that exists in the minds of everyone. Even inside you, of course.”
He then attacks, but his attack is blocked by Soul, who is knocked out by the blow. Maka is clearly dismayed at Soul’s injury, and the Kishin notes this:
“The burden of expectation and responsibility from your fallen comrades weighs down on you. The pain and unease you sense from that is another type of fear.”
Maka: “Shut up, damn you. . .”
Kishin: “Irritation and intimidation are also types of fear.”
Maka: “I said shut up, dammit!”
Kishin: “Impatience and anger are also fear. In addition. . .” Here he smacks her down as she attacks in anger. “This is pain. The most primitive and savage fear. But for weak people like you, it’s quite effective.”
Maka: “You’re right. I am a weak person. But . . . compared to the pain then. . . compared to that punch . . . this is nothing at all!”
This is the beginning of Maka finding her courage. The fear of pain has no hold over her, as she has learned through experience that the pain of letting down those she loves is so much worse. This gives her the courage to stand in front of an attack for Soul. This partially knocks her out—her conscious mind retreats, her subconscious waking her weapon abilities. This is the first thing that sets the Kishin aback, though he soon discerns the secret. Still, his armor of indifference has been breached, of only for a short time until he works out the secret. But you can see how much this momentary uncertainty undermines his ability.
He wakes her with pain, his other hand wrapped around her throat.
Kishin: “That emotion you’re feeling now is true fear. It’s okay. It’s time to give in. Surrender yourself to the madness too. It’ll free you from the fear. All of the pain and anxiety will go away. There’s nothing you can do anyway. Your friends, your anti-magic wavelength. . . Nothing you tried worked on me. Now you’ve lost your partner, and you can’t control your body fully . . . There is no way you can defeat me now.”
Maka: “There is no way for me to . . .”
Kishin: “That’s right. You have nothing left now.”
And this moment, right here, is where the tide of the battle changes, and is decided.
Maka: “I feel relieved. . .”
Kishin: “Wh-what did you just say?” Note the stutter.
Maka: “I said I feel relieved, that’s all . . .”
Kishin: “What?! R-relieved?”
Maka: “I don’t have this power because I wanted it. I felt I had to master it to keep the grownups from criticizing me, but I guess I’m not very good at that sort of thing, to be honest.”
Kishin: “Are you . . . stupid?”
Blackstar: “Who are you calling stupid, bastard? (other translations have the word as “Jackass” or “motherf*cker”)” . . . “She’s not as skilled as I am, but she’s got something incredible here!”
Death-the-Kid: “Maka’s strength isn’t a special ability or anything of the sort . . .”
Soul: “That’s right. . . Maka has the courage. . .”
Blackstar, Kid, and Soul: “ . . .to fight fear!”
As shown in the following lines, the Kishin has no concept of courage, and that frightens him to the center of his being. “What’s going on?” he asks. “Who are you?!”
Maka: “My name is Maka Albarn. I’m a scythe master.”
Kishin: “No! I’m not asking your name! That isn’t what I meant! I mean, who are you?!”
Maka: “I am me, and no one else.”
The Kishin starts to rant, and readies to attack, but Maka interrupts him, pulling out a postcard from her mother that was in a jacket pocket.
Maka: “Soujat.” (Earlier in the series, it is explained that this is a word for courage)
Kishin: “Huh? What did you say?”
Maka: “I don’t know. Maybe it’s a magic charm. Whatever the case, it has nothing to do with you.” This is something that no one has ever dared say to him.
Kishin: “It bothers me though! Why would you do that?! It disgusts me! I’m about to retch . . . Stop it!”
Maka: “No, I won’t. If I stop now, I’ll never be able to face the people who supported me and fought alongside me. It was because of them that I’m here now. They gave me their courage. Now I just need to add my own courage to it. . . I’m going to put it all into this fist!”
What Maka has experienced is the realization that the worst has already happened. Her friends have been hurt. Everyone is cut off. Her partner is out of commission. Her greatest attack has failed. Her previously latent abilities were useless. She has nothing left– and in having nothing left, she has nothing left to fear. Except the shame of not giving everything she has to defeat her opponent. She cannot be hurt any more than she has been, and so she is left with only the strength to stand. And standing is something that the Kishin cannot comprehend, because he only sees fear as something that must be surrendered to, not fought against.
Kishin: “That’s stupid! What can you possibly do with such scrawny arms?! Nothing, that’s what! It won’t matter one bit anyway! It won’t do anything at all! I don’t understand you one bit! I don’t understand . . . How can they have high hopes for her? She’s so weak . . . she has nothing . . . She’s a measly human . . . What is courage?” He screams in fear.
This too is key– Maka is no one special. She’s little human girl. She is ordinary.
Maka: “Kishin Ashura! Prepare yourself!”
Kishin: “Stay away! What good would that do anyway?! Defeating me won’t make the madness go away! Even if you defeat me, a successor or junior or a newcomer or a #2 or whatever else will just show up soon after and become a new source of madness anyway! So it’s pointless!”
To which Maka gives the only good response:
“Hell if I care!” And punches him square in the face. There’s an implication that in doing so, she gave courage to all the innocent souls he’d eaten– that’s what those glowing spheres are that blow up from within him. Anyway. .
Kishin: “Heheheh! I’m perfectly fine! I completely expected this, you idiot! A wimpy human like you who has nothing could never possibly beat–” Crack! “Huh? Give me a break! You talked about putting courage into your fist, but it was just an ordinary punch!”
Maka: “That’s right. Courage isn’t special. It’s something everyone has.”
Kishin: “Oh. Then it’s just like madness.”
Do you see the lesson? Maka had to let go of everything that held her back– thoughts of techniques, insecurities over being so ordinary, her desire to protect Soul. She had to let go of everything except the need to defeat her opponent at any cost, with any weapon– even her scrawny fist.
Any the Kishin’s greatest weapons, fear and despair, were thus countered with “Hell if I care!” BAM!
Let our opponents rave. Let them bring their chaos and madness. We’re no one special. We’re ordinary. Weak. Scrawny. Small. And no matter how many times we defeat the heralds of chaos and fear, another will always take their place.
Doesn’t matter. Let go of everything that holds you back. Grab your courage in your fist, and tell your opponents plainly “Hell if I care!”