Things Got Weird and Then Got Better

Kitty was about to have a breakdown or a breakthrough…or both.

This morning during a meeting I revealed more of myself than I intended to, and I didn’t even say a word. We were meeting with a person in another department to discuss the sticky logistics of a shared project and were trying (without too much luck) to get some clarity on our roles and responsibilities. I won’t bore you with any more details.

I’m not the most vocal person in meetings, but I always try to contribute. This time I just shut down. I stayed silent, kept my eyes down the entire time, and refused to speak when questioned. I simply could not talk. Throughout the meeting what kept my mood lifted was reminding myself that tomorrow I will be donning a white dobok, getting my heart rate up dangerously high, and duking it out with teenage boys. I’m not sure what was more hilarious or ridiculous—me sparring or the polite argument that was occurring in the meeting.

After our guest left my coworker, a wise man with a wealth of experience, looked at me and said, “Are you OK, partner?” Luckily I have the type of relationship with my coworkers that there’s a safe space to open up, so I did. I said the politics and emotion involved in the project turned me off from the beginning, plus, there was something about our guest that (a) I didn’t quite like and (b) reminded me a great deal of myself. I said the politics and confusion around another project similarly pushed me away. I might be overly sensitive to things like that; I’m not sure. Also, and I didn’t admit this–I was totally lost. I got so lost in the rhetoric that I wanted to throw up my hands and say, “Stop going around in circles, just tell me when to show up and what to do,” but it was so far into the meeting that I didn’t want to admit they’d lost me thirty minutes ago.

Then a deeper, darker feeling of malaise washed over me. This was all pointless. Everything is pointless. Life is pointless. Wait a minute, what?? Where the heck did that come from?? All I wanted to do was have my little peanut butter snack after we got out of the conference room and now this?? What the hell is going on??? The same thing happened this past weekend when I finally had to have a come-to-Jesus meeting with myself about the way I was not taking care of myself very well and letting my health decline. I’d like to think it’s old resistance sloughing off as I progress to brighter and greater manifestations…but for now it kinda sucks.

I felt myself getting a little flustered and so I clammed up before the tears that were starting to spring to my eyes could do any damage. I am usually emotionally detached in the workplace, and it’s served me well. I exhibit a great deal of care and compassion, but there is no love. For me love and work are mutually exclusive, although I know it’s not that way for some other people, therefore, when I sense myself getting emotional about something work-related I’m frustrated. I absolutely loathe the idea of crying at work or feeling anything more moving than a sense of obligation to do what I’ve been tasked to do, no complicated questions, no arguments, no politics, no games, no anger, no emotions. My happiness isn’t hinged on work…or at least that’s what I tell myself to stay tough.

“I get the sense you saw something in her you didn’t like about yourself,” my coworker said quietly as we walked down the hall back to our desks.
“She seemed fake,” I said. This woman was very intelligent and very nice, but her mannerisms and choice of vocabulary were like a parody of business buzz speak. I added, “And I’m very fake. Everything you see is an act…and…and…[I waited for some privacy before I blurted out the next part] I hate corporate America, I really hate it and I don’t fit in…but I’m here.” I don’t lie or withhold information. I’m just a different person in the office. And it’s wearing me out.

My coworker patted my shoulder and offered to talk if I wanted to. I’m not sure I can open up again. Some feelings I didn’t know I had were stirred up, and now that they’ve surfaced I’m not sure what to do with them. I wonder if that’s been contributing to the general low mood I’ve been in for the past few weeks. I felt like Holden Caufield, that whiny little asshole who thought everything was “phony.”

Overall I’m satisfied in my job. I have a great team, great boss, fulfilling work, a decent work-life balance, and the means to support the lifestyle I want. Even though I work for a non-profit service-oriented organization I think capitalism is absolutely fan-freaking-tastic. But… I don’t “lean in,” I hate politics and power plays, and I feel like I’m putting on an act every day. On one hand what they see is not the True North I talked about in a previous post. On the other I have lived in the skin of my professional persona for so long that it does feel real to me. As for the corporate America thing, it’s all I’ve known during my professional life. The money and perks are good, I’ve learned a lot and met nice people, and although I’m very curious about what life outside the cubicle is like, I’ve gotten along OK on the inside other than eye strain and a messed up hip from sitting in front of a computer all day. If were truly living my dream I’d be a life coach and a yoga teacher. Right now I’m just too practical and comfortable. I don’t think “corporate America” was really the problem this morning, though; I was looking for a target to take the hit for my frustration and unhappiness. Maybe I’m the one who needs a life coach.

