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    Something to Think About: Courage and strength

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Dr. Amit Sood says, "You derive strength and courage from the values you protect."

Dear friend,

The subtle is stronger than the gross. The visible forces of nature (tides, hurricanes, and volcanoes) are dwarfed by the subtle, invisible powers of nature (gravity, nuclear forces, and magnetism).

The visible forces of the mind (hatred, envy, revenge, and anger) are extremely weak in front of the quiet but infinitely stronger powers (gratitude, compassion, acceptance, and forgiveness).

Your greatest strength lies in harnessing and aligning with the stronger forces. While in the very short term, revenge may seem stronger, in the long term, it is forgiveness that will give you greater strength. Uncontrolled anger may look like pure adrenaline, but it is compassion that unlocks the greatest energy. Often, I can’t see this because my vision is foggy, my longevity short, and my wisdom limited.

You will face setbacks on the righteous path and will need constancy of effort powered by courage. Courage doesn’t decimate fear; courage acts despite the fear. The courage that David showed against Goliath and the cowardly lion against the wicked witch (in The Wizard of Oz) has sound scientific underpinning. Research shows fear is hosted by almond-shaped nuclei in the brain called the amygdala. Courage activates the brain’s anterior cingulate cortex, which mentors and quiets the amygdala activity. Complete lack of fear isn’t desirable, as any parent of a two-year-old can tell you. Total fearlessness is actually pathological; it risks putting you in harm’s way. Further, we find the greatest joy and growth in overcoming fears, not in not having fears.

How does one find such courage? I have talked to thousands of folks about courageous people in their personal lives, asking them what they thought provided the courage. Three themes have emerged. Courageous people are often other-centric, finding great meaning in helping their fellow beings; they have good role models whose principles they imbibe; and many find great courage from their faith. A combination of these paths helps such people lead lives driven by passion and meaning rather than fear. These three themes are connected by the single principle that most people with an abundance of courage live by higher values. The values they protect power their courage.

The values of compassion and forgiveness, higher meaning and selflessness, patience and contentment, are timeless and powerful. They provide strength to anyone who lives to protect them. These values can’t be destroyed. If you become their temporary custodian, you become indestructible in the process.

May you feel strong and brave because of the values you protect.

Take care.

Read Dr. Sood's blog posts and follow @AmitSoodMD on Twitter.Dr. Sood is director of research in the Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program on Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus in Minnesota. He also chairs the Mind-Body Medicine Initiative at Mayo Clinic.