Your Guru of Imperfection…Mind the Mess in the Ashram

Last night I dreamt about flying side kick.

The first time I attempted it I landed square on my bottom in a pile of kicking pads. I had just gotten my green belt and joined the upper ranks in my first advanced class. Frustrated and embarrassed I was ready to give up. A year later and I’m looked up to by other students. I have this blog. I have my red belt, which is further than I ever got as a child over 20 years ago on the dusty lonely plains of west Texas. I still can’t do a flying side kick.

The kick I did in my dream was no Bruce Lee miracle. I wasn’t jumping over a line of trembling white belts or breaking 6 boards in a row. It was just me in the dojang doing a drill with my classmates like we always do. In my sleep I felt the technique start to “click.” I have felt it before with lap swimming and ballet, and it can’t be forced. I’m excited to go back and try it, and even though it will probably be a little hop with my floppy foot tapping the kicking pad it’ll be better than it was a year ago.

Sometimes I’m reluctant to tell people I do taekwondo because they probably have unrealistic expectations thanks to movies. I do what I can, learn a little more each day, and try not to repeat mistakes. I might just revert to fighting dirty if I’m ever in a real altercation. I might still end up getting my ass kicked.

I wonder how I’m measuring up to other expectations of me that people have. Before you jump in and say I shouldn’t care, let’s get real. We all care to some degree. My circle is just a lot smaller than others’. I truly care about the opinion of a very select few, and it bothers me when I seem to disappoint them.

BeImperfect

Here’s a secret: I don’t always practice what I preach.
Lately I’ve been talking about inner peace, embracing the now, letting go. Apparently I am not living up to what I promote. I have been scurrying around a lot lately, mostly cleaning and getting rid of things. I can’t sit still. This has understandably caused some tension with the people close to me. I’ve been told to relax, stop moving, to let go as I’ve been suggesting in the blog. Who would have thought my readers would hold me up to my own standards? 🙂

Part of the “un-nesting” IS letting go. My methods just don’t seem to be interpreted that way, and I could probably go about it differently. Over the years without my even knowing it I’ve become very materialistic, and it’s finally hitting me. I think I did this to please toxic people who aren’t even in my life anymore. I was keeping up with the Joneses. Turns out the Joneses don’t give a sh*t about me. (honestly the feelings were mutual) I think my priorities are shifting, and it’s a really good thing, as uncomfortable as that may be. I’m starting to remember that kid who didn’t care about the societal trappings of junior high and just wanted to listen to the Beatles and draw cartoons all day.

Look, I’m still going to drool over pretty clothes in magazines and raise an approving eyebrow at a fancy car. You won’t see me giving it all away and living in a shack in the woods. But I’m not going to chase external things to make myself feel better or to impress anyone. That’s a thirst that can’t be quenched. I’m not going to keep berating myself for not looking, sounding, or being perfect. I’m probably going to revert back to old habits a few times. All part of progress.

So should you look up to me as an example if I have this unrest going on? How could I possibly be a life coach or a black belt if I’m still wrapping my mind around my own life? How could I have the right to write about inner peace and letting go if I’m still taking baby steps towards it? How can I be a black belt if I can’t do a flying side kick? Am I a hypocrite?

Hell yes you should look up to me! Hell no I’m not a hypocrite! I’m human and I’m owning up to it, including my weak floppy flying side kick. Sometimes my actions haven’t quite caught up with my intentions. That’s part of being a perfectly imperfect human. I am going on the enlightenment (or whatever) journey and digging out all those dusty, uncomfortable corners and making positive changes while others stay the same as the years rush by. I am imperfectly awesome, and you can be too!

I was told I was “stupid” for wanting to buy a house as a single woman. I was told I’d “never” get a job in a certain field because I didn’t have a bachelor’s degree in that area. I was told I’d never make a man happy. Guess what I did? (And guess which negative a$$holes aren’t in my life anymore?) I don’t need to prove that I’m perfect. I just need to prove that my intentions are pure and I’m trying my best.

