Purple is my favorite color. It inspires me. It makes me think of beauty and kindness. I also love purple because it’s a “girl” color and since I’m a guy, taking purple as my favorite color makes me feel a little rebellious. Whenever I’m doing creative brainstorming, I use a purple colored pencil. Never a pen or a marker, but a pencil. Sometimes a crayon. Pencils and crayons feel playful to me. And if they’re purple, I think of them as an instrument for making magic.
On August 16th, around 10am in the morning, I held a magic purple pencil in my hand, ready for inspiration. I was sitting on a lawn chair in a grove of trees, joined in a circle with 16 other people. We had all come together for Courage Camp at Mount Hope Farm, a first time collaboration between me, Lois Kelly and Jillian Reilly. Having gathered casually over breakfast and opened up the two-day retreat sharing what courage means to each of us, we were now beginning our first introspective exercise. My magic purple pencil hovered over the big blank white paper. Nothing came to me.
Here I was, one of the three facilitators who’d designed the program: stuck. Here I was, someone who’d just spent three months selling the heck out of our inaugural event, not knowing what to say. Here I was, Mr. Coach, Mr. Self-Awareness, Mr. Magic Purple Pencil, unable to think of a single thing to write. After 5 minutes trying to force myself to be inspired (yes, I know, that was my problem) I simply wrote:
“HOLDING SOMETHING BACK.”
Now, you must be able to guess that in fact my magic purple pencil was working just fine! And although in my immediate consciousness I didn’t have any clue what that meant, by the end of the the two days of Courage Camp I had come to understand very clearly.
Over the course of the 30 hours from the moment I wrote, “HOLDING SOMETHING BACK,” and the warm embraces goodbye, I didn’t experience Courage Camp as if I were one of the facilitators. I let go of that ridiculous pretense early on and fully surrendered. At first I worried, “How will these people who have paid good money for this experience respect me, one of their guides, if I indulge myself in working out my own stuff?” But once I’d started down that slippery slope of digging to find the answer about what I was “holding back,” I felt powerless to resist. And so, indeed, I surrendered.
I had told Lois and Jillian the week before that I fancied the idea of bringing fairy dust to sprinkle on everyone. Seemed like a fun idea. But there was no need for that because there was plenty of real magic. Magic rustling through the trees and lapping against the shores of the bay. Magic about the commitment everyone in the group made early on the first day–a commitment to a circle of trust. Magic in listening quietly to everyone’s stories, all so unique and yet within each an element of familiarity that gave comfort. Magic in our playful spirit, evoking echoes of young, unadulterated versions of ourselves who whispered wisdom from within our bones. Magic in a spoon and egg race without any eggs…a pile of art supplies strewn on the floor…spraying each other with a hose after swimming in the bay…dancing giddily to Latin Pop after dinner and too much wine…all being stuck to our chairs in the stunned silent moment when reality struck: the event had ended. Time to go home.
All of that magic sure as heck did its work on me. Courage Camp brought me the answer to that horrible question, “What am I holding back?” The answer looks less impressive to me now when I see it written here in front of me. But in that moment of seeing with honesty and kindness directed toward my Self, it was nothing short of magical. I was holding back forgiving myself for being a scared little boy on the playground, terrified by dodge-ball and ashamed of playing jump-rope. I was holding back making friends with my Anger–the anger that I’d trivialized for over 40 years, only to have it rule me more powerfully and often than I ever wished to admit. I was holding back acceptance of what being a man means for me.
“BEING MY OWN MAN.”
I came to this crystal clear revelation in the last two hours of Courage Camp. That’s what I was holding back. As much as I pride myself on self-awareness, and as much time as I spend reflecting on how I show up, I have fooled myself for so long with this big, giant, blind spot.
Courage for me is surrendering on the inside. For me it was surrendering to my anger. And there in the clearing under the trees I found a large missing piece of what it takes to be the man who I–and I alone–am meant to be.