I Am Who You Think I Am

venetian_masks

I have one for every day of the week…

Lately I’ve gotten some positive feedback from people in different areas of my life. They see me as strong, calm, and a perfect fit for a taekwondo instructor. One of my coworkers calls me an “Activator” because I am quick to complete tasks. Another coworker asked me a lot of questions about taekwondo when she found out I practiced it, and said she saw the inner strength and peace within me befitting of a black belt. During a period of job upheaval a coaching client was adamant that I HAD to remain his coach, and he would be “devastated” if I weren’t. A mother of some of our taekwondo students told me her kids love me and appreciate the “gentleness” in my style of teaching.

I’m having a hard time believing them. No, you have to understand, I feel like I’m pulling a fast one on people. I’m not that nice. I avoid socializing. I’m sarcastic and judgmental. My first priority is looking out for Number One. What inner peace I do manage to have is often dashed by worry and doubt. Privately I struggle but I’ll be damned if I share what I’m going through with anyone. I’m lonely but I’m thrown off when people express an interest in spending time with me and actually start to get anxious about sharing my precious free time and scheduled activities with others. And…sigh…sometimes I still think I’m fat and worry I’ll be rejected because of it (as a petite size 4 who kicks ass in the gym–I know, I’m an idiot).

Why doesn’t anyone see the dark, self-serving, angry, mistrusting creature looming just beneath the surface? Can’t they tell?? I don’t think I’m completely hiding my true nature or what I believe my true nature to be. I get along with people easily and feel comfortable interacting with small or large groups so I’m pretty much being myself (well, some of the time). But something feels off when people tell me how awesome they think I am. Half the time I’m counting the minutes until I can get away from them and go hide by myself. It is more comfortable to wear a mask and hide behind my walls than to let relationships flourish. I don’t understand why they like me. I don’t see what they see. If only they knew…

I started to wonder if it wasn’t so much that people didn’t know the real me but instead, I didn’t know the real me. I am the one pulling a fast one on myself with self-deprecating lies. I only see the flaws and magnify them until they crowd out all the other good qualities. I am SO guarded against letting people get close to me that I would rather entomb myself in my own mind with all its biases, exaggerations, false assumptions, and bad habits. I’m so wrapped up in my own self-destructive BS that it’s threatening to drown out all the good qualities I DO have.

Okay. Now that I realize that…now what? Maybe it’s like winning a lottery but at first not realizing you have the money and instead you still choose to live in a cardboard box. Now that you realize you have all that money you can get yourself out of that situation. I can be friendly, funny, and engaging if I let my guard down although right now I still don’t want to. I can be strong and calm if I don’t allow worry to overtake me although right now the habit of worry is so deeply ingrained I have to put all my energy into breaking myself of it. I still kinda want to live in my cardboard box.

I guess I’m not so bad after all. In fact, I’m pretty great. Now I have all these resources to tap into—calm, creativity, connectivity, people who want to be friends and spend time with me, a body I can enjoy and appreciate rather than hate or punish….that’s pretty cool. Once I stop spending so much time ruminating on the darker parts of my personality I’ll have a lot of free time on my hands. Hmm…

So it turns out I am who you think I am…and maybe someday I’ll believe that too.

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Guest Post: How to Deal With Life’s Uncertainties Like a Black Belt

Check out my latest guest post on the martial arts travel site BookMartialArts.com:
How to Deal With Life’s Uncertainties Like a Black Belt 

This an expansion on a post I wrote several weeks ago. Life can be frustrating, scary, and stressful, but maintaining a black belt attitude (whether you’re a white belt, black belt, or not even into martial arts at all) can help you get through tough times with confidence and grace.

martial-arts-black-belt

 

Looking for a great way to lower your stress levels? Why not sign up for an affordable martial arts training camp? From Taekwondo to Krav Maga, BookMartialArts.com has camps on various types of martial arts disciplines to choose from!

