My billiards partner glanced up at me as he said this and then narrowed his eyes at the pool table as he adjusted his stance. I had suggested he take an easier and more straight shot, but he was focused on long-term strategy. He wanted to set himself up to get multiple shots in one play. This involved taking a more difficult shot first so the cue ball would end up where he wanted it. Continue reading “Playing the Long Game in Pool, Taekwondo, and in Life”→
I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions, but I am going to make this year awesome.
This year is going to be different. This year already feels different.
Maybe I have a more optimistic outlook because this year started out so much more relaxed than 2018, or what turned out to be 2016 Part 2. That and I made the conscious decision to take more responsibility for my happiness and how I respond to the often unpredictable world around me.
Around this time last year I was pulled in many directions personally and professionally. Some of that was due to expectations people had of me (it pays to be valuable, but it is time consuming), and a larger part was due to the expectations I set on myself. I HAD to say yes. I HAD to answer every request. I HAD to put 100% effort into every situation. Everyone wanted a piece of me, or so I led myself to believe. I had gone from servant leader to indentured servant.
I was frustrated, on edge, easily upset, and wanted to scream at everyone to leave me the hell alone for five seconds. And frankly it was just a crap year. I had some unexpected home and car expenses. I’ve nearly gained back all the weight I lost from Plankton the Parasite. (Okay, I’m 119 pounds right now, so I will begrudgingly admit that I needed to gain the weight back, but still, that gap in my waistbands felt soooo good….) I developed a Ganglion cyst in my right hand. A former coworker died. My building got STRUCK BY LIGHTING AND CAUGHT ON FIRE (sort of). Y’all I was even smoking cigarettes for a little while (I quit; I promise).
Last year’s blog was a big drag, now that I can review it in its entirety. Other than a post about how much I enjoyed Body Combat classes at the gym I was dropping some pretty strong hints about how unhappy I was. My biggest heartbreak was that I could no longer feel joy and satisfaction from going to taekwondo class, plus the agonizing decision I made to leave my dojang and go somewhere new. Thank you to the readers who stuck it out. This year should be more fun.
This year I’ve shied away from over-committing myself to others and promised to commit to myself 100%. I can continue to help people professionally and personally, and I enjoy doing it, and I can keep my physical, mental, emotional, and financial well-being at the top of my priority list. I have to, or it will just end up being unpleasant for everyone. I’m taking my “Give Zero F*cks By Forty” mantra seriously and resisting the urge to sweat the small stuff. I’m not scrambling to address minor hiccups at work, and I’m not overstaying my welcome with my new taekwondo family.
As I close out the month of January I noticed that just about every day, even the busy ones, I’ve come home and thought, “Wow, that was a really nice day.” January 2019 has been so much more fun and fulfilling than last year, even though January 2018 had me catering to larger obligations. I started out this month with a surprising upswing in my pool game (I took it up about a year ago), and during the final weekend of this month I got to be a scoring judge for the first time at a taekwondo tournament and saw the hilarious musical “The Book of Mormon” for a second time. The cyst in my hand rapidly shrank. Everything in between has been pretty sweet.
I’m about to enter two very busy and demanding months at work, but I’m looking forward to them rather than dreading them. I feel much more in control of my choices and my boundaries, and I’ve been able to pare down my work to things I really enjoy doing. As for taekwondo, right now I’m just in training mode. Yes, I’ve helped out at a black belt test and a tournament in the last two months, but I’m not offering my services 24/7, and right now it doesn’t feel like work. Helping other practitioners feels fun again. I’m having fun just getting to sweat and practice, and occasionally shout “good job!” to a color belt (I can’t help it), and there is no greater feeling than that.
As a society we’re collectively leaving a decade (hello, roaring 20s?), and when my birthday hits this summer, I’ll be entering a new decade of life (stay tuned for a blog post about that milestone). I can’t wait to see how this year unfolds. It’s going to be a good one.
I have a poster in my work office that reads, “A black belt is a white belt who refused to give up.” This is a popular phrase in the martial arts world, and it’s popped up a few times on my blog.
I’m kind of annoyed at myself for buying it. Every day it hangs over my head, reminding me of my power, potential, and the expectations set upon me, even on the days when I just don’t wanna.
I’ve had a lot of days lately where I “just don’t wanna.” I was pretty burned out personally and professionally at the beginning of the year. I feel like I’m finally coming out of that fog, but I’m not out entirely. All the while that stupid poster has been there, glaring down at me and reminding me that I can’t give up. I’m resentful of that. What if I do want to give up? I’m tired of having to be my own savior and champion and foundation…but here I am with my f-cking black belt.