Suddenly the Tide Turned….to AWESOME!!
Back at my desk I was lost in my thoughts, my face hot from embarrassment, sadness, and confusion when another coworker snapped me out of my fog. She was a new employee and was conducting brief one-on-ones with everyone in the department to get to know them. It was time for her to meet with me. We happened to be wearing white jackets and black pants so we hit it off immediately. Texas women don’t get mad when someone is dressed alike. We’re just tickled pink to have found a “twinkie.”

I talked for a few minutes about what my team does and described our current projects…and I was already exhausted and bored with myself. There I was going again as Miss Slicked Back Serious Professional and I was tired of hearing myself talk. Thankfully my new coworker caught a glimpse of a picture of my boyfriend (“very handsome” in her words, and she’s right) and when I told her that we had martial arts in common she dropped a delightful bomb on me.

She is part owner of a team with some fairly renowned and respected fighters in the UFC. They have a gym not far from our workplace.

W.O.W. AAHHHHHH!!!!!! I nearly jumped out of my seat I was so excited.

After that the professional facade dropped and I animatedly chatted with her about taekwondo, what it’s like to own a fighting team, all the events she’s gotten to attend, how incredibly nice so many fighters are under all that muscle and grit, and who we thought got cheated in their fights. I instantly felt relaxed, happy, and I forgot why I was upset in the first place. Who knew I’d ever be this excited to talk about sports?

“I’m really a fun girl. This is just my professional persona,” she said slyly when our little informal interview ended. She straightened her lacy lapel and trotted away in her high-heeled sandals. It was like she was giving me permission to put on the act in the office. Maybe everyone else is putting on a bit of an act too. Maybe I’m putting too much pressure on myself to “keep it real.” Can we truly be ourselves in the workplace? Am I truly myself in the workplace? Do I need to be? Does it matter as long as I’m doing honest work? Do I even really care? Not really. It’s like going to another country with a working knowledge of the language. I’ll get by in Mexico with my broken Spanish, but underneath I’m thinking in English, and when I’m by myself I’ll revert back to my English-speaking American customs. I’m who I need to be to get by during the day.

“Let go, you’ve been holding it up all day,” my yoga teacher said tonight as he encouraged us to relax into foreword fold and let the weight of our heads loosen from our necks. I chuckled. I’ve been holding up a lot more than my head, and it’s a relief to let the weight go.

If you want to see the real me, go to the dojang. Come on, you knew I’d link it back to TKD at some point.


Ain’t That a Kick in the Head

ninja_kitty_kicks_dog“YES!” I cackled through my mouthguard and high-fived the fifteen-year-old boy who had just kicked me in the head. I was proud of him that he’d gotten one over on me and proud of myself that I was becoming more aggressive and adept at sparring with the guys in class. He flashed a confused braces-lined smile and we slapped our cotton-padded paws in the air. A few minutes and another blow to the head later I had a realization.

Head Shot Thought Part I – Three points!
I got hit because I crouched. For some twisted reason I thought I could duck the kick rather than standing up straight and throwing up a block. I realized that it was not only a very poor sparring tactic, but it was also reminiscent of an old habit I thought I had begun to break.

I’ve lived in fear and shame as long as I can remember. Flinching, cowering, crouching–those are all lifelong habits that have plagued me since childhood. I let so-called friends, boyfriends, loved ones and strangers bully me because I was too complacent to walk away. When I tried to fight back I was just humiliated and beaten down even further so why bother? I thought I was lower than an animal, that in some sick way I deserved the abuse, that it was the only kind of attention I could get, that I didn’t deserve any better, and when I tried to fight back I was just ridiculed, humiliated, and abused even more so why bother? Mingled with the hatred toward my abusers was the hate I felt for myself, and I have finally started to chip away at it over the past few years.

Apparently I still have a little more work and healing to do to do.

My crouch wasn’t self-defense. It was an apology for existing, it was a statement of unworthiness. The up side is, though, is that it doesn’t upset me to realize that. In fact, I’m thankful that my self-awareness has skyrocketed and I can quickly identify these pockets of pain, self-doubt, or “resistance’ as my law of attraction friends would call it. The more quickly I can find them, the more quickly I can smoke them out and cut them off at the knees. Try and keep me back, you little bastards.