Luckily the few people I have left in my life see the soul within and don’t tear me down with negativity and hate. I hope my trusted few believe in me the way I finally do after over 30 wasted years of not believing in myself. If only they could see the progress. I might still be hopping off the ground to them, but from my perspective I am flying.
I am going to keep harping about letting go, seeking inner peace, appreciating beauty in quiet unexpected places, and believing in yourself even if I suck at it. I’m going to keep doing flying side kick even though I suck at it. I’m stubborn enough to keep trying.

I will never use a flying side kick it in a real fight. I will never use it in sparring. I will never use it for breaking. I will never be as quiet and content as some lucky few are. I’m fine with that. What I will do is master it to the best of my abilities just as I am doing with this wonderful wild thing called living.

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What Matters Most

“Are we REALLY supposed to clear our minds when we do this?” asked a mouthy teenage black belt. At the beginning and end of class we bow to the flags, sit with our eyes closed and hands folded in prayer, and meditate.

“Yes, and it works,” I thought silently. I’ve mentioned before that taekwondo class is when I am most clear-headed and present-focused. Our meditation is really more ritualistic than functional, but it does the trick. It’s a quick way to leave the outside world at the dojang door and more deeply commit to learning our martial art. Just closing my eyes reminds me that the other aspects of my day have paused for this moment. I can let go and embrace my practice.

I don’t meditate outside of TKD unless you count yoga and swimming as moving meditation. Sometimes I even forget to breathe, which results in my workmates hearing a lot of sighing coming from my cubicle. Sometimes I don’t know when to stop running.
slow-down
In my last entry I talked about being stuck, and prior to that I expressed a desire to slow down the whirlwind of my life. I have the tools. Now it’s time to use them.

“THIS is the most important thing you’re doing today,” I’ll tell myself in yoga class, when what I really want to do is put a pizza in the oven and zone out to TV. I may have put in 8 hours at the office, but the care and feeding of me happens in less tangible moments…or at least not in the ones society expects me to revere.

Lately I’ve been drawn to blogs that promote a minimalist lifestyle. Some are a bit too extreme for me, but I appreciate the sentiment behind it. Less consumption = more time to devote to what really matters: learning, love, living. I started small and cleaned out my paper and digital files at work. I typically keep a fairly neat workspace, but there were plenty of things I was hanging onto “just in case.” I was so inspired that I rushed home after work yesterday, cleaned out my closet and dining room, and ended up with around 8 bags and boxes of stuff for donation and consignment. I have done major clean-out several times, and it never ceases to amaze me that I actually PAID to have people haul all this perhaps once treasured but unused stuff from my apartment to my new home.

Today I found a list of “goals” in my day planner and realized they were all big purchases:
-Hot water heater (to be fair mine is over 20 years old and a ticking time bomb)
-New lights and paint for the kitchen
-New faucets for the guest bathroom
-New chair for the library
-New coffee table (got it!)
-More modern TV stand
-Bigger TV

Other than the hot water heater, they’re all nice-to-haves. I bought my home almost three years ago, and over time it’s slowly looked less like an oversized dorm room and something that a grown-up might actually occupy. I’ve taken pride in painting, decorating, and replacing old items. But there’s only so much room in that space before it becomes a boxed-in tomb of trinkets.

I looked at the list again and wrote down what I’d REALLY like this year:
-Practice Spanish
-Practice taekwondo forms at home more often
-Quality time with my boyfriend
-More time to read
-More time for yoga
-Write on my blog and in my journal more often

I’ve caged myself into the endless yuppie cycle of acquiring, cleaning, and reorganizing–a perfect facade of a perfect life. I spend all my time managing my things and they end up managing me.

So what mattered today? It wasn’t the cute outfit I wore (although it was super cute), the money I made, or even the mini-goals I checked off my to-do list. The highlights of my day were feeling my back muscles work like strong pulleys during my early morning swim, listening to Spanish language CDs in the car, the smiles and “thank yous” from two young women who attended my morning workshop, the tango of shadows and sunlight made by the big trees along my street, taekwondo class, and a home-cooked meal.