The motto is also a reminder of my roots. As a white belt I was open-minded, eager to learn, and willing to take on challenges. You probably felt the same way as a new student or when you first started a new job. Lately as a black belt I’ve felt overwhelmed, jaded, and secretly toying with the idea of quitting. It’s helpful sometimes in class to revisit taekwondo fundamentals, skills we learned as white belts. Practicing simple blocks, strikes, and kicks has a calming effect.
In some circumstances quitting, giving up, leaving, letting go are appropriate responses if it means choosing a new and better path. There’s nothing wrong with that. “Refusing to give up” sometimes means making a change or taking a new opportunity that takes one in a different direction. I don’t want to “quit” my current situations, but I am actively seeking a change.
What gets me through taekwondo classes and the work I’m currently doing is reminding myself of why I got involved in the first place and how much I enjoy helping people. What gives me hope is that the same discipline and determination I display in the dojang can help me take control and change other situations in my life.
So I’m going to keep the poster in my office. Every day it’s a reminder of where I came from and who I can be. It’s a reminder that if I’m not happy with my current circumstances I have the power to change them. I can control my responses, just as I do in the dojang.
We were all “white belts” at some point. What makes us black belts in martial arts or in life is the desire to keep learning, improving, making changes, and designing our own destinies.
I decided to take the last week of August off from taekwondo because of a few lingering injuries that kept getting irritated and frankly, I was burned out. I had been going to taekwondo five or six days a week, attending my own classes, plus I showed up at the lower ranking classes to help teach and hang out with the instructors. It was all good fun until one day I thought, “I need a break.” I enjoyed my week off and was thoroughly looking forward to starting up classes again plus attending my gym more often and cleaning up my diet.
Instead I got a cold last week. I couldn’t go to sparring, and my balance was so off thanks to sinus pressure that I had a hard time demonstrating takedowns and jumps for students working on test preparations. Last Friday we had a color belt test instead of regular class. I got a few seconds workout sparring with a kid testing for black tip, and I took a ballet barre class on Sunday, but other than that I haven’t been able to have a hard workout in a while. I couldn’t wait to go to class on Monday.
Yesterday, the day I wanted to go back to class, my back decided to give out. No! Not another week off! Ah, the curse of the Odd Years Bulging Disc. I have “thrown my back out” every odd year since 2011. I was due this year and was hoping I could hold out until after my test, but like the rest of me, my back is a high achiever that likes to plan ahead. Hooray!
Thankfully it wasn’t nearly as bad as my past back blowouts have been, and I was even able to move around enough today to teach a five hour professional development class at work. I can do a turning back side kick with the stiffness, but the disc is still protesting a spin kick with pain…darn it, I was just getting decent at spin kicks. A visit to my trusty physical therapist should sort me out in time for my remaining classes this week.
Okay Universe, I get it. I’m done slacking off, rinsing my sinuses with a Neti pot, and pouting on my heating pad. I’m ready to come back to class (and the gym) now!
Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it! I heard that, of all places, in church many years ago. I don’t remember what else the priest said, but his wry warning stuck with me. Making a wish is also making a commitment to change. It’s planting the seed for action, which is sometimes nurtured and other times stays buried underground.
Perhaps the intention behind our wishes helps shape the results. What is behind it–frustration, anger, revenge or hopefulness, accountability, and humility? The major events and changes in my life are result of the intentions I’ve put out into the world. The Law of Attraction is real and evident in how my life’s triumphs and failures have played out. Sometimes the results I wanted were better than I could have imagined, and other times they were like the skewed ironic answers to a wish made on the cursed Monkey’s Paw.
I have wished for change in my professional life and have been answered with both stressful, unnecessary chaos and amazing opportunities. I have wished for change in my personal life and have been answered with both harmful relationships and incredible new ventures and helpful people. Either way there’s always been a pretty good life lesson involved.
Maybe my body rebelling with sickness and pain was not so much the result of an ill-intended wish but rather life’s way of showing me I’m not in control as much as I think I am. And that’s okay. I’m very organized and planful around my work and some of my personal life (i.e., controlling), and once in a while I’m reminded that I have to be ready to adapt when what I get isn’t want I originally thought I wished for. I feel even more grateful for taekwondo now that I’ve been out for two and half weeks. I can’t wait to have a hard workout, laugh with my classmates, and learn from my instructors. I feel so thankful and ready to work even harder towards second dan….I suppose that was the lesson I needed to learn this time.
A funny thing happens when I get what I want and am in a happy place in life. Having not yet mastered the practice of true detachment, any success or gain I have comes with a fear of loss. It’s a package deal. I thought I had gotten past that feeling, the one where I get what I think I want but am still unsatisfied and continue to chase that elusive momentary high. I thought I had progressed. I’ve done SO much work on myself in the past six years. As I leave my thirties I’m proud to say I’m a much different person than I was when I entered them, but it looks like I have more work to do.