Another Head Shot Thought – Three points!
The other thing the blow to the head did was wake me up. At the risk of sounding clichéd, I felt alive, even elated, something that has been elusive lately. It was a shock, like being thrown into a body of icy water…sorry, another cliché. Ever since the winter weather settled in I’ve been nipped at the ankles by boredom, restlessness, an uneasy discomfort that I can’t quite pinpoint. The depression I’ve kept on lockdown is trying to worm its way back in under the guise of winter blues and loneliness. I start questioning the point of it all, whatever that means, whether I’m at home folding laundry or at work clicking through emails. Days seem to drag by and when I finally crawl into bed I read a book as long as I can because I don’t want to be alone with the silence and my thoughts. The only time I truly feel fulfilled is in taekwondo class.

Maybe I hoped that blow to the head would give me the same “full emptiness” I felt when I had a concussion nearly a year ago after a minor car accident. I was completely aware of what was going on, but I was relaxed and laissez-faire about the details. I didn’t bother with worrying about the small stuff. There simply wasn’t space for it in my head. So far I haven’t found a way to create that feeling again. I’m too much of a straight arrow to venture beyond legal means. Meditation just seems to increase the mind chatter.

So here’s my new challenge–how do I hold onto that joy and focus that I feel in class? How can I find the same fulfillment and sense of meaningfulness in the rest of my life? How do I constantly live in what Eckhart Tolle would call a state of being “awake”?
How can I be a taekwondo person, the one who has a strong spirit and perseveres, when I’m going about my daily life? My LOA friends would say find ways to feel good now, and I know that works because I’ve done it countless times with very positive results. I know that fulfillment and happiness is already available right here in my heart. That gives me hope.

True North


Sometimes my yoga teacher will give us a topic to think about as we flow through poses and begin to quiet our bodies and minds. This past week he presented the concept of “true north”–connecting with and expressing who we really are. As I went about my week I wondered when (1) I was aligned with my true self (beyond the fear, worry, and narcissism of the ego) and (2) when and to whom I showed my true north. The concept of “true north” was brought up again in the different arenas of my life.

“If there is no authenticity…I don’t want to be there,” said a client with a wave of her hand in a meeting a few days later. A coworker and I have been working with an incredibly intelligent director who wants her team to be transparent, honest, and work together seamlessly for the common good. Much  of their challenge lies with fears they have around being open (i.e., vulnerable) and honest with each other due to cliques, fear (warranted or not) of retaliation, and just plain old human nature of mistrusting your coworkers to some degree. She does not like passive aggressive behavior, mind games, or any other actions that sway them from truth. We have slowly begun chipping away at their walls, but it’s going to take some time.

“Your body knows what it needs to do,” my instructor said yesterday. He held a special Saturday practice for me and two bo dans as we will all be testing for bo dan (me) and black belt (my classmates) in three weeks. He was giving us a little pep talk after two hours of hard work. Then he looked at me out of the corner of his eye.

“I’m worried that you’ll get to the test and think too much,” he said. And he’s right. I do think too much, which slows me down, diminishes my confidence, and can ultimately affect my performance. He didn’t come out and say, “Be yourself,” but it would have made sense if he had. My mind and body know what needs to happen. My ego is the one who needs to get out of the way.

When am I authentic? Is it at work? Is it around my family and boyfriend? Is it with my taekwondo buddies? In each setting I am a slightly different version of myself. The same underlying operating system is at play, but some of my mannerisms and patterns of speech are different. I’m not sure which one is the true me. Maybe they all are. I don’t feel like I have to “fake it” for any of those groups of people even though there’s a little more “acting” with some groups, especially in the professional arena. I just interact with them differently because our relationships are so different. What works for my coworkers isn’t the same as what works with my parents.

I don’t feel the pressure to be a certain way or adopt a certain persona. I just naturally meld into the relationship I have with them: daughter, sister, girlfriend, employee, coworker, student, classmate, and soon to be black belt and the expectations that go along with it. Each one is a “true” version of me that is consistent with their reality. Who I really am underlies each one of those relationships. Now, I am also a fairly reserved person, so there are things about I me I don’t reveal. One could argue that I am less authentic with people than others may be, but who it is truly open about every thought, feeling, and secret that they have? Name one person…I’ll wait.