Sit (and Spin) With the Discomfort

Last Monday I finally executed a beautiful spinning hook kick. It might not have been able to do much damage, but it was crisp, balanced, and graceful, making the “rainbow” arc with my leg that Grandmaster had asked for but usually got a falling tree stump in response. Spin kick has been the bane of my existence for a year. It holds a raw, scrubbed mirror up to the illusion I have of my athletic abilities. It contradicts everything my body has been telling me for years. How is it that in yoga I can boldly pop upside down into a standing half-moon but timidly hold my body upright (until I clumsily topple over) during that damn kick?
 
I approached the spin kick with a forgiving and positive attitude and a fresh perspective. A magical warm-up exercise from one of my instructors didn’t hurt either. I released the pressure on myself to get it right. Lo and behold it was the best I had ever done.
 
 “Your turning back kick has really improved,” one of the instructors said as I scurried back into line after a drill. I wanted to shake him and shriek, “But did you see my spin kick??” Sometimes the largest changes go unnoticed by everyone else but ourselves. Sometimes the improvements we make are shining bright to the rest of the world while we are focused internally on something else.
 
Meanwhile outside of the dojang I have awoken to find myself metamorphosized into a giant insect.
 
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Just kidding, but I haven’t quite gotten the balance right. I seem to have hit a plateau with the rest of my life. 
 
Inside there is something that is stuck like a black sticky blob of hair and accumulated cosmetic by-products in the bowels of the bathroom sink. It’s buried deep, and it refuses to disappear without being acknowledged. In my last entry I explored the idea of escewing goals (or in my case, high expectations) for enjoying the moment. Turns out that it’s REALLY hard to do. I can’t NOT have aspirations. I’m a linear forward thinker, and I get a little high off progress. My body, however, is telling me that for my mental and physical health’s sake, I need to turn down the dial.
 
My sleep problems came back. Last year I enjoyed a lovely bout of medication-induced insomnia. I kicked my dependance and eventually developed the opposite problem–falling asleep way too early, at least for having a decent social life. It had started to even out…almost. Lately I’ve become painfully sleepy right after lunch, so much so that I almost fell asleep driving home from lunch last Wednesday.  I feel like Grampa Simpson–involuntarily passing out mid-sentence. During the day or early in the evening I would be wracked with tremors, involuntarily clenching my jaw in a means to stay awake. My vision would blur to the point that I couldn’t see even while wearing my glasses. Cataplexy? Skyrocketing insulin? What’s going on?
 
Luckily I’ve been on vacation so the naps weren’t a big problem. I couldn’t get to sleep until late but woke up early so I’d pass out in the middle of the day. The naps aren’t enjoyable little snoozes. They are bullies shoving my head into a bowl of painful exhaustion, sucker-punching me into disorientation when they know full well I have stuff to do.  My uncle, an endocrinologist, suggested I may be in “sleep debt” and not even know it. And I thought the only debt I had was my mortgage.

After we returned from our vacation Sunday night I struggled to go to sleep, feeling both tired and not-tired. All the worries I didn’t know I had swirled to the surface as my brain and body fought itself. 

My spiritual life is all but non-existent. My relationship with God has faded so much that I don’t even know how to begin rebuilding it or if I even want to put forth the effort. All I could whisper was “I miss you” as the insomnia raged.
 