I’m in a good place in life. No, scratch that, I’m in a VERY good place in life. I’ve made some gains that I would have NEVER thought would happen for me. Sometimes I can’t believe that this is all real. I had a good day today. Like, an Ice Cube song-worthy good day. I woke up feeling relaxed, ran some errands, and chilled out at home for a while. And then….there it was. BAM! Anxiety and sadness rushed in and grabbed me in a bear hug.
My mind wasn’t necessarily racing with erratic thoughts (it was still pretty focused on one or two things), but I know I was freaked out because my physical symptoms of extreme stress and anxiety manifested: my neck felt hot, I had visible tremors, my breathing was shallow, and I felt the telltale sign of when I’m really in it deep: a squeezing sensation in my chest. The telltale heart, so to speak. The pressure around my heart is a rare symptom and only happens when I’m feeling extreme stress, even if I’m denying that feeling to myself.
“I don’t want to feel this feeling again,” I said to myself as I nervously pawed through laundry. It wasn’t the anxiety that bothered me. It was the attachment that got my attention. That pesky act and thought of attachment has messed up my life in more than a few ways. It has caused me to sabotage my life with foolish actions based on foolish thoughts. Nope, I had worked too hard on myself. I was not going to let this happen again.
I tried to go about my afternoon but I burst into tears when I was chopping vegetables, and I hadn’t even tackled the onion yet. I don’t let myself cry in front of people anymore. I can talk to a trusted few people about things that are bothering me, but there are certain things that I have to work through alone. Processing it, mostly through journaling, helps me take an objective look at the situation and offers both some possible reasons and solutions. Sometimes I’m able to resolve my problem without seeking outside help. It has helped me avoid many unnecessary confessions and more importantly, unnecessary confrontations. I have a pretty good system going. It’s a lonely process, but it works.
Or maybe at least I think I have to do this alone. Maybe I’m making it too difficult for myself. I don’t want to share certain thoughts because I feel it will cloud someone’s vision of me and ultimately condemn me. I’ve been wrong on many occasions, but old habits die hard. I hate being vulnerable, and I’m afraid of being rejected and hurt. I’ve weakened my capacity to trust and have faith in either a person or a process.
So there I was, crying in my kitchen, and then…I laughed. I had caught myself red-handed. I hadn’t defeated my nemesis but I’d found that bastard hiding in the shadows.
About a year and a half ago I wrote a post called I Am My Own Nemesis. I discussed some of the ways doubt and self-sabotage can creep up on us. This line caught my eye:
“Fear:Fear of the unknown, fear of being rejected, fear of physical harm, fear of loss (money, relationships, stability, job, etc.), fear of being exposed or “found out,” which goes neatly in hand with self-doubt.” The very first post on this blog is about fear.
And that’s what I’m feeling: good old fashioned fear. Fear of rejection, fear of loss, fear of pain, fear of giving more than I’m receiving (or conversely, taking too much), fear of offering love that evaporates against a brick wall, fear of losing my material comforts, fear of once again having to trudge through all this shit alone. Ha! Here I go again…
The good thing about all the work that I’ve done on myself is that I’m self-aware enough to catch myself when this happens. I’m a big believer in the law of attraction. It has worked too many times for me in my favor not to be real, especially the seemingly serendipitous steps of my (so far) successful career. It’s also worked against me. Like attracts like, and I know damn well if I dwell in anxiety, fear of loss, and fear of rejection I’m going to attract what I dread the most. I have ruined more than a few relationships with actions based on my (sometimes) unfounded fear. And with that fear comes attachment and dependency on something or someone else to make me happy. And with all that, I make choices that cause me to feel more fear and anxiety and pain.
I only allow myself conditional happiness, and that’s the problem. I really want to be in that constant state of contentment and more importantly confidence. I’m getting there one day at a time. When I’m on the other side and have finally overpowered my ultimate nemesis I’ll let you know.
“For me, right now anyway, a relationship is like…grape soda.”
I was talking to a trusted friend and mentor a few weeks ago, and the subject of dating had come up. After a serious relationship ended last April, I spent several months doing the exact opposite of what I used to do after breakups: I wasn’t thinking about dating at all. I wasn’t wishing for it. I wasn’t interested. I was genuinely surprised when friends asked if I was dating because it was so far from my mind. My parents knew not to ask, and they were probably glad that I was taking time for myself. Even when my ex attempted to reconcile, I was tempted but ultimately declined. I was officially closed for business.
I continued my explanation to my friend:
“Grape soda is one of those things I don’t dislike, but I just don’t think about it, and I never buy it. If I see it at a potluck I think, ‘Oh look, grape soda,’ and then I forget about it and pour myself a cup of Sprite or Coke instead. Same thing at the grocery store: ‘Oh look, there’s grape soda on the shelf. You don’t see that every day. I guess some people like it,’ and I keep walking and forget about it. I don’t have negative or positive feelings towards grape soda. I just don’t care.”
