navigating the beautiful and baffling art of aikido (and other writings)

Always something

I’ll tell you right now, friends, it’s always going to be something. Something that scares you, confuses you, confounds you, discourages you. Rolls, tests, freestyles, ikyos, high falls. Relationships, rules, expectations, misunderstandings. Kicks, weapons, nankayos, bows. Working with a particular partner. Avoiding injury and sometimes not. Something is always going to challenge you. Welcome to the mat: the microcosm of life.

We come to Aikido not to get good at Aikido. That’s a side effect. This practice is about learning. Learning, learning, all of it is learning. Opening up, letting go, working at the edge of our comfort zone. Being annoyed. Being frustrated. Wanting to quit. Being tortured by the inner critic. Breaking through. Encountering the divine. Forgetting again. Becoming better human beings for all of this. For how else will we learn to stay calm, centered and grounded in the midst of challenge without our practice being challenging?

Our first taste of this, usually, is finding that things don’t make sense in the way we’re used to them making sense. This is the first stop, as it were: where some people decide this isn’t for them because they can’t explain it. This isn’t a linear practice (neither is life, and that’s the whole point here). It’s not something you can categorize or even define, not really.

Aikido is all about spirals. For me, the spiral has always symbolized expansion through upswings and downswings.

There are plenty of upswings. There’s the community for one. You’re not imagining it if you feel loved by strangers when you step on the mat. We love you, have your back, cheer you in your learning. You won’t be coddled, but you’ll be supported.

This, too: for every moment of frustration there will be a moment of joy – not in tandem, not in a way you can track. But I’ve felt free as many times as I’ve felt confused. I have giggled way more than I have cried. Whatever has me bunched up — even my thoughts about practice itself — is loosened and dissolved by the end of class. Every time. I can’t give you a bullet-pointed list as to why this happens. But I can tell you unequivocally that it does.

Still, it’s always going to be something. Belt tests are not the only tests in Aikido. Every moment is a test of your mindfulness, your courage, your humility, your commitment, your groundedness, your delight. We’re practicing to get bigger than life so that we’re no longer subject to its arbitrary currents. We’re setting down roots like a sturdy piece of seaweed in the bottom of the ocean, dancing with life and remaining grounded and gleeful. We must be uprooted, unnerved, tested again and again to make sure we’re holding firm to ourselves and awake to the joyful flow.

Your job is to show up for those tests. No matter how terrifying or splendid or unfair or liberating or confounding. You can analyze it all you want but you’re not doing the work unless you’re on the mat. In practice you can’t be in your head. You’re in a paradox (hurry and slow down; be mindful and don’t think; be fierce and be gentle; push yourself and take care of yourself), and if you overthink it, you’ve lost it.

Here’s what to do instead: come to class. Show up, no matter how confused or hesitant or resistant or low-energy or distracted or busy or unworthy you’re feeling. Spare yourself the need to figure anything out; just do as sensei says. Luxuriate in the fact that the container is being held for you. Leave your ego at the door. Be willing to appear foolish. Bow deeply in honor of this art, this lineage, this dojo, and most of all, your brave self who has chosen this path. Know that it’s always going be something. Show up anyway. Be surprised.

Featured post

Death and right action

Beings come into the world and they leave it. They do so on their own terms—or would, if we let them. But … usually we don’t. We are constantly interrupting the natural rhythms of life with our own thoughts about how things should go. With our fear of loss and of mystery. With our attachment to being able to see and understand what’s happening. With terror of heartbreak.

My dog is dead and I am in the middle of that heartbreak. I was prepared for her to die but not for her to be gone. Her absence is excruciating. This is the pain that we do our best to avoid and I can understand it in this moment. This is why the medical profession is devoted to keeping beings alive—to put off, for as long as possible, having to feel this.

That’s why we, our dog’s humans, attempted to divert the direction in which her life was clearly headed. Well-intended, loving and right-seeming as it was at the time, I will regret this forever. I’ll regret the vet visits, the two days in the hospital, all of the torment that trying to ‘help her feel better’ put her through. I regret every morsel of food I offered her after she clearly told us she was done with it, that she was done with her body. I regret not being kinder to her while she was in my life, the moments I chose my own comfort or convenience over her joy. Or when I chose what was “best” over her requests for something quite different. Most of all I regret pretending I didn’t hear those requests.

