Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Thursday, January 20, 2011

In Search of Cabin Fervor

There's something discouraging about a mid-January day.  The temperature here is 14º.  The snow that covers the land is no longer virgin.  The sparkly holiday feelings are pretty much played out.  95% of 2011 lies ahead, and I am not inspired.

If I could see where I want to go from here, I might have a leg up on the journey.  Clearly, my destination should be away from this place.  But what is the opposite of discouraged? Couraged? 

The Online Etymology Dictionary supports this idea:

discourage Look up discourage at

mid-15c., discoragen, from M.Fr. descourager, from O.Fr. descoragier, from des- "away" (see dis-) + corage (see courage). Related:Discourageddiscouragementdiscouraging.

If the state I wish to escape is that of having gone "away" from "courage," then surely, a return to courage would take me in the right direction.  Again, the Online Etymology Dictionary is helpful.  

courage Look up courage at

c.1300, from O.Fr. corage (12c., Mod.Fr. courage) "heart, innermost feelings; temper," from V.L. *coraticum (cf. It. coraggio, Sp. coraje), from L.cor "heart," which remains a common metaphor for inner strength. In M.E., used broadly for "what is in one's mind or thoughts," hence "bravery," but also "wrath, pride, confidence, lustiness," or any sort of inclination. Replaced O.E. ellen, which also meant "zeal, strength."

Interestingly, it would seem from the dates in these entries that people didn't begin moving away from courage to the extent that they needed a word to capture the experience for at least a couple hundred years.  And yet, for many of us, it is the newer term that more frequently depicts our condition.

So if we intend to become "couraged," then, what would that mean?  The definition centers around the word "heart," and its evocation of "inner strength."  But how do we get stronger inside?

I am reminded of a strength-building campaign that occupied my winter nights one teenaged year, and of the teacher who sparked it.  One of my high school's few lay teachers, over-lipsticked and what seemed to us then ancient, Mrs. H. was not naturally charismatic.  Her favorite expression--"My stars and garters!"--was emblematic of her generational disconnect.  But somehow she reached me with the idea that January's enforced hibernation could be used to engage in those dull character-building exercises that spring's activities would leave no time for.  Of course, she was trying to sell us on studying, and I did some of that.  But I also incorporated an ankle-fortifying program that was designed to improve my ice-skating.  Along with a complexion-improving regimen, relying on Sweetheart soap, whose smell I can still conjure.  (I was an avid reader of Seventeen Magazine then.)

I have also had the more recent experience of training for 5K races and a sprint triathlon, using many dreary winter hours to build strength and endurance, and a bit of skill.  And a key "take-away" from that adventure is the incremental nature of such growth.

But where is the downloadable plan for returning to courage, to heart?  What is the url for "Couch Torpor to Lion-Hearted in 9 weeks?"  Or should I try to get in to see the Wizard?  Or the Whiz?

Eleanor Roosevelt is famously quoted as having admonished us to  "Do one thing every day that scares you."  Good advice, surely.  But since it is not only fear, but lack of spirit and enthusiasm that I am feeling, I will need a broader program.  Something incremental. And a little more than "just keeping putting one [listless] foot in front of the other."

I'm still in the R & D phase on this one. . . .

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