On top of that the ever present body-image storm cloud rumbled into sight as I hallucinated half-asleep Sunday night. I thought I had conquered this. I thought I had emotionally matured beyond the problems I had in my teens and early twenties. I thought–I really thought–that I truly viewed exercise as a pleasurable hobby that I did to be loving to myself and keep myself healthy, not a never-ending chase of the dangling carrot. Cranky and tired/not-tired I finally told myself, “I don’t give a sh*t about what I weigh anymore, I don’t give a sh*t about having a flat stomach because that will only happen with liposuction anyway–thanks, genetics–and I need a new water heater more than flat abs. I’m not going to berate myself for turning over to go back to sleep when the alarm for the gym rings early in the morning. At most I clock in at 120 pounds and I wear a size 2 for heaven’s sake.” No more Fitbit, no more logging my exercise in my calendar, no more calorie-counting apps. I’m done stressing out over my physical appearance. I’ve been doing it for the last 20 years and I’m exhausted. I’ll continue to make it to the gym and the dojang, but I’ll go because it’s fun and it’s something I genuinely enjoy doing, not as some sort of pursuit of unattainable perfection.
 
Watch me lose weight and tone up by not giving a sh*t anymore. Those law of attraction hippies are on to something.
 
Quarter Rest, Half Rest, Whole Rest
 
On the flip side I’m very chill at work, calmly completing my tasks and offering suggestions to my team on how to make our work more efficient. I enjoy my job and teammates very much, but at the end of the work day I neatly pack it up and leave it on the metaphorical shelf until the next workday. It’s my job, not my life or my master. When I let go of work stress I usually reap unexpected rewards. If only I could be that detached with other aspects of my life.
 
I pride myself on my “work-life balance,” which really means making my “life” the priority and “work” as the means to support it. But what about the “work” of managing my “life”? Housework, organizing, hobbies, relationships, health. I approach those aspects of my life with the fierce obsession of a workaholic CEO. After all, if I don’t have those ducks in a row what do I have? There are constantly places to go, things to accomplish, experiences to have. I may have rejected the rat race of work (I REFUSE to “lean in”) but I am spending all my time scurrying on the hamster wheel of my life. Maybe I need to hit a brick wall rather than a plateau.
 
The only place where those worries and self-imposed responsibilities don’t linger are in taekwondo. No amount of yoga, prayer, or mediation has ever made me feel as present and as worry-free as I do in the dojang.
 
Certain people in my life have suggested that I “sit with the discomfort,” rather than struggle against it. Perhaps that’s how I can view the plateaus (or sometimes the two steps backward) that I experience on my life wheel–taekwondo, fitness, spirituality, career, relationships. Just sit with it for a moment. A rest in music can be as profound as the most complex chord. 
I will continue with the struggle of “letting go,” but I have witnessed its power too many times to not give it another shot. Join me…or I’ll knock you out with a spin kick.

Happiness Ultimatum

“What’s your plan?” asked one of the instructors as we warmed up before class. I had just gotten my red belt so I thought he meant my training plan in preparation for the downward slope to black belt. I was about to list some of the cross training exercises I did, perhaps make a vague promise to cut back on wine, but he had a funny look on his face and narrowed his eyes. “You mean am I going to get black belt and then quit?,” I said. “No way.”

“Good answer.”

I didn’t tell him that taekwondo had given me my life, my health, and my sanity back. I didn’t tell him that quitting would veer me away from the new life I had chosen. The plan is…there is no plan. I just want to be there and I want it to be a part of my life as long as my life allows it. Yes, getting my black belt is a major goal, but it’s not the end goal. I have no end goal.

happy sign

Taekwondo seems to be the one place in my life where I haven’t set an “I’ll be happy when” ultimatum. I’ll be happy when I get a new job. I’ll be happy when I have a boyfriend. I’ll be happy when I have a flat stomach. I’ll be happy…come to think of it I’m not sure I’ve ever been truly happy. Something in me, a protection mechanism or self-loathing or a combination of the two, wouldn’t allow it. Superficially I’ve had a very good life, but a calm surface can belie a storm. Actions behind closed doors combined with lies my mind told me have driven me so deep into the pit that once in a while it still feels foreign to be out in the sunlight.