But I heard them. I heard this one in particular: “I am dying; just don’t leave me.” But we did. I did. Rather than keeping her in close and familiar surroundings, letting her sickness unfold and helping her leave when it was time, we subjected her to fear and stress because we wanted to ‘help her feel better.’ What we were really up to was delaying the pain we’re feeling now: the pain we were always going to feel. She did ultimately come home and die peacefully here, but it was not the lead-up to her death that she’d asked for—that she’d asked me for because she knew I could hear her. It was the opposite.

There actually is a natural order, a very clear direction in which life flows. It is apparent if we attune to it. Easier said than done, of course. For one thing, it’s so damn subtle, and it really requires that we turn the volume of our conscious mind way down and raise the antennae of our body awareness and emotional intelligence if we’re going to hear anything at all. Plus it’s not always blissful. Colluding with the flow of Life means opening ourselves to shocking loss, severe pain, blinding disorientation, discomfort, inconvenience.

The thing is, though, that it can actually lessen suffering when we cease our attempts to dam all that flows naturally.

This is aikido, of course: cultivating our ability to feel / hear / see how life wants to express itself in any given moment and, at super-advanced levels, acting in accordance with it. That last part is precisely what I didn’t do. The excruciating truth of this points to the next phase of my practice: closing the gap between perception and action. Integrating what I know to be true with doing the right thing in response. I’ll come to peace about all of this, one day, hopefully, through practicing that, getting better at that, on the mat and off. I’m headed back to class today, for the first time after she died, to begin my practice again with this intention, this commitment.

Actually, though, none of this is all that super advanced. Yes, aikido teaches our bodies to attune to the universe at the cellular level. But we can all, always, be up to this. We can listen for what our critters, plants, friends, elders, children are asking of us. Asking ourselves if we really do ‘know better.’ It’s not so complex. Usually all that’s being requested is kindness. I bet we can all hear it more clearly than we think or admit. The world is in the state it’s in because we’ve been trained to override this simple truth to avoid inevitable pain, inevitable endings.

This is my biggest regret, and biggest learning. The painful moments teach us the most, after all. It’s just that much more torturous to realize our mistakes when we’re out of time to put things right. When it’s literally life and death. No matter what reasonable, comforting things anyone says, I know that I not only betrayed that wonderful little being, but I disregarded and disrespected Life. And not for the first time – more like the millionth – but certainly the most immediate and significant. A tiny lead weight of this knowing is attached by a string to each shard of my shattered heart. They’ll stay weighted thusly until this all moves through, until I find some peace around it. If I do.

I am grateful to my dog for being my teacher in one of the most agonizing lessons I’ll ever learn. I know she forgives me and that I will eventually forgive myself. This raw wound will turn into a scar that will always hurt to the touch, reminding me to act from knowing, from truth, and from love.

I love you Paloma, and I’m sorry.

I thought I was better than this


Commitments are always tested. Have you found that? Stuff we promise to ourselves and to other people—resolutions, relationships, recovery, things that don’t start with “r”—are constantly challenged, called into question. When they are, we’re often faced with a choice: abandon ship, stagnate, start all over… or step in and get better.

A commitment to practicing aikido is a commitment to that last one—getting better. It’s a path of impeccability. (Thankfully I noticed this when I was too far along the path to turn back. I don’t know that I would have been brave enough to say ‘yes’ to this kind of thing sight unseen.) If you’ve been practicing for any length of time, this might be becoming clear. Whatever your highest calling is, however your body and psyche need to expand in capacity and strength: that’s the path you’re on, and that’s what’s going to get tested. Year upon year, layer upon layer, it’s an overt, nonstop challenge to get better. At the deepest, most authentic, most profound levels of mind and soul and body.

Shutting down and melting down

My core challenge has always been—will always be—conflict. My particular nature/nurture cocktail dictates that being in the presence of a fight—not even in one, just near one—feels like the threat of death. My patterned response to this has been to shut down while it’s happening and melt down later.

This isn’t why I chose to start aikido, but you better believe it’s been getting worked on subtle and overt levels all the time, on the mat and off. Without being fully conscious of it, when I began my practice I committed to developing my ability to stay upright and mobile in the face of conflict.

The test

The other night I found myself in the literal middle of an argument: two people I love and respect, seated on either side of me at a dinner table in a nice restaurant, began a heated debate. My body went into its automatic response: I drilled my energy down into the ground, got very still, stopped breathing, and willed it all to end.