What’s been more difficult to grasp throughout much of my life is that it’s OK to be my true self, to express my “True North.” For so long I hated who I was and wanted to sink into the floor with embarrassment rather than interact with anyone. I didn’t really think anyone wanted to know the real me and couldn’t understand why people tried to talk to me. Coincidentally (or not?) I began to lose my authentic self when I quit taekwondo at age 12. I began to put more and more stock into what other people thought of me. My relationships carried too much weight and too few boundaries. I sometimes wonder if I would have saved myself years of pain and humiliation if I had stayed on the black belt path. It’s a relief to know I’ve come full circle.

I’m finally starting to realize that it’s OK to be who I really am, and I can create my own truth. One of my favorite enlightenment teachers values Truth above all else. For a long time I wondered what his Truth was. Now I realize it doesn’t matter. All that matters is my Truth. All that matters to you is your Truth. The trick is to be consistent with it and let go of the fear of expressing it and bringing it to light.

South American Headache Remedy


Wednesdays are my long days and usually leave me exhausted, drenched in sweat, and mentally a little out of it by the time I get home. Seeing as it was my first week back after way too many schedule interruptions I was determined to go to class whether my body could keep up or not.

“Wow our students suck!” I joked as I walked into the dojang to find my instructor by himself, stretching on the floor. Apparently everyone in Texas is out of town for spring break, at least all of our orange and yellow belt students. The nice thing about spring break is the lighter traffic, so I had extra time to change and warm up before sparring class. As we warmed up my instructor mentioned that he was fending off a headache, and somehow we got on the topic of the power of the mind over the body such as the Silva technique and the law of attraction. Little did I know that was going to come back into play much later that night.

We ended up having a huge sparring class, mostly junior green and blue belts with a few older upper belts. One of my favorite things about big sparring classes is that the adults get to have more breaks. Wait, did I say that out loud? I mean we have more time to referee the kids. I didn’t think I would enjoy refereeing since I’m not very good at sparring, but I actually enjoy it very much. You don’t have to be a top athlete to coach a top athlete. It certainly helps, but the job of a coach is primarily to observe and provide feedback.  A side bonus is that it helps me learn and file away ideas for what I can use when I am actually sparring.

All the kids disappeared and we were down to five for red and black belt class. We had perfect partner pairs – two black belts, two bo dans, and two black tips, so we spent most of the time working on testing requirements. We all agreed to do a test prep workout on Saturday.

“You’re going to be tired on Sunday,” my instructor said.

“I need it!” I replied. “I gained three pounds during the ice storms!” He just laughed and rolled his eyes.
I finally made it home, gulped down some Gatorade and water and went to sleep.

About two hours later I woke up with a horrible headache, likely due to dehydration and/or being rattled from having the crap beaten out of me. I tried everything to make it go away—popping Tylenol, drinking water, telling myself silently that my headache was fading, being grateful for my pain-free head, doing a few gentle inversions to flush the blood. None of that provided any relief until I remembered a trick my boyfriend taught me. He is quite cosmopolitan and modern, but once in a while he brings up home remedies from his childhood in Bolivia. He swears by the headache trick—douse a bandana in rubbing alcohol, tie it tightly around your head, and let the magic happen. It took a while for it to work this time, but eventually I was fast asleep with the reading light still on, a book smashed into my pillow, and a light blue bandanna tied snugly around my head.

Dull remnants of the headache remained throughout today until I had a piece of dark chocolate after lunch. Coincidence? Hmm.

No Spring Break for You!

Maybe he’s just in savasana.

Last night was my first taekwondo class in a week, thanks to winter weather and other scheduling  conflicts. I was a little nervous about how I would hold up, but I was also excited and ready to be back into my normal training routine after too many snow days and too many snacks.

It was a small class due to spring break absences—it was just me, a male bo dan close to my age, a teenage black belt, and two little newly minted blue belts. We had our usual pre-class chats of the latest aches and pains and recommended movies to watch. For a moment as we ran around the room to warm up and my legs refused to pump any higher I longed for my electric blanket, glass of wine, and bowl of popcorn, but I soon forgot about my creature comforts as my body warmed up. To my delight I was even more flexible than ever, and we did my favorite barre exercise to finish warming up our legs.