My conditional approach to romance had all but destroyed my chances of having a healthy, mature relationship. The slightest letdown would send me into a tailspin. On the flipside I tolerated abuse, neglect, and disinterest (on both sides) for much too long. I’m surprised my heart continues to beat so strongly. I’m surprised I was able to dig out of that mess and find my best friend and life partner.

I tend to go through cycles with my workplace happiness. Dissatisfaction is not necessarily a bad thing. Listening to my gut that a job change needed to happen helped me leave a comfortable but stagnant situation for much more money, freedom, and opportunities to learn and grow. I can tell when the pursuit for greener grass is getting the better of me when I begin each morning with a job search and pouting at statistics from salary.com. It’s very easy to fall into that trap and hope someone or something will come along and save me. Usually I’m just dreading an upcoming assignment–as if a new job would be any different!

Lo and behold, when I’ve stopped obsessing over a job (or a person) things fall into place. I stop relying on that thing or that person to make me happy. We are so goal-focused in our culture, and part of my job is helping others set and reach goals, but can’t we once in a while cast the goals aside and just enjoy the moment? I am still dreaming about that black belt, but I can’t beat the moments when I’m driving home from a good class, phyically exhausted but beaming. Can’t the moment itself provide happiness rather than relying on achieving the goal?

Are you relinquishing your power to be happy to someone or something else? Are we so focused on the future that we are never content in the present?

I found an interesting article about casting aside goal-setting for 100 days and just enjoying the moment, the process, the journey. I’m not ready to give up on my dreams, but I could use a break. What about you?

Red Letter Days

fire-red-sky

“I hate red,” I heard myself saying several years ago. It was a phrase I had parrotted from the adults around me. I didn’t know why I hated red; I just thought I should say it. I think I felt threatened by red, plus a little jealous. In high school I weighed 110 pounds (proud to say I’m still not much more than that) but hid my body in baggy T-shirts and unstylish jeans. I scoffed at women who got manicures and massages but never really understood the reason behind my snarkiness. In college I didn’t wear makeup and floated around in sweatshirts that could double as blankets. Deep down I was envious of the beauty and vivaciousness around me because I didn’t see it in myself. I didn’t think I was good enough. I didn’t develop a sense of style or put some effort into my looks until my late twenties. As an aging athlete with a sedentary job I now view massages as a necessity to wellness.  Somewhere along the way I stopped (other than some minor relapses) thinking I was fat, ugly, and worthless.

I’ve talked before about the Black Belt Attitude. Maybe it’s worth pausing and exploring the Red Belt Mindset.

 Red can be a scary place.  In taekwondo red means…stuff just got real. You can’t hide when you’re red. It’s time to hunker down and work hard because (1) that black belt test will be here sooner than you know it (2) people are looking up to you from all levels. It’s time to show your instructors what you’re made of and set an example for the lower belts. Red is kind of like being a junior in high school. You don’t face the pressures that the seniors (black belts) do, and you’ve moved beyond the lower awkward stages, which in my world involves being the lone adult in a class full of wobbly little kids. “You’re going to be a good black belt,” Grandmaster said when I turned in my testing form a few days before the test. Wrapped in the compliment was an expectation and serious responsibility.

Red places the spotlight squarely on me. It is bold, confident, and at times complicated. I tend to be introverted, so I’ve learned that I can let my style speak for me when I can’t articulate my words. I like the person in the mirror and I like the mind swimming within that person. These days I wear clothes that hug my hourglass figure. I wear makeup that highlights my piercing blue eyes. I carry myself with the posture of a dancer strutting like a punk. My favorite shoes are patent-leather peep-toe Dolce & Gabanna pumps in bright red. No matter what my day was like I shrug it off and walk into the dojang with a Red Belt Mindset and a smile. My roundhouse kicks are high and my poomsae (form) is graceful. My one-step sparring is precise and my board breaks are clean. Even when I stumble or look awkward I am having fun and looking forward to what’s next.  I’ve got this.

CIMG1111

A red belt also means your boyfriend buys you an ice cream cone at Dairy Queen. Score!