Dealing With Uncertainty Like a Black Belt

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A few weeks ago in taekwondo class we were practicing a kicking drill: one person held a square pad in each hand and walked backwards while another person moved forward, kicking the pad with each step. The twist was the holder changed the target’s position every time, so the person kicking had to quickly respond with the appropriate kick: snap kick, roundhouse kick, side kick or turning back side kick, and spin kick. The purpose of the drill was to practice reacting quickly to an uncertain situation. If the target is open we should take advantage of the situation and respond with the most appropriate kick, which may not have been the one we were expecting to use.

Some students picked up on the drill quickly and others had to take a little more time for their bodies to catch up with what they were seeing. I found myself thinking too much rather than resting in that sweet spot of my brain and body acting in sync. In a sparring match and even more so in a real-life altercation we can’t necessarily tell what kind of blow is coming next. There are some tell-tale signs to the trained eye, but even then things can change at the last minute. We learn how to strike and defend, and we also learn how to fake and change direction quickly. We shouldn’t be surprised when our opponents do the same.

In life we don’t always know what’s going to happen next, where the next blow is going to come from, or where the next opportunity may pop up (i.e., that open target). In taekwondo we’re taught to always be ready and to rely on our arsenal of tools and our (eventually) well-honed instincts. It doesn’t mean we won’t get hurt. If you get in a fight you’re probably going to get hit. If someone attacks you with a knife and you fight back, you’re probably going to get cut. Hopefully, though, if you think fast and respond quickly and intelligently, the blows or cuts won’t be fatal (and the proverbial knife won’t end up in your back).

Some friends and I are dealing with an uncertain situation. The first blows have been dealt although we’re not certain how or when the next attacks are going to occur. There have been some fakes, and there have been some low blows. Like seasoned black belts, people have responded with grace, confidence, and dignity. They have found ways to take their power back. They have learned to dodge the most fatal blows and strike back when necessary. It’s easy to get bogged down with thinking of the worst possible scenario, but just as when we are in a fight, we can’t become so consumed by worry, fear, or even anger, that we are blind to the opportunities in front of us.

When I was kicking during the class drill my holder was a male bo dan close to my age. When he held up the target he would mutter the kick along with it. Even though he was verbalizing the right kick, it took a few seconds for my body to catch up with what my eyes were telling me.

“Spin kick,” he said quietly. Ugh, I hate spin kick. Okay…whap!
“Spin kick.”
“Oh come on!” I protested jokingly. “I just did that!”
“Spin kick,” he repeated with a smile. Grrrr…okay, whap!
“Spin kick.”
“But it’s my left leg! I suck on this side! Can’t you switch to the right si-”
“Spin kick.” Dang it….whap!

While the spin kicks weren’t much of a surprise after the first or second time, I was surprised by my holder sticking to his guns and pushing me to do something I didn’t want to do. My spin kicks were far from perfect, but I got the job done. I think that’s what I can do at this point in this place of uncertainty–not be totally surprised when dealt blows or even a bit of dirty fighting, but I can use my strength, cunning, confidence, and skill to fight back as best I can.

Guest Post: How Martial Arts Can Reduce Work-Related Stress

Dreading going back to the office on Monday? Counting down the minutes until Friday? Then consider taking up a martial art to help you ease work-related stress. Check out how in September’s guest post for BookMartialArts.com: How Martial Arts Can Reduce Work-Related Stress.

work-stress-man

Some knife-hand blocks would serve him well right now.

Looking for a great way to lower your stress levels? Why not sign up for an affordable martial arts training camp? From Taekwondo to Krav Maga, BookMartialArts.com has camps on various types of martial arts disciplines to choose from!

Finding Balance in a World of Extremes: 3 Tips to Help Ground You

balance

When we think about finding balance in life, the concept of work-life balance often comes to mind, but the concept of balance is applicable to every aspect of our lives. It can feel like, though, we are living in a world that forces us to choose extremes: live the fast-paced urban lifestyle or be an anti-tech hermetic living in one of those innovative and super cute micro-houses. Be a minimalist or max out your credit cards. Be obese in a fast food nation or wear size 0 yoga pants on the gluten-free train. Be a stay-at-home mom or be completely devoted to your career.

