An interview with Brandon Nappi, by Gabriela De Golia & Siobhan Sullivan. Edited slightly for clarity.
Gabriela: Good day, everyone. Thank you for listening to the Labyrinth Podcast at Copper Beech Institute. My name is Gabriela De Golia and I am the grant writer at Copper Beech Institute. I am joined today by Brandon Nappi, our executive director. How are you doing today, Brandon?
Brandon: I’m great. Thank you, Gabriela.
Gabriela: Fantastic. Today we are going to have what is sure to be an insightful and lovely conversation surrounding courage and what it means to have a courageous heart. Brandon, I’d love for us to just jump right in and get your thoughts on what you think it means to have a courageous heart.
Brandon: Thank you. I think sometimes we discover what we need through the lack of meeting that need. And what I mean by that is, I think many of us have a sense that we’re moving through life at a pace that’s unsustainable, that we are primarily defining ourselves by our accomplishments, by the amount of tasks that we can manage and cross off our lists. I think the result of that has been a feeling for many of us — I know for myself at one point in my life — that I was not living in accord with my purpose, that I was out of touch with the deepest desires to be of service and to be connected to others. And so the result for many of us is a kind of lack of authenticity, the sense that we’re not fully expressing our heart’s desire.
Realizing this in myself in one point in my life and recognizing that in others caused me to reflect deeply on what does it means to live with authenticity, to live guided by your deepest desire to connect with others, guided by the deepest longing to be of service and to be wholehearted. And that led me to reflect on what it means to live with wholeheartedness and with a courageous heart. I‘ve come to understand this means living with an awareness of this deep reservoir of presence, of courage that is always available to us no matter what’s unfolding. So the heart in many wisdom traditions is the central aspect of who we are and it’s the point at which we’re connected to one another and to our higher purpose. So to live with heart really means to live in alignment with your deepest purpose. And more and more I’m discovering that people are ready and willing to do whatever they need to do to live from that place.
Gabriela: That’s beautiful. In the relatively near future, you will actually be offering a retreat called the Courageous Heart. I’d love to hear the story of how that retreat came about and why you’ve decided to start hosting it. It sounds like you’ve already started to answer that question to some extent, but I’d love for you to dive in a bit more deeply.
Brandon: The program is really the fruit of many, many conversations that I’ve been having over the last couple of years with folks. I’ve heard persistently this deep desire of people to shed the armor, the kind of protective veneer that they’ve created around themselves around their hearts, to live with vulnerability, to take some chances and risks so they might experiment and play with what life might look like if they were living more aligned with life’s purpose. This has come up when we’ve been working in nonprofit organizations, with mental health professionals as folks ask hard questions around how they manage stress, how they sometimes have internalized toxic stress, and how folks are more and more willing to care for themselves.
So this retreat on cultivating a courageous heart in some ways is simply a way of caring for ourselves deeply. It is often not our first inclination. We often find it much easier to care for others, to manage other people, which is a beautiful desire on the one hand but can really lead to a sense of fatigue and burnout. And if we look also at the shadow side of insistently and constantly caring for others, some of us may notice that behind it is the shadow need to be in control and to manage everything. This in and of itself isn’t necessarily bad but ultimately doesn’t, in the long run, bring us the kind of connection and peace and ease we’re searching for if it’s our only mode of operating in the world. I’ve also seen the need for this conversation come up in the corporate world. We do a lot of work with executives in the workplace and this theme of self care is persistently arising there as well.
I often like to create programs based on conversations around real heartfelt needs. And this need to care for the heart and to practice in such a way that we access this well of courage seemed really important at this moment in time.
Gabriela: Thank you for sharing that. Something that I’d love to hear more about with regards to the way in which you help people explore this idea of courageous heart is the role that poetry seems to play in it for you. In the upcoming retreat you’ll be hosting, there will be elements of poetry. I’d love to understand why? What does poetry bring out in people that encourages this cultivation of a courageous heart?