A year ago today I faced an exciting and unusual challenge. I tested from white to green, skipping three levels and proving that I was ready for the big kids’ arena. I had a few moments of freaking out before that test but in the end trusted my instructors and finally myself that I was ready. I was also taking a big leap in the relationship arena. My boyfriend and I had just started dating, and a few days before the green belt test we both shyly, amidst grins and giggles, said “I love you” for the first time. It was the first time in many years that I had said it and actually meant it. It had been nearly a decade that I had heard it spoken sincerely to me. In fact, the moment I knew I loved him was when he said there wasn’t a question about him going to a long boring belt test. “I’m your boyfriend,’ he said. “That’s my job.” Cue my heart exploding.

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Seeing his smiling face in the audience was even better than getting my green belt. That day we were also facing a challenge that would overshadow and shape much of our budding relationship. A year later we’re still going strong, I’m still in the dojang, and he still isn’t able to get out of sitting through a long boring test.

In a month I will be hitting a (minor) milestone birthday. It’s been on my mind for the past few months, not so much as a looming thundercloud but as a nuance, an interesting and shiny oddity. I couldn’t even contemplate this age 10 years ago, when I was a dumb kid fresh out of grad school with her first grown-up job. I had sacrificed my early twenties for a long-term relationship and was learning how to truly be alone. A year ago I was an self-medicating insomniac and resenting being truly alone. The beauty of solitude was overshadowed by the cruelty of loneliness. Even though I was well into adulthood I was still figuring out who I was and whether I could allow myself to become that person with so much potential. I was only a few years into being comfortable in my own skin. My mentor told me I was becoming more “real.” Just like I did as a younger woman I hid my pain from most of the world behind a mask of accomplishments. There was no alternative to being a productive member of society; I couldn’t just shut down, give up, and check myself into a resort somewhere although I probably needed it. If I broke down no one would be there to catch me fall. I had to continue carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders.

Taekwondo was my escape from a nightmarish false world and catapulted me back into technicolor reality. It forced me to grow up. I learned to laugh again, to trust people again, and had something to look forward to every week. Ironically the place where I learn how to brutally harm people is the place where I let go of my tension, worries, and anger. “Take out your aggression on me. Think about someone who made you mad today,” an instructor barked as I kicked the pad he was holding. I couldn’t! I had no aggression to release; my spirit was light and my heart was open. What the heck?TKD helped me take off my mask and realize that the person behind it wasn’t so bad after all.

I’m exactly where I want to be in my career, and beyond where I thought I would be in my love life. Sometimes I can’t believe this is my life.

More often than I’d like, though, I see the world in a wash of grey. I count my losses rather than my blessings. I take for granted just how freaking cool my life is. Red belt is a big deal, and once I let my perfectionist grip lessen just a bit I think I’ll recognize that.

En Garde!

“Hold back, slow down,” Grandmaster said when I threw an axe kick at a young bo dan during a sparring class a few months ago. The command to fight had barely dissipated and I thought I’d try something different–jump in aggressively and take the offense. “He’s high-ranking. You don’t know what he’s going to do. Watch him and then respond.” That bit of coaching changed my entire outlook. The kid still got in some nice hits, but I felt much more relaxed and calm during the match.

Taekwondo is not about going out and looking for a fight. In fact, sparring is the only time that is officially sanctioned for us to deliberately beat the daylights out of each other. On the street you don’t go around bragging about your black belt or goading the loud guy at the bar into fisticuffs. If you come across someone bragging about their fighting skills there’s a strong probability that they’re the biggest chicken in the room. Your confidence and calm demeanor in the face of conflict should speak for itself. If it gets physical then you have every right to defend yourself. May I suggest an elbow to the side of the head?