Where is the middle ground? Where is the option to dabble and enjoy while remaining grounded and centered?

I am writing this while lying in bed with my feet propped on pillows and an ice pack on my lower back because somehow inexplicably I managed to throw my back out again. The last two times I’ve done it (once when I was moving stuff into a new home and the other time at the gym) I immediately felt the deep flash of pain across my lumbar area when I did the tiniest, most (seemingly) inconsequential movement. It stopped me in my tracks.

This time I have no idea how or when the initial injury happened. My back has been irritated but manageable all week but decided this afternoon it was going on strike. It stiffened up to the point that I resigned myself to making a nest of books, snacks, and my laptop in bed. Now I have to roll around like an upended bug to even sit up. On my last round of getting the ice pack from the freezer it was easier (and faster) to crawl on my hands and knees from my kitchen back to my bedroom.

So what is my body trying to tell me? My poor back is the subject of extremes. I’m either jumping, twisting, running, and moving vigorously in both taekwondo and my physical therapy sessions or I’m sitting stock still for hours at my very nice but unfortunately very sedentary day job (or doing my writing and research activities at home). Funny, just yesterday I read an article on the blog Yoga Dork titled “Sitting is the New Smoking.” Maybe I should have taken a walk and smoked a cigarette instead of sitting for most of the day.

I “balance” the extreme activity and the extreme stillness with gentle back-friendly movement like yoga and swimming, but apparently it wasn’t enough for my lower back to say, “Enough with the Jekyll and Hyde crap, lady! I’m calling it quits!” It’s a rare occurrence for me to just take a stroll down the street. I’m always go-go-go or at a compete stop. In a way I knew this was coming, but I’m grateful it didn’t happen the week of my black belt test.

What are some things you can do to find balance in your life?
1. Cut yourself some slack. Slow down. You can’t do it all, and that’s okay. Prioritize, focus on what is really important, and be proud of your accomplishments.

2. Practice gratitude. Sometimes we can be thrown off balance by the constant pursuit of something that we believe will make us “happy”–more money, a more prestigious title, a more attractive partner, a bigger house, a smaller waist size. Instead of drooling over that BMW in the next lane, be grateful for the transportation you do have. Instead of feeling self-conscious when a gazelle in stilettos walks by, appreciate the body you do have: the healthy lungs that breathe air, the able limbs that keep you mobile and independent, the hopefully healthy back that won’t keep you stuck in your bed like I am this Saturday night. When we are constantly in pursuit of the latest and greatest thing we have no time to appreciate what we already do have. Stop. Slow down. Be grateful.

3. Be present. Oh, so bandied about as the key to everything and oh, so hard to do sometimes. But it works! For me, taekwondo keeps me very focused and present. For others it may be knitting, petting a cat, reading a book, or simply looking out the window. Whatever keeps you from ruminating on the past or worrying about the future will keep you grounded and in turn, keep you balanced.

Now what?
Thanks to my brother’s recommendation, I use the meditation website Headspace. Ironically, I’d just started a new 30-day “pack” on finding balance. Apparently my back was in on the cosmic joke. I’ll be doing my little meditation session once I upload this blog post.

Be grounded, be balanced, and be well. I’d offer a virtual hug, but I’m in too much pain right now.

Didn’t He Say “Ease Off”??

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I should have taken my yoga teacher’s advice. I’m burned out.

I really knew I was burned out when in a matter of days I suddenly felt disgusted by three things I enjoy very much: Greek yogurt, eye makeup, and taekwondo sparring.

I could barely swallow the last few bites of the yogurt I was eating for my snack yesterday. Everything about Greek yogurt made me sick–the gloppy texture filling my mouth, the icky sweetness, how I had to kind of half-chew and half-swallow at the same time because that’s how you have to eat yogurt. I was completely grossed out.