Ironically, we’d just been talking during appetizers about the various ways my aikido practice has helped me become more powerful. And now, moments after speaking about this, this claim was being tested. I recognized it as such, and watched in despair as my body went into freeze. Why wasn’t I speaking up, stopping this, doing something to make the situation different? Why wasn’t I being more powerful?

I was disappointed and distraught, to say the least. I thought I was better than this.

But then …

But then, fascinatingly, during the car ride home—the window of time generally reserved for post-freeze meltdown—I noticed that I …. I wasn’t melting down. Quite the opposite actually. I was pissed off. I was furious. Fuming. Mind you this wasn’t the most rational response to the scenario—the argument had been a perfectly reasonable and necessary one. It shook things up and opened eyes. Still, I was mad. Mad at the debaters for having such strong opinions that they had to air at the potential expense of a nice evening. Mad at myself for always seeing the truth on all sides and not having stronger views of my own. Even madder at myself for not having done anything to calm this down—especially since I’d been sitting right between them. And so forth. I was furious for a million reasons.

The point, though, isn’t what I was angry at, but that I was angry: a far more powerful response than the weeping, resigned pile of goo that would have been me in a past scenario. The anger empowered me to do things: follow up later with the folks involved, air my feelings, put the parts of it to bed that I could. Step into what I needed to learn from it. Resolve it in myself, rather than let bitterness and resentment stew in my cells for goodness knows how long. Anger can show us the truth, you see. It spurs action. It may not be the most enlightened reaction, but for many it is an unquestionable step on the path toward true equanimity.

I was better than this, I came to see. I did do something different when faced with the choice, it just didn’t play out as I expected. It wasn’t on me to change the reality of the situation—conflict is a very necessary reality of life (another huge lesson I’m learning over and over)—but to respond to it in a way that was more grounded, empowered, and fluid. That happened. It was subtle, but it happened.

We don’t have to think about it

And the part I celebrate most is that it was automatic. Over time, our aikido training rewires our nervous system to instinctively respond to situations with power and equanimity. That’s the piece of my training that kicked in in this scenario. It didn’t change how I thought I should have behaved in the moment. Rather, it roused me to action that would prevent the moment from becoming a lasting bit of trauma.

So many subtleties and complexities to all of this, but one big reminder here is this: something is happening, even if you don’t think it is. On the mat and off, in moments that feel like failures, like backslides, like stagnation, deep in your cells a warrior is developing. You don’t have to be running into burning buildings or leading charges, fending off half a dozen ukes with ease or even doing a perfect technique. You’re on the path of impeccability, shedding layers and layers of dry old skin, being perpetually tested, and finding out again and again that you are, indeed, better than you’ve ever been.

Attending to our practices as the world breaks around us

Even as a devoted practitioner and advocate of ongoing self-development, I’ve had moments in recent months when I’ve second guessed the point of it all. With so much of the world in dire emergency, it’s to the point that I’m literally forgetting to check in with friends in the path of fires or with family members in destroyed cities because I’m too preoccupied with concern about a close friend at a violent protest or my sister having to evacuate her neighborhood.

Between trying to figure out where to send emergency relief funds, scanning the news daily to make sure nobody I love is in jeopardy (and being heartbroken for the millions who are), trying to gently educate relatives about the unconscious beliefs that are harming our world, putting attention on my and others’ self-development seems … extravagant. Questions of who I am and what my life is for are eclipsed by the urgent call from a world in crisis.

How our practices can shore us up

On a particularly tough day recently, smoke thick in the air from the fires burning a few dozen miles from my home, I began an evening of aikido—my central physical and spiritual practice. It was through an eerie indoor haze that I watched sensei take his place at the front of the room. We began as always, sitting seiza, taking a few moments to gather ourselves. Sirens shrieked outside—not fire-related, and not especially uncommon in our corner of the world. Still, it added to the air of something-not-quite-right-out-there as we bowed in.

In all the thousands of times I’ve commenced practice this way, it’s never felt holier to me. I sensed our group’s collective steadiness and inner quiet as the world was literally burning around us. The goodwill that we summon and send outward with every movement felt more significant; our connection to one another and the wider web far more precious and necessary.