The same calm cool mindset should be adapted to how we handle interpersonal conflict. What usually happens, though, when the adrenaline is rushing and our higher mental functions shut down, is pure lizard brain panic.
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“My hackles are up…but in a gentle positive way,” I assured a coworker after I sent a cautiously-worded and thorough response to some changes that popped out from around a corner. (Don’t they always tend to do that?) Over the years I have learned through trial and error and a few burns and scrapes to be protective of myself, my time, my sanity, and my limits.  When a mandate is handed down from upper leadership in the office I counter with questions and logistics, albeit respectfully. In my personal life I object when I am met with disrespectful or questionable comments about my personality, looks, or way of doing things. I speak softly and infrequently, but I am a force to be reckoned with.

It hasn’t always been like that.

Sometimes I strike before the first blow has been dealt. Since childhood I was a doormat, weakly protesting ridiculing and insults with frantic tears and desperate screams long after the other person’s proverbial foot was squarely planted on my neck. I suffered through more than one verbally and emotionally abusive relationship. I let friends bully me, partially because I could do nothing more than be a docile cow, and partially because in the end I couldn’t care less about salvaging those friendships so I didn’t put forth the effort to have a crucial conversation. At work I snarked and protested behind backs but never addressed the problems face-first. When offered the chance to voice my concerns I shut down and my anger continued to simmer.  People I trusted and wanted to please punched me the hardest. I didn’t think I deserved better.

It took many years to start respecting and loving myself enough to realize that the way I was being treated wasn’t cool, and the only one who was going to save me was myself. I’m still getting my sea legs with this whole confidence thing, though. Sometimes I take feedback as a fight to be picked. Sometimes I don’t recognize that an insult or insensitive comment is about that person’s insecurity and unhappiness, not a reflection of my supposed poor performance as a human being. Sometimes I unleash a tornado when only a gentle yet firm breeze is required. Sometimes I still revert to being the trampled on, ridiculed helpless victim. It’s very difficult to unravel the deeply entrenched habit of letting my mind run wild with conflict fantasies, which is a really unpleasant and unproductive way to pass the time. Last week I was caught off-guard with some heavy-duty topics in my personal life that deserved more time than the 10 minutes I had before I had to leave for work. I had a difficult time processing them throughout the day, vascilating among bits of silent rage, wounded victimhood, and wobbly but defiant and scrappy self-assurance that I was indeed just as awesome as I’d kept telling myself I was. I couldn’t tell if it was a fatal blow being dealt or just an invitation to engage in discussion. In the past I have reacted so swiftly that the damage could not be undone. I get paid to talk with people about conflict management and still struggle with it on a personal level. Physician, heal thyself.

Am I so worried about getting hit that I snap in the winds of change?

“Relax!!” an instructor called out during a more recent sparring class. I was sparring with another instructor, a fourth degree black belt who was intent on pushing my limits but not going past the level he thought I could handle. There was nothing to worry about. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to perform well and use all the technique he had taught me or was more concerned about avoiding a nasty kick to the ribs. (I did avoid those and have the forearm bruises to prove it). It was too much for my lizard brain to handle. I must have been pretty tense for my instructor to pick up on my stressed-out body language as I look like a  marshmallow in my sparring gear. I consciously loosened my shoulders and tried to be a little more mindful during the rest of the match. While you don’t want to be slack during sparring (really folks, hold your hands up; look at what happened to Anderson Silva), it is possible to be fluid and relaxed while clocking someone. Sparring is a dance. It’s a two-sided conversation. The trick is to listen. It took concerted effort to relax, though, and made me wonder how often we’re walking through life in a metaphorical sparring stance, anticipating an attack from everyone who crosses our path.

Is the hand extended towards us balled in a fist or offering an olive branch? Are we so blinded by our assumptions and past experiences that we can’t tell the difference? Can we destroy entire relationships in the blink of an eye? Is there hope that we can rewire our brains to relax, thoughtfully assess the situation, and respond rather than react? That can make all the difference in the outcome.

Here’s a really advanced yoga posture that will not only help you relax but remain confident in the face of adversity:
Raise the left corner of your mouth.
Now raise the right corner of your mouth.
Hold and breathe.
🙂