That’s how I now find myself feeling towards dating and romantic love: nothing. I just don’t think about it. It’s become this fuzzy, foreign concept that doesn’t make sense to me anymore. I don’t dislike relationships, and I’m still attracted to men, but I’m not pursuing love or companionship.
After the big April breakup last year I needed to stay OUT of the dating pool for a long time because I was bitter, angry, and sad and needed time to grieve. Now that I’ve worked through those feelings (well, for the most part), in some people’s minds I should be ready for love again, but…nah. I don’t wanna. Telling me to “get back out there” is like telling me to get a puppy or go on a hot air balloon ride. It sounds nice, but….nah….not for me, thanks. I don’t hate puppies or hot air balloons or relationships; I’m just not that interested.
I’m a little dismayed at all the biased information on the internet about being single: how to cope with it, how to handle it, how to feel better about it. I’ve tried to find information about people who don’t want to date just ‘cause, but all I come up with are a bunch of sob stories from people who dramatically claim they “don’t believe in love anymore!” when they’re secretly pining for it or from people who are so burned and scarred from past experience that they are terrified of entering into another relationship again. I don’t feel angst, fear, despair, or…well…much of anything.
Being single is not a disease, and it is not a curse. It is an opportunity to discover who you are, what you want in life (and what you want in a partner), and what makes you happy. People take being single like it’s an insult or it’s something bad that has been intentionally inflicted upon them. I know that because I used to think that way. Oh, the time I wasted feeling sorry for myself! I thought all the men in the world had conspired to reject me. Boo-freaking-hoo! Now that I’ve let go of the self-loathing and resentment, I’m totally fine being alone, and in fact, nearly a year after the end of that last serious relationship, I prefer it. No dates, no texting, no set ups, no Match profile, nothing. If I sense a man is showing some interest, I run like hell. I go to work, go to taekwondo, do the things I like to do, and enjoy my life.
I am a rock. I am an island. Leave me alone.
And for the record, since I know people are going to assume this: I’m not anti-relationship. A lack of interest in something doesn’t mean I hate it. Grape soda, for example—don’t hate it, just don’t care. Same way with love. I’m not anti-marriage. I’m not anti-men. I don’t hate my ex and am not irreparably heartbroken. Maybe when I’m good and ready, I’ll welcome love back into my life, or maybe I will spend the rest of my life alone and unattached. Either way, I’m fine with whatever happens, and just being able to say that is an accomplishment I’m proud of.
Sometimes I wonder, though, if I’m deluding myself. Maybe I am so mired in loneliness and sadness that my foggy, fuzzy brain doesn’t know what’s normal anymore. When my friend of the grape soda conversation asked me to define love, I was stumped. I said I knew that I’d experienced it, but I couldn’t describe it. Months after that discussion I still don’t have an answer.
Maybe I’m in such a deep depression (or denial) that self-imposed exile has become the norm. I do get lonely, and sometimes I wish I could get dressed up and go on a nice date with a nice man. But then again, I don’t feel like something is missing from my life so much as something extraneous has simply been removed, perhaps temporarily, or perhaps permanently. It’s truly a strange sensation to feel no desire for something I’ve longed for and pursued all my adult life.
That absence of feeling puzzles me more than anything else.
Perhaps this absence of worry and longing for love is part of my larger shift toward relaxing and loosening the reins on my life a bit. Things have begun to fall in place like magic (or the law of attraction): Ever since the Christmas holidays I’ve stopped worrying about certain aspects of work, and without any doing on my part, my responsibilities were shifted away from activities I didn’t enjoy to things I find greatly fulfilling. I stopped trying to cram my free time with activities, and now the weekends feel longer and more restful. I stopped caring about having a perfect body, and now I’m a fitter and leaner version of myself than I was at an even smaller weight. I finally, finally stopped feeling angry and sad about that failed and possibly final relationship.
…Not giving a shit suits me.
Letting go of the “need” for a relationship felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. In getting over my addiction to love from another person (it was more likely a need for validation and attention rather than real love) and an anxious need to be in a relationship, I learned the power of loving and valuing myself. Sounds cheesy, but if you’ve spent most of your life hating yourself and desperately seeking the approval of others, experiencing this kind of shift is profoundly liberating.
I did feel a little down a few weeks ago when I saw Valentine cards in the grocery store and thought about how I didn’t have anyone to buy a card for…but just like whenever I saw grape soda, I kept walking and promptly forgot about it.