Building capacity

This underscored a feeling I’ve consistently had in quieter moments: the element of my life that needs me most, that feels most necessary and right, is attending to my physical and spiritual practices. None more than they have given me the capacity to be where I’m needed. And what is needed, I’m finding—as many are—has to do with attending to those around us in more loving ways. Recognizing each other as human, listening to each other’s stories, and sharing what resources we can—both tangible and intangible.

In terms of my own development, my practices have given me a physical sense of my own core, my own strength, and my own ability. Giving to others from this place feels less like an exchange of limited resources, and more like a decision that comes from a place of autonomy, abundance, and connectedness. I can offer kindness and help in ways that don’t deplete me or call for something in exchange. This feels extremely useful, to say the least, at this moment in history. Almost like it’s all been leading to this …

It’s a process that will never be complete and is rife with backslides and frustration, but it is happening. It’s an often unconscious yet undeniable unfolding.

What is yours to uncover?

Naturally the direction of everyone’s development is unique. Maybe our times call you out beyond the realms of simple, local acts. Maybe you are driven to activism, warriorship, craftsmanship, heroism, education, divinity. Whatever it looks like, there is something that each of our lives is constantly building towards, and layers we can continually shed to get closer to whoever and whatever that is.

Now is definitely not the time to abandon what keeps us most centered. We actually have to keep turning back to ourselves, keep digging up what is cluttering our souls in a devotional pursuit of the place most steady and true.

We are all required to be uncomfortable

“Things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered. we must hold each other tight & continue to pull back the veil.”
— Adrienne Maree Brown

Uncovered, yes. All of it at once, it seems, and undeniably. Racism. Sexism. Abuse. Privilege. Unjust war. Injustice, period. Environmental destruction. The myriad wrongs baked into our human existence, that have been driving us for centuries in misguided directions. Nobody can look away from how we’ve been hurting each other and killing the world.

Behind the veil, also, is astounding kindness. And incredible, blinding fear.

Fast and furious the revelations come, at disturbing, sometimes triggering speeds. Calling into question what we’ve built our lives on. Yanking some out of complicity, out of sleep. Making others defensive and scared, having them burrow down into beliefs and hide behind catch phrases and false idols. Causing still others to be relieved and/or pissed that others are only just seeing what they themselves have known all along.

We’re bumpedy-bump-bump bumping through a kind of cosmic turbulence into new, uncharted territory, being forced to reckon with all we’re leaving behind. No problem can be overcome unless it’s examined. Here we are now, in the great examination. The great facing of consequence.

We are all required to be uncomfortable.

And we are all doing what we will with that discomfort: deny, wake up, be inspired, get impatient, get enraged. Be open and humble, admit to what we’ve done wrong, to how scared we are. Or double down on irrelevant narratives that reassure us that we needn’t change even as our world inevitably speeds toward newness. Or hover, frozen, unsure yet of what to do.

Likely different combination of these for everyone.

Hold tight to each other, yes, but not to what no longer serves.

To be a better ally

For my friends who hear the word “autistic” and cower in terror, who are committed to finding cures and advocating prevention (or who perhaps aren’t so invested but still assume that to be the only obvious route) …

I am writing this because I found myself in two situations this week where someone who thought they were being helpful or encouraging said terrible things about autistic folks. In both instances I froze, unable to articulate the truth of what I know—or at the very least defend my autistic friends who have been marginalized and abused for their whole lives. Thankfully in both cases there were friends nearby who jumped in with words of truth. That won’t always be the case though. I need to get better at this.

I am writing this, in part, to equip myself with a few words to say out loud when I’m blindsided by someone else’s powerful fear. I usually write more clearly than I speak, so my hope is that the former might give legs to the latter.

I am writing this not to shame, but to inform. We don’t know what we don’t know—and there is so much on this topic that most of the world is still simply blind to. So. I’m offering what I know. Which isn’t a great deal, and is relatively newly acquired. But. Here is a start.

Autism is not a disease. It is not life-threatening; rather, it is a particular way of moving through life. It’s a genetic variation, same as that which determines our ethnicity or sexual orientation. Nothing causes autism—not vaccinations, not lead poisoning, not anything done in pregnancy. It is not a disease—nor is it even a disorder. The reason it’s been labeled and treated as such is because our world isn’t set up to accept, accommodate or even recognize the differences embodied and displayed by someone with an autistic brain.