As for eye makeup–I didn’t wear any last Tuesday for personal reasons and amazingly made it through the day without hearing “You look tired.” Everything about eye makeup made me sick–the way my eyes water and burn by the end of the work day, the dry mascara flecks on my cheeks, the infuriating way it seems to take days to wash off the last vestiges of it before I have to start all over again. When the shock of seeing my two bare blue eyes squinting back at me wore off I thought I might try it again. I worked my way down from eye shadow and liquid liner to just eyeliner pencil and by the end of today I was so annoyed at how sloppy the half-melted eyeliner looked that I rubbed that off my otherwise bare lids.

Sparring was something I learned to love as an adult. Just as I challenged myself to enjoy “The Scarlet Letter” in college after hating it in high school (try reading it again; it is a delightful, twisted, voyeuristic melodrama) I decided to embrace sparring after hating and dreading it so much as a child. Sparring brings out the best and the worst in the taekwondo practitioner. It is a true test of skills and literally thinking on your feet. Everything we learn is applicable to sparring and by extension, ‘real life.” Sparring is as authentic and raw as you can get in the dojang.

Just as I seemed to get worse with my side kicks on Monday, my sparring was abysmal tonight. I just couldn’t move. I was so unmotivated. My brain understood everything I was supposed to be doing, but my body shut down. It just wouldn’t do it. Whenever I’ve learned something very physically demanding (dance, classical guitar,  &$%# spin kick) there’s always about a 6 month delay between what I’m being directed to do and what my body actually does. I was so frustrated with myself that I froze completely.

When my sparring deteriorates (it’s not great to begin with), the healthy aggression I feel towards my opponent turns inward to a more sinister, poisonous self-directed aggression. I become very frustrated with myself and spend the rest of the match just defending myself as best I can (which isn’t much) and praying for it to be over. Here’s a rough transcript of the ticker tape that started flowing across my brain: “Failure. Fraud. Liar. Why did I tell my family and friends and coworkers that I’m training for my black belt? I fight like a white belt. I’m embarrassing myself. I look so clumsy and stupid. All I’m doing is scooting around taking on kicks full-force. I keep making the same mistakes! I don’t even deserve the rank I have–why did they give it to me?? Now I’m going to look like a huge idiot who was all talk and no action. You should walk out of the class and never come back.”

Here’s what I can do well: I can kick the air, perform a memorized set of pre-determined moves, and break stuff. I can think of no better response than this:
Matt-Foley-Motivational-SpeakerThat’s like bragging about having an advanced vocabulary of Spanish words but when put to the test you can’t carry on the simplest of conversations or even halfway keep up with any telenovelas, which aren’t known for their rich and eloquent dialogue. Yeah, I really deserve a black belt. Ha.

I considered going home and skipping the second class. Why let my negativity spoil everyone else’s evening? If I couldn’t give my all could I give anything? I didn’t want to do that to my instructors or classmates. They have no idea what taekwondo and by extension they have done for me. I owe them my life. I was falling apart at the seams two years ago, and if you’ve read other blog posts (and you HAVE, RIGHT??) you know the amazing life lessons I’ve gleaned from taekwondo. It was a group effort. There is so much love and support in that dojang it seems a little ironic that we willingly (and for the most part joyfully) beat the crap out of each other on a regular basis.

On the other hand, the second class is always small. What if only one or two students decided to stay? It wasn’t fair to ditch them like that. I’m glad I stayed. I ended up having a very pleasant evening working with a new red belt on his form and one steps although I don’t think he was having as good a time as I was. Learning how to teach is a part of black belt training, so my instructor would give me some guidance and then walk away, leaving me to try it out on a live victim. I work with adult learners, so I forget that giving feedback like, “I’m not really seeing the transition between your stances” to a blinking, frowning ten-year-old doesn’t do much good.

After I got home and closed my front door I rested my head against it for a moment and sighed. While my terrible performance really did upset me I felt a nagging unease about the underlying cause. This was just a symptom. There is still a tiny burrowing part of me who is a self-loathing perfectionist who doesn’t believe I’m “worth it,” whatever that means. That was tough to swallow after all the hard work I’ve done and exponential growth I’ve experienced over the past few years.

