This is a rather old fashioned word. I don’t hear it so much these days. I do hear it’s Pop culture synonyms quite often though – guts, grit, even moxie. It’s my opinion that we still need the word Fortitude to describe what enables us to endure, with moment-by-moment courage, the legacy of trauma, whether in ourselves or loved ones.
Trauma interferes with our sense of Self. In the case of children, that sense of Self is developing and childhood trauma interrupts, diverts, co-opts, that natural process. The Psyche will organize itself to protect the core identity. In some cases this involves extremes like developing multiple personalities or fleeing the home environment at a young age. However the child copes, patterns will be established that will likely be mal-adaptive in adulthood and have to be unlearned. Examples would be self-medicating, shutting down, acting out, repetitive running away, or combinations of all these.
We can be hindered in our ability to respond to life’s challenges by inertia, which is a form of the Freeze response to trauma. Where Fortitude comes in is when we want to collapse under the sheer weight of a situation but instead we go within and gather the scattered jewels of our psyche. From these jewels we take the energy to carry on, whatever that looks like in the moment. It can be as simple as washing our face and putting our shoes on. It can be doing the dishes or opening the windows. These movements pull us out of inertia into the moment. Usually we can decide on the “next right thing.”
When the shit hits the proverbial fan I need Nature. Just staring at a mountain can stimulate Fortitude. If there’s also a clear lake, that’s a bonus.
To contemplate something in Nature that is timeless can allow for the message “This Too Shall Pass” to penetrate our mind, meaning the tumultuous emotions of the day are not permanent. We can pray for the grace of Fortitude.
“Fortitude is a force that helps you endure when you can’t endure any more.”
Overcome any bitterness that may have come because you were not up to the magnitude of the pain that was entrusted to you. Like the mother of the world who carries the pain of the world in her heart, each of us is part of her heart and is, therefore, endowed with a certain measure of cosmic pain. You are sharing in the totality of that pain. You are called upon to meet it in joy instead of self-pity. The secret: offer your heart as a vehicle to transform cosmic suffering into joy.
I have many times felt I was “not up to the magnitude of the pain entrusted to me.” Often, if I thought of my ancestors and what they had to endure, I could summon the Fortitude to respond to whatever crisis was unfolding. This Sufi view of suffering takes us even beyond Fortitude to a larger vision of ourselves and our heart’s capability. It unites us with, to use a quote from Paul McCartney, “all the broken hearted people living in the world.” This can catapult us out of isolation and into the community of man – to be human is to be vulnerable. No one had a perfect past and no one manages their life completely free of the residue left by that past.
When the patterns of the past have me by the throat, it helps to remember that I’m only chasing a shadow. No matter how many angry words are exchanged, how many explanations and justifications are given, I’ll never capture, or change, the past.
Breathing, walking, swimming, cooking – there are opportunities always at hand to be in the present moment and let life unfold. Try it next time life isn’t “working.”