So, if you’re in a relationship this Valentine’s Day…good for you! I hope you have a nice day. If you’re single…good for you! I hope you have a nice day. Drink some grape soda, whatever. Either way, I hope you recognize your own value and beauty. You don’t need anyone else to tell you that it’s there.
Watch, right after I post this, some joker is going to come along, sweep me off my feet, and ruin all my single fun. *Sigh*
Happy New Year! Now is the time to kick things into gear, to start new ventures, to try new things, to add things to your to-do list, right?
…or, maybe it’s not.
Maybe now is the time to do the opposite: slow down, simplify, prioritize. I was fortunate enough to get about a week and a half off to spend the Christmas holidays with family, close friends, and of course my brother’s sweet little dog, whom I mentioned in a post last year. That gave me a lot of time to think about how I was managing my life and where it was taking me. It reminded me of the people and things that are truly important to me.
More and more I felt the pull to disconnect—physically as well as emotionally from certain aspects of my life. A few weeks earlier I was thinking about starting two different new blogs and began an intense amount of effort to learn what I could about successful blogging and starting an online business. I quickly burned out and realized that it would be better to let things happen naturally and not approach it with any desperation (my law of attraction followers will understand that). I also started thinking about getting another degree and went on a frantic search for information, but I realized that was yet another ploy to escape my current situation, which in the grand scheme of things is very pleasant…I won’t say another degree will never happen in the future, but for now, the only school I feel like going to is the dojang.
All of these distractions, wishful thinkings, desperate searches we create are attempts to “save” ourselves from our current situation, whether it’s really bad or actually quite nice. It’s easy to get sucked into a cycle of perpetual dissatisfaction: if only we had the right job/relationship/body/amount of money…THEN we’d be happy.
Happiness is right here in this moment, and I’m tired of running around like crazy searching for it. I’m staying right here for a while.
After I had this realization over the holiday break I decided to just relax and enjoy the present moment as much as I could. My personal life is pretty sweet and low-stress, so instead of searching for something new to add to it, I’m just going to enjoy and focus on what I have. I’m not feeling very ambitious right now, and I’m not seeking new opportunities or new people to come into my life…which is right about the time when those things manifest, am I right?
So rather than set a bunch of new goals or start new ventures or new work explorations I’d rather just focus on what I have now: the few relationships that are truly important to me, the few things I really love to do (taekwondo, exercise, yoga and meditation, taking care of my house, walking through my pretty neighborhood, reading and writing), the things I like about my current job. If I do get involved or excited over something, I want it to be something I TRULY care about, not just all the extra stressy gunk in life.
Maybe I’ll start a new blog, and maybe I won’t. Right now I have this blog, and that’s plenty. The mental, spiritual, and emotional journey that taekwondo has taken me on is far from over, so I’ll have plenty of material, plus something funny usually happens in class (like how a few days ago I got kicked so hard while holding a practice pad for someone else that I scooted back about ten feet and fell on the floor, my eyes wide open in surprise the whole time like Wile E. Coyote falling off a cliff.)
I’ve also wasted a lot of time on social media and the bottomless pit of web surfing, as I’m sure many other people have. I’m tired of it. I must be so introverted that even virtual interaction became overwhelming. I’ll still be connected and spend time online, but much less than I have been lately.
As for my professional life, I’ve always been much more detached than I have been with my personal life. I don’t always have a choice in what projects I’m involved in at work, but I always have control over how emotionally attached I am to them. I put in effort and do my part and sometimes do get excited or annoyed about things going on at work, but I never lose sleep over it. If I could adopt that emotionally detached mindset in other aspects of my life…well…I’d be pretty damn blissed out.
Even in taekwondo we’re slowing down and narrowing our scope. The first week or so back is always focused on basics, and it’s a good reminder for the advanced students (especially the black belts) to work on the fundamental skills and techniques that ground us in our practice. I’m learning new things, but more importantly, I’m improving what I’ve already been taught. The advanced stuff will come. It can’t be forced. Last year I set a bunch of goals that I kind of sort of met. This year I’m just setting one taekwondo goal: to perfect my spin kick. I want to make it beautiful, efficient, and powerful. (And I’m thinking about all the picky technical details, but I won’t get into that here).
I do want to improve in certain areas, but more importantly, I just want to BE. If I’ve wasted hours on the internet, then I’ve wasted nearly a lifetime ruminating over the past or fretting about the future. I’ve wasted years letting my mind run around like a headless chicken instead of just being present and taking life moment by moment. It’s time to just be quiet for a while.
Sometimes in moments of silence and stillness, the most progress can be made. Stillness can be fullness if you let it.