Oddly enough, the teenage black belt’s reported ear infection suddenly (and conveniently??) took a dramatic turn for the worse just as we began some conditioning drills across the floor. Panting and gasping he flopped to the floor, collapsing whenever he tried to pull himself up into a push-up position. We showed him some sympathy but didn’t coddle him and moved right along with class as he sat down to rest. I had an ear infection and the flu when I was a few years older than him, and I still managed to drag myself to my college dance classes. Just sayin.’

I suspect his sudden delicate state was less of a truly debilitating physical condition and closer to a similar stunt I pulled when I was a child taekwondo student—Mom was driving us to class one winter night, and mysteriously my brother and I were both suddenly struck with blinding headaches and nausea from the blinking Christmas lights we saw on the houses along the way. Neither of us had any problems like that before. I wasn’t sick; I just didn’t want to go to class and that sounded like a plausible excuse! Funny, now that I have the power to choose whether to attend or not I look forward to taekwondo class all day.

Now that we were down to four my instructor decided that it was the perfect opportunity to line us up with the four kicking bags for individual practice. We instinctively lined up the bags and ourselves by height like a row of martial arts Russian nesting dolls. For the remainder of class we worked on jump side kick and jump turning back side kick. What I really enjoyed was my instructor’s encouragement to pay attention to the picky little details. It’s amazing how a tiny shift of the foot here, a tiny adjustment of distance there, and slowing down when needed can make a huge difference in the execution and effectiveness of the kick.

“It doesn’t have to be perfect. Maybe you’ll be perfect when you’re a black belt,” my instructor said jokingly. Then he raised an eyebrow and smiled at the bo dan and me on the end. “And that won’t be long for you two.” We giggled nervously and returned to our bags.

I still ended up on the couch with the electric blanket and a bowl of popcorn (no wine—just watered down Gatorade), but I felt much lighter and happier than I have in days. Sunny days are around the corner!

Brain Freeze, Spring Thaw

jabba pie

I haven’t written a post in over a week, and I’ve only had two nights of taekwondo in the past two weeks. The taekwondo absences have been due to freak Texas winter storms and a belt test I wasn’t scheduled to attend, but I’m not sure about the writer’s block. I think this dark gloomy weather starts a snowball effect, no pun intended, of lethargy and dulling of my mind. As I said in an earlier post, we may not be covered in feet of snow down here, but our roads get extremely icy and the drivers are even worse. You don’t have much motivation to go out when it’s like this. Even when it warms up and the snow is melted the rainy, gloomy skies and crisp chill in the air aren’t very inviting.

The days off work thanks to the weather have been a welcome treat, but I was a bit concerned to see how I could quickly deteriorate into the depression and loneliness that are always around the corner but usually kept at bay. Cleaning the house and doing home workouts get old after a while. It’s just too tempting to sink into the couch, watch more TV, eat more comfort foods, and drink more alcohol. If I’d had a hookah and a metal-bikini-clad captive I would have given Jabba the Hut a run for his money.

I noticed how my body had slowed due to a week or two off my normal routine when I inadvertently became a victim of “Weekend Warrior” syndrome. I had the best intentions–I wanted to kick my body back into gear to lighten my mood and get me back in shape for the dojang. I ran Friday night, went to yoga class Saturday morning, swam a mile Saturday night, and felt it all during yoga class today. My ankles are sore and tense, and my twice-injured and currently irritated left shoulder forced me out of chaturangas and into more child’s poses. I’m glad I exercised though. As much as I love it if I take a few days off suddenly the slippery slope of sedentary living becomes very steep.

As I listen to the rain outside on a dark night I am comforted with the fact that there’s sunny weather around the corner. I’m telling myself not to feel too down about the winter doldrums. I know the one or two pounds and bloat I’ve put on will melt off as soon as I’m back into my normal eating and exercise routine. Sometimes you just have to go into hibernate mode for a while. Sometimes you just need a break from everything. Sometimes you need to give yourself permission to shut down, if only for a little while. Spring is almost here, and not only is it a time for renewal, it’s a time for action. The cushion of “well, it’s just the beginning of the year, we have plenty of time” for work projects is waning. For those in school, the end of the semester and subsequent tests will be here before you know it. My black belt test isn’t until the fall, but now is the time for preparation, for strengthening my body and mind to endure what I know is coming.

Tomorrow will mark what is hopefully the first full week of taekwondo classes I’ve had in way too long. The ice has melted, the clouds are rolling away, and the seeds of success are beginning to bloom.