Brandon: Thank you. You know, I see in my own teaching a deep desire to ask questions of people because often wisdom is really planted within all of us. I think that’s the case all the time. We often have the answers that we’re looking for and yet it may simply need some encouragement to trust that we already have the answers we’re seeking. So sometimes when I teach, I use questions and I’m exploring the wisdom that’s already available. And at other times I like to use poetry as a way at getting at some of the wisdom that perhaps is hiding in our midst but we’re simply not yet aware of yet. And there’s something powerful about poetry to cut through our typical reliance on intellectualization and logic and rationality. It’s not that that’s an unhelpful way of navigating through the world, but sometimes we over-invest in logic and reason and we like formulas and plans and think if “I just figure out the right road map or come up with the right formula to move through the situation, then I will handle it well.” It’s not that that’s untrue, it’s just that there’s also a kind of companion intuition wisdom that arises from the heart space that poetry can help us to access.
Sometimes, upon reading a poem, I’ll see in a group this light bulb go off over someone’s head. And so poetry can really help to unlock wisdom. Sometimes in my teaching I’ll ask a question and other times there’s an invitation that only comes through poetry which seems to have this graceful, gentle ability to sneak by the gatekeeper that is our logic and our head, sneak up on the heart and then unlock the wisdom that’s there.
Gabriela: I love this imagery that you’re using about the wisdom that’s already within each person and that through teaching surrounding the courageous heart or any teaching that you offer you’re not necessarily giving them anything that they don’t already have. You’re just helping them see what is already within them. Would you say that’s an accurate description?
Brandon: I would say that that’s true. I would say that the role of the teacher is to hold up a kind of mirror and support the kind of curiosity for each seeker to really look in the mirror and welcome whatever they discover. Sometimes that’s wisdom and it’s incredibly liberating to discover that, and sometimes it’s our habits and our patterns that are not serving us. Sometimes it’s things we’re ashamed of. The work of life is really to see yourself as clearly as possible. So that’s right, the teacher is not providing answers. I always encourage folks to run away from the teacher who feels like they have you all figured out and knows what answer to hand you, because it’s their answer.
And yet there’s a paradox here right because we all need teachers. Teachers have functioned as these powerful guides for us and catalysts. A beautiful, wise teacher can see something in you that you can’t even recognize in yourself. So on the one hand, all the answers are within you and you don’t need any teacher. On the other hand, you need a teacher to help you see that in the long run you don’t need a teacher. So the teacher plays a really important role and my own teachers have inspired me in a very powerful way.
I hope that when folks come to a retreat that I’m running, or facilitating really, they’ll feel really empowered to dig down deep inside of them and wrestle with everything that’s there, things that are unresolved, things that are really clear. The fuel for all of our retreats is just simply curiosity. It’s the willingness to be really interested in whatever it is that’s unfolding in the moment and often this means being comfortable with not knowing and not understanding what it is that’s present for us in the moment. And of course, that’s the special sauce — that magic of curiosity, of just being with not knowing seems to unlock, in my life anyway, the wisdom of my heart.
Gabriela: Thank you for sharing that, Brandon. If there is one thing you hope people take away from this conversation surrounding courage and developing a courageous heart, what would that be?
Brandon: It’s this deep trust that we have what we need to meet this moment, as hard as this is. It’s this trust that curiosity, which sometimes feels like nothing and so small compared to the size of our challenges, that that kind of curiosity could be the most powerful key that we have to unlock the latent power of the heart.
Gabriela: Thank you, that’s beautiful. Before we close, I’d love it if you could offer some information about the Courageous Heart retreat and how people can learn more about it, potentially register if they feel called to do so. How can they do that?
Brandon: Sure, folks can register for the retreat at copperbeechinstitute.org/upcoming-programs/courageous-heart. I hope they’ll courageously join this circle of people who are asking the deep questions of life and will emerge, I suspect, with more questions than answers, but hopefully also feeling deeply supported and cared for as we join together with other people to seek and learn more about each other and ourselves.
Gabriela: Awesome. Thank you so much, Brandon, for the conversation. It’s been a pleasure.
Brandon: Thank you, Gabriela.