As we were driving around the Texas hill country during the last week of December, my mom pulled a folded and faded piece of paper out of her purse. Unbeknownst to me she’d been carrying it around with her for months. On her folded paper was a quote from my November 2014 blog post about the sixth form Palgwe Yuk Jang, reminding us to be mindful and even take advantage of the quiet moments in our life. I was so touched that my words meant that much to her. (And she’s going to kill me when she reads that I’m sharing it here, so it’s been nice knowing all of you).
Here’s the quote:
“What adds complexity to this form are the pauses, the silence, the negative space that floats in the air after a staccato palm-heel strike or a dramatic leap into that rear cross-foot stance as your yell echoes into silence. My very quotable yoga teacher asked us during class one day to be mindful of the pauses in our practice and in our life. A pause can be a moment of decision and precursor to change. Those frozen moments in time, whether it’s a second or a year, allow us to examine the facts, listen to our deeper intuition, and choose the next step, whether it is continuing on the same path or foraging a new one entirely.”
That’s what I feel drawn to right now: silence and stillness. Not forcing anything, not pushing anything, not searching in vain for something to “save” me from the present moment.
I just want to hang out and be chill for a while.
Will you join me?
…And if you STILL need some motivation to throw everything to the wind, I invite you to listen to the “F*ck That” meditation. (Not while your children or boss are around of course.)
Yep, that’s how I’m feeling right now. F*ck it all….ahhhhhh…….
“I’m sorry! I’ve lost my mojo!” I wailed as I clumped and teetered through a series of spin kicks. We had set up what I will now refer to as The Gauntlet: five or six holders stood in a line holding focus pads as each student whirled past, hitting each pad with a spin kick. I thought I was going to get off easy since it was getting late, and we had a large class. I sighed as I was asked to switch pads with another student and was glumly thankful that at least I only had to do the kick on my right side.
I can’t fully describe how awful it was. I kept falling forward, my leg either stayed in a cramped chamber position or flopped out ineffectively. My foot limply tapped the pad or missed it completely. Of course the more upset I became the worse I got. The advice my instructors shouted at me made perfect sense, but my brain and body refused to communicate. Grandmaster gave me such a disappointed and frustrated look that my heart nearly broke.
This should not still be happening. I have been doing spin kick since I was a white belt; I should have it down by now. I have no problem slinging my body upside down in a yoga pose or throwing a powerful every-other-kick-but-spin kick in taekwondo class. Why all of a sudden am I nearly immobilized when asked to do this somewhat basic kick? What the hell is going on??
“Cut yourself some slack,” said a soothing voice in my head. That’s the enlightened part of me that is the calm inside the storm. It’s been growing larger and more powerful over the years, but it has a lot of crap it has to fight through. “How many other thirty-six year old women can do what you do?” it continued. “Look at you, you’re keeping up with the kids like it’s nothing! It’s probably just PMS. That makes you bloated and dizzy. Go home, pout a little, and eat some chocolate. You’ll feel better.” (And to my guy friends who got tricked into reading this far: HA! Made ya blush!)
“Yeah, you’re thirty-six!” said another much more sarcastic voice. This was my ego, the judge who ruled my life for a very long time. I never encountered mean girls in school, but the Queen Bee is alive and well in my head. She’s gotten weaker over time, but she’s still a bitch. “Grow up and stop embarrassing yourself even more by whining and complaining! You’re such a drama queen! Shut up and quit holding up the line!”
I’ve learned that the more tightly you cling to something the faster it will crumble in your fingers, whether it’s money, a relationship, or something else that you feel must have otherwise you can’t be happy. I’ve never cared as deeply about academics or career as I do relationships or other interests, and yet those are the areas where I’ve had the stupid good fortune to succeed. I wasn’t forcing it. I let go of the outcome and let good things come to me.
I think in a similar way I might be clinging a little too tightly to taekwondo. It helped me get out of a serious pit of depression and break some damaging emotional habits, but I have to remember that I’d be OK without it too. I’ve invested so much of my heart in it though that any disappointment sends me into a panic. My instructors have been nothing but kind and infinitely patient with me. They don’t think any less of me because I didn’t do a good job tonight. The only harsh critic I have is myself. Plateaus or even the proverbial two steps back are just that: a pause in time. They eventually pass. This will too.
I do have to give myself some props though. As I drove home I thought, “Wow, even though I got upset and frustrated I didn’t start bashing myself for being ‘fat’ or ‘ugly’ or ‘worthless.’ I’m growing up after all!” I was frustrated and upset, but for once I didn’t turn the anger in on myself. You guys don’t know how much of a change that is. While I may have hit a plateau in training it seems I’ve moved up in other areas. Yay!
Leave it to my chief instructor to bring me back down to earth. At the end of class as we were all shaking hands I sighed and fretted about my poor performance. “Oh, I don’t know what to do, I seem to be getting worse and worse! I’m letting everybody down!” I moaned.