I don’t know if I can handle going to sparring class next week. I feel like I’m getting worse and worse. I think I need to follow my own advice and listen to my body and mind’s needs. They are saying, “CHILL! REST! Listen to us or you will burn out for good! Didn’t you read your own last damn blog post??” I am so sick of my one-steps and hand-to-hand techniques. Instead of going to bed early I am spending my evening nursing surprisingly painful welts on my elbow that will likely get a few snotty side-eyes at a black tie event I’m attending next week (but I’ll look smoking in my dress so who cares). I want a quiet evening to myself again.  I had to cut a big chunk out of the ball of my foot thanks to a ripped callus that is growing deeper and bloodier. I’m sad that something I love has become more trying that it is enjoyable.

There’s hope though. Whenever I take a break from swimming I come back stronger, more vigorous, smoother, and more powerful. Maybe the same will happen with taekwondo. I’m not sure yet what I’ll do next week. Whether I show up or not my love and dedication to taekwondo remains the same. If I’m absent it doesn’t mean I’m not coming back or that I don’t care. It means I need to do right by it and by me by giving us both a rest.

Chop Wood, Carry Water (Even better if you chop with a knife-hand strike)

Axe on chopping block

Today my life changed in a significant way and leaves me to make significant choices. I have cried, fretted, raged, and analyzed more in the past two months than I have in the past year, and I am mentally exhausted. About a week ago I finally relaxed, stopped resisting, and felt amazingly light and “at rest” in my emotions. For those of you playing the Law of Attraction home game, I significantly (dare I say quantum leaped) up the emotional/vibrational ladder.
The only thing I need to do right now is stay healthy, strong, and fabulous and make it one moment at a time. A very significant person in my life shared a Zen proverb with me a few months ago:
“Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.
After enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.”

Life continues moment by moment, and if I can remind myself that I don’t have to “live” in my future (i.e., agonize over it) or ruminate over the past (i.e., you know the drill) then I can make it. That takes a load off my shoulder. Chop wood, carry water. Okay, I’ve got this.

What the old me would want to do is crumble. Old Me would want to lie motionless on my couch for three days straight and watch Netflix. Old Me would want to become addicted to my sleeping medication again and bonus points for washing it down with whiskey (Which is why I started taekwondo in the first place.)  Old Me would want to alternate between dulling my brain with gooey sweets and gleefully hearing my starving stomach rumble day after day. Old Me would want to flirt with dark thoughts that will thankfully never see the light of day.
Old Me would want to control the only things I have left. Old Me want to punish myself for my supposed mistakes.

You can guess by now that I am not Old Me anymore although once in a while she tries to stage a comeback tour. So far I’ve been screening her calls.

I know I’ll go on a clutter purge of my home and go on my summer detox diet, Christmas cocktails and a few goodies notwithstanding. I might have a few couch/Netflix hibernations, but I was no stranger to those already. Those dark thoughts will flirt with me but will dissolve just was quickly as they appeared. What was once so intimately familiar now seems so strange and foreign. I will have moments of loneliness and maybe even a little resentment of my current situation. I will most definitely want more than anything to escape the pain that may surge up unexpectedly. I’ve been given the advice to “sit with the discomfort” many times, but this will be the test to see if I can actually do it.

I will be challenged to actually be (and rest) in those seemingly mundane moments of metaphorically chopping wood and carrying water. I will be lost and then I will find myself again. Guided by the indomitable taekwondo spirit I will get up yet another time.

[Note: if I have completely gotten the meaning of the Zen quote wrong and you are just itching to point out what an idiot I am—save it. It means what it means to me and I will Kick. Your. Ass. Just save it.]

So what will I do? This situation has kept me out of the dojang more days than I have liked in the past month. This week I haven’t been able to go at all. It’s time to go home. I will return to taekwondo class and enjoy the camaraderie, the energy, the focus, and the love and support of that environment. And if I’m lucky I’ll tear my right rotator cuff so I have a matching set, hooray!

I will also to be listening to a LOT of Biggie and Dr. Dre for a while. That’s my power music!
Chop wood, carry water, b*tches!