Clare Martin reflects on the courage it takes to face the darkness within, and how the compassion we bring to our own inner lives can benefit others in unexpected ways.

The root of the word courage is ‘cor,’ the latin word for heart. This year at St Ethelburga’s we’ll be exploring the theme of courage, asking, What inspires it? How can we grow more of it? How can we work with it as a communal gift, something we safeguard together as a part of our moral commons? As we set out on this enquiry – and I look forward to sharing this journey with you – it feels important to remember the root meaning of the word. Courage, cor, heart, tenderness.

There’s a passage in Tenzin Palmo’s book The Heroic Heart, where she describes Bodh Gaya, the site of the Buddha’s enlightenment. The city around it is a chaotic metropolis, beset with poverty and violence. But when you enter the site of Bodh Gaya, enclosed by a simple stone wall, it’s completely different. ‘It is an extraordinary place that has so much peaceful energy,’ she writes, ‘because of the thoughts and aspirations of all the devoted pilgrims gathered from all over the world, praying and prostrating.’

This atmosphere comes from the inner efforts of all the people who’ve visited. It’s the accretion of all those secret acts of courage needed to face the darkness within and transmute it through compassion. This is the Buddhist path. And Palmo’s book is a practical manual for how to live this courage of the heart in your day-to-day life.

I love this vision of courage as a warriorship of the inner, a quest to uncover our tenderest compassion. As I read this passage in Palmo’s book I couldn’t help feeling that St Ethelburga’s has a trace of this special atmosphere too. Visitors often comment on it as they wander through the building. ‘It’s so peaceful here.’ I like to think that it’s the cumulative effect of all of the gentle connections forged between people, often in the teeth of conflict. I feel grateful for all the participants in our work who’ve offered up their good intentions, leaving this trace of courage in the atmosphere of the tent or the nave.

This is one vision of what courage looks like. Over the coming months we’ll be curating conversations that look at the theme from different angles, speaking to faith and community leaders from all walks of life – so do look out for these events. In the meantime please join us with Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo and Sister Lucy Kurien for the first event in this series!

Clare Martin


Clare is Co-Director of St Ethelburga’s. Previously Development Director, Clare created and led on the Radical Resilience programme and went on to be the strategic lead on our viewpoint diversity work, before stepping up to co-lead the centre alongside Tarot Couzyn. She brings more than 20 years’ experience facilitating groups for the sake of inner enquiry and outer change, and is interested in how contemplative practices can play a role in cultural repair. She has has worked on numerous interfaith projects, most notably for Nisa Nashim, the Jewish Muslim Women’s Network. Prior to this, Clare worked as a communications consultant in the corporate and charitable sector. Currently she runs a community garden on her Hackney housing estate, where she lives with her husband and 9-year old daughter. Raised a Christian, Clare has also studied Buddhism and Sufism. You can read her thoughts on the role of visionary imagination in resilience building here, and here is a short piece about contemplation as an antidote to conflict.