“It’s just one day,” he said, shaking a kid’s hand and giving me a pointed look. “If you are really good at everything and don’t have anything to work on then you become stale and arrogant. You need a challenge.” In that moment I really appreciated his level-headedness and emotional maturity that seemed like it belonged to a much older man. If I’d had that same confidence and big picture mindset at twenty-three that he does then…well….for starters I probably wouldn’t be falling apart over a crappy spin kick….and I probably wouldn’t have sent all those long psychotic emails to ex-boyfriends…or changed my college major five times….and….well, you get the picture.
Sometimes when things are going too well for too long my wily mind likes to try and find things to be sad about. “Hey, remember that mistake you made five years ago?” it will chirp sadistically into my ear as it slings its heavy arm around my shoulder. “Let’s dwell on THAT.” My mind is crafty. If there’s any empty space it will fill it with an image or words that tug at my sensitive heart. If I fall for its tricks the descent picks up speed:
“You haven’t thought about THIS person in a while–let’s really miss them, shall we?
Remember that time someone said something mean and you didn’t do anything back? Let’s get upset and defensive about that.
Remember that thing you did last year that at the time seemed like the right thing to do? Well I’m here to tell you that it was WRONG, and you have failed, and life will never be OK again, and you inevitably hurt someone else even though they don’t know it.
I’m going to make you backtrack and obsess until your eyes blister with tarnished memories.
Remember that thing you lost? Remember how horrible you felt about yourself for being so careless and stupid disrespectful towards the person who gave it to you? Yeah, I thought you did. Let’s beat ourselves up over THAT.
I think things are going to get worse, don’t you? You don’t? Well, they are and you’re not ready!
Hang on, let me grab the tissues and some chocolate. Stay put…oh wait you’re not going anywhere, ha ha!”
And that was how I ended up curled up on my bed crying for two straight hours Tuesday night. Dragging myself out of bed to brush my teeth before I went to sleep seemed to be the biggest effort I could muster. I woke up to a puffy moon face and my left eye nearly swollen shut, and true to my responsible keep-up-the-facade nature I went to work and acted as if nothing had happened. Someone has to pay the mortgage and put food on the table.
Lots of seekers including myself have preached about not getting too wrapped up in dwelling on the past or trying to control the future. One person who used to read my blog would probably love to use those words against me to point out what I hypocrite I’m being. Well in case you haven’t figured it out, I’m human and I’m a work in progress just like the rest of us. At least I know when I’m faltering. That’s half the battle.
The nice thing about these dark nights of the soul is that they’re guiding posts for either something deeper that is troubling me or they’re the last pit stops before major changes. Law of attraction folks might say all that crap and sadness can happen as a release of limiting beliefs or negative feelings or resistance before a shift to a higher vibration when awesome things start to manifest. I think it’s a little bit of both. If I’m having a meltdown over something rather insignificant then it usually means there’s something much more serious below the surface that’s picking up speed.
And sometimes I just want to be sad. It’s comforting. It’s easy. It keeps me company. I wrote a guest post on another blog about the allure of rock bottom. My brother said if my version of rock bottom had a low frequency fan he’d stay there all the time. Maybe I was slowly drifting towards rock bottom again. Or maybe I just needed to hole up in my cocoon for a night and have a good cry. But if I had stayed curled up in my bed through the next day and into the next night I would have begun a rapid descent into dulled senses and even foggier thinking.
No surprise, getting the crap kicked out of me was just what I needed. The next night I went to the sparring and red and black belt classes, and my mood lifted instantly. I was back among my friends in my home away from home. I smiled easily and cracked jokes in between dodging kicks and landing punches. In the later class Grandmaster had my instructor try out a kicking combination while I dodged and blocked. He pushed us to try again and again and as we either became more tired or more daring (or a little bit of both) the mini-sparring became a little more brutal each time. The harder we worked the happier I became, each blow was a mini jolt of electricity reminding me that I was very much alive and very much in the present moment.
As I was leaving I joked that I’d have to wear long sleeves the next day to cover my bruises. Secretly though I was pleased. As it has been for the last two years taekwondo was the outlet and saving grace that helped me escape that comforting but dangerous pit of sadness and isolation. Tonight once again the sadness and regret and obsession are creeping around at my feet as I sit here home alone writing this, but I’m keeping them at bay. I glance down at the small brown welts on my forearms and the purple stain on my knee, give those creepy crawlies the side-eye and say, “I’m tougher than you think.”
When something you love brings out the worst in you rather than the best it’s a good indicator to reconsider how you’re spending your time and energy. It’s also a big ole mind f*ck.
