John Bowlby was the English aristocrat and psychoanalyst who developed attachment theory, which "begins with the idea that two basic goals guide children's behavior: safety and exploration; a child who explores and plays develops the skills and intelligence needed for adult life." (Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis)
Bowlby was raised by a nanny and shipped off to a posh boarding school at a young age. It's not much of a stretch that he became interested in how early interactions with our parents shape the balance we find and feel between 'safety and exploration.' All mammal offspring naturally bond with their mothers (often fathers too, but evolution has tied us more to mom than dad). When the bond is 'right,' when we're kids and live in balance between exploring more and more of the world around us WHILE being able to regularly touch base with a caring parent, we grow up to be adults who 'know' how to navigate life.
Not all of us grow up with this skill deeply formed. We're still working on learning to discern healthy balance in our experience of safety and exploration.
This is where courage comes in. Courage is another gate into Eden, the Garden of God. Courage is the ability to do what frightens us. We often don't quite understand what it is and how it works. Some people appear to be doing something courageous when they're not. What they're doing doesn't scare them, so it doesn't take courage to do it.
Courage comes from the Latin cor, which simply means heart. People have long intuited that to be brave takes a lot of heart. Wee mammals find encouragement to explore the world around them regularly to-ing and fro-ing with mom and dad as home base.
Whether we come to adulthood with this gift well formed or not, we can take real pleasure in developing it. Developing courage literally means being enheartened--encouraged. Practicing 'going to the places that scare us opens, strengthens, widens and fills our hearts.
We don't need to look far to find places that scare us. The lives we have right now hold lots of places that scare us. All we need to do is GO THERE sometimes--ON PURPOSE.
The best places to start are PLACES THAT MATTER. Places our heads and hearts KNOW are worth going to. Places we recognize--places we recognize because they've become very familiar as we've gotten good at avoiding them.
Practicing courage is not something to attempt half-heartedly. It's usually a little dangerous--this going to places that scare us. It's wise to go there wide-eyed and carefully, full of care for these very selves of ours who are afraid.
First we can decide to experiment. Then discern the WHAT we intend to experiment WITH. Then we can remember to be good parents to the fearful self who doesn't want to go to places that scare us. We can keep a circuit open from mind to heart, to-ing and fro-ing between what we're DOING and what we're FEELING. Allowing the 'wee mammal' to touch base with a wise, kind inner parent as it explores new aspects of life.
Expect to be at least a little scared when you try this. An angel with a fiery sword guards Eden's East Gate.
Be sure also to take time to savor the fruit of encouragement when, having purposed to practice going to a place that scares you, you find yourself in this very garden, having come home to it, courageously, by another way.