How to Become a Hero c.j. hayden
   How to Become a Hero
   You Are the Champion the World Is Waiting For

   C.J. Hayden, MCC

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The strength of compassion 

In the How to Become a Hero discussion forum this month, we heroes-in-training pondered the question: "Where do we find the strength to take action in the face of opposition, disapproval, or personal hardship?"

I encountered some powerful answers to this question in Pema Chodron's Start Where You Are. Pema teaches how the five strengths of lojong mind training can increase our confidence and inspiration as compassionate warriors. These five strengths are strong determination, familiarization with teachings that awaken our heart, remembering the seed of goodness in us all, reproaching our ego with humor and kindness, and nurturing our aspirations.

A compelling element of Pema's approach to this topic is her emphasis on kindness and compassion with ourselves and others. So often, when we feel we have to be strong, we harden our hearts or tap into our own anger or frustration. But Pema suggests we "catch our thoughts before they... solidify into 'us' against 'them'" and "find a way to realize our kinship with others." If we commit to "use our lives to dissolve the indifference, aggression, and grasping that separate us from one another," we will "feel lighter and more courageous." We can find the strength we need by aspiring to continually develop our compassion.

Reading Pema's words, I was reminded that the word courage comes from the French "coeur," which means heart. The true source of courage is the heart, not the head or the gut. If we wish to build our courage, we must expand our hearts. And by opening our hearts to those who oppose us, disapprove of us, or cause us hardship, we will find a way to include them on our journey instead of needing to fight our way past them to continue on.

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You don't have to be an action hero to take action 

What holds us back from making the difference we could in the world? Sometimes it seems to us that we simply aren't up to the task. We believe that a hero, to quote the Wikipedia, must be someone who "possesses abilities or character far greater than that of a typical person, which enable him or her to perform some truly extraordinary, beneficial deed." Listed with that definition are examples of champions both mythic and historical: Hercules and Gandhi; Robin Hood and Joan of Arc; Luke Skywalker and Nelson Mandela.

The images we hold of these icons are those of people larger than life. Their accomplishments are so breathtaking, their abilities so superior, that we cannot picture ourselves in their league. But Gandhi was a lawyer from a middle-class family who barely passed his college exams. Joan of Arc was a teenaged farm girl. Nelson Mandela ran away from home, was thrown out of college, and was fired from his first job.

Heroes are not just people like us; heroes are us, with the same ordinary beginnings and all of our faults, mistakes, handicaps, emotional baggage, and personal entanglements. But despite all of those obstacles – or perhaps because of them – heroes somehow find a way to make a difference in the lives of others.

Is it possible that the main difference between a hero and a person with good intentions is that the hero turns those intentions into action? It's been my experience that action typically leads to more action. Once you take the initiative to move in a particular direction, you often set in motion a series of events that could not have begun without that first act. A phone call leads to a meeting; the meeting spawns a letter; the letter prompts someone else to send out a group e-mail; the e-mail provokes a dozen replies; and the next thing you know, you've started a movement.

It doesn't always happen that way, of course. Sometimes it takes many calls, meetings, letters and e-mails for your intentions to translate into significant results. But if that is to be the case, isn't it even more reason to start taking action now on the change you want to see?

Every great hero's journey began with one simple act. And at the time they took that step, none of them were extraordinary people. It was taking action on their dreams, beliefs, and passions that made them extraordinary.

P.S. We'll be discussing how to take action on your heroic intentions in the How to Become a Hero Discussion Forum on Mar 14 if you would like to join us.

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