I did not go to taekwondo all week. I was utterly burned out and was beginning to dread class more than look forward to it. It broke my heart to feel that way. I was tempted to go on Monday just to get a good cardio workout, but my body and mind were begging me not to go. I did run through my forms since those are so intricate and in danger of becoming fuzzy if I allowed my memory to become too lax. I suspect part of my stress around taekwondo has stemmed from a personal situation that has caused a lot of grief and anxiety. It went off like an A-bomb and flattened everything in its path. This week has had too much caffeine, sugar, and stress, and too little sleep, wholesome foods, and laughter. I still managed to lose another pound even after a late-night decadent meal at a fancy society gala so yay for that.
It was nice to be anonymous for a week. I still went to work and wore my mask of cheerful dutiful employee, but before and after office hours I was off the grid. My social media activity was barely a whisper and I had limited contact with friends and family. The darkness of the A-bomb situation only clouds my thinking late at night or on lingering weekend mornings rather than completely engulf me. No one knew where I was or what I was doing. It was glorious.
It was relaxing to just exercise without feeling like I needed to perform for somebody. Once I got past a few days of sleep-deprivation and deep depression I got back into my Pilates routine and added some cardio and weights. I went to a Les Mills BodyCombat class one night just to keep up my taekwondo technique. Thankfully there were no ridiculous grapevine steps or clapping and instead had a lot of hooks, front snap kicks, and knee bashes. I still executed a side kick the way I was meticulously taught even though I didn’t have anyone shouting at me to lift my knee higher and turn my hip.
It reminded me of how much I hate aerobics classes, but I was pleased that my stamina was so strong that it felt like a walk in the park compared to a typical taekwondo class. I was surprised by my muscular silhouette in the mirror. I seemed so much less clumsy and blocky in a tight tank and running pants than I am (or at least my perception of what I look like) in taekwondo class. I didn’t know that’s what I looked like under my typical flowing white long sleeves and loose pants. Doboks make everyone’s butt look big, no exceptions. I was too shy to kiyahp with the hopping, grinning instructor. It seemed silly among the T-shirts and tennis shoes.
When you clean house cobwebs and dust bunnies can frustratingly drift from one corner to another rather than be transported to the trash. When you go through some major mental shifting and emotional overhauls a few things can fall through the cracks. After thirty-five years of ruling myself with an iron fist I realized that I could no longer remain sane while measuring my self-worth by my relationship status or by what I looked like. I’m exhausted. Something I loved was bringing out the worst in me rather than the best. I began to dread it rather than dream of it. It was killing me. I want to say “f*ck it all” and fade to black.
I was tired of punishing myself for not being “good enough” or worthy of being happy and satisfied. I AM enough; happiness and satisfaction comes from within. I didn’t berate myself for “failing” at a relationship and stopped looking in vain for proof of improvements in my face and body. I am deeply sad about a certain situation, but I did not fall into the typical trap of viciously blaming myself for the outcome…and I didn’t start calling myself fat either, which somehow always comes up in unrelated situations. I hadn’t realized before that not hating myself was actually an option–how refreshing! I don’t want to measure my worth by that anymore, f*ck it all. Money, relationships, and a good-looking exterior are just bonus prizes to inner peace, not that I have that right now, but I’m getting closer. Plus, ever since I’ve stopped wearing eye makeup my eyelashes are longer and thicker. Yeah! #iwokeuplikethis
Apparently though I wasn’t “enough” for myself with taekwondo. That old black magic of self-scrutiny, judgment, and criticism began to rage full-force. My enlightened, happy and satisfied inner self wasn’t strong enough to fight back. I was beginning to be embarrassed by everything I did. I started thinking about how ridiculous I probably looked, how poorly I was performing, and how full of crap I am when I moon over how much more confidence I have or how happy I am jumping around and kicking the air with children. Really?? All the self-hatred and judgement that had been washed away from other aspects of my life suddenly attacked what had previously been untouched by deep-seeded anxiety and doubt. I wonder if I began to put too much emotional weight into taekwondo, like holding up the impossibly high expectation of a love interest to magically make you happy or more money to finally solve all your problems. It doesn’t work that way. Nothing external can live up to that expectation.
The air gets thinner and the trek becomes more treacherous when you near the summit of a mountain, and the same thing is happening as I edge closer and closer to black belt. I am questioning and doubting everything and sometimes find myself silently thinking in the middle of class, “Is this it? Is this all there is to my life?” This is not the first time something I loved began to bring on more stress and frustration than joy. Jobs, relationships, interests, and passions are all in danger of crossing over that dark line, and it is devastating when it happens. It feels like a betrayal. I still haven’t gotten right with myself and taekwondo. I still think I am a liar and a fraud who doesn’t deserve to be a bo dan. One might suggest I need to let go of that anxiety and let the Universe work its magic. I’m just not there yet.
P.S. On a much happier note–THIS IS MY 100TH POST, YO!!!!!