If you find speaking difficult, if eye contact is overwhelmingly intense, if you have a hard time coping with the various sensory assaults of our world, if you need more time or a different medium to express what’s in your heart, if moving around in certain ways in helps you feel safe and comfortable, others might become uneasy and start looking for a way to make it stop. Rather than face their own discomfort, they label you sick so that there’s something to fight, to cure, to prevent. To fix.

For this reason, autism (and other neurological variations like bipolar, ADHD, etc.) ends up being categorized as a disorder, a disease. Something that is wrong. (Even the term ‘autism’ infers a condition. People are autistic; they don’t have autism.) Our culture is all about fitting in, succeeding, getting ahead: ‘values’ we have always held in vastly higher regard than seeing and accepting one another for who we are. The labels we apply and ‘cures’ we seek for these folks ask them to contort into shapes that are painful and unnatural so that they appear more in line with the prevailing way of being—meanwhile abandoning everything that feels safe and natural to them. ‘Treatments’ like this are actually abuse, actually torture. And they’ve been going on for years. Still are.

Terms like ‘spectrum’ and ‘aspergers / aspie’ emerged as ways to sidestep the culturally terrifying label of full-on autistic. Failing that, sometimes the label is tempered with the qualifier ‘high functioning.’ Friends: to call an autistic person high functioning is a profound insult (akin to, say, a white person calling a black person ‘articulate’). Whoever you’re saying this about probably looks and talks and acts more or less the way you do and may appear to have less difficulty navigating the world as it is [unfairly] set up. Labels like this dismiss the person’s inner world and experience. They invalidate differences that are no less real because they’re less evident. Most of the autistic folks I know prefer to be referred to as autistic. We’re doing them no favors by inventing terms that make us feel better.

It’s taken me a long time to understand all of this and I know I’m only at the tip of the iceberg. It is a vast conversation with subtleties and sub-topics I haven’t touched on. It’s an entire paradigm shift, in fact, and the vast majority of the world hasn’t yet shifted—or even recognized the need to. My intention here is to lay out the broad strokes to help me (and others) simply begin the conversation—which, I have disturbingly and undeniably realized, I still have very little idea how to do.

Nor am I equipped to speak to every nuance or question on this topic. Luckily there are experts. One of them is my dear friend and teacher Nick Walker, who opened my eyes to all of this to begin with. His website Neurocosmopolitanism is a treasure trove of beautifully written material by an autistic person, plus links to trusted resources for still more.

Apart from this, most of my own education has come from spending time with my autistic friends and their allies, learning from them, and working through my own confusion, misinformation, and fear (after acknowledging it in the first place). It’s not easy to wake up from what we’ve been taught our whole lives, but it is necessary for our evolution, both individual and collective. Like any endemic area of social blindness where we’re called to wake up to our own privilege, we need to stay curious rather than get defensive.

Again, this isn’t meant as an argument so much as an outlay of basic information. Originally I’d asked that only my autistic and neurodivergent friends and their allies respond and let me know if any piece of this is obtuse or off the mark. It’s since been thumbsed-up by enough people I respect in that community that I invite questions from anyone wanting to join me in being a better ally.

Because I was scared (8/19/17)

I killed a spider
Not a murderous brown recluse
Nor even a black widow
And if the truth were told this
Was only a small
Sort of papery spider
Who should have run
When I picked up the book
But she didn’t
And she scared me
And I smashed her

I don’t think
I’m allowed

To kill something

Because I am


– “Allowables” by Nikki Giovanni

Every bad thing I’ve ever done my in life I did because I was scared. Everything I regret was born of fear. Fear of death, rejection, ridicule. Fear of humiliation. Fear of retribution, fear of getting hurt. Fear of awkwardness or boredom or discomfort.

Unconscious dread coiled deep in my core, built up over lifetimes. Current terrors burning lightly on the surface like a sheen of lighter fluid.

Everyone I’ve betrayed, every feeling I’ve disregarded, every morsel of kindness withheld. Every time I’ve gossiped, every time I’ve lied. Every act of selfishness, mindlessness, cruelty. Every measure of harm to myself or others. Every question not asked, every assumption made. Every judgment cast. Every rejection of intuition, every lapse in integrity (there have been so many). Every act of violence. Every act of hate.

Every act of violence. Every act of hate.

Because I was scared. I am scared.

I’m forgiving nobody in our moment in history, making excuses for no one—least of all myself. I’m just pointing out that we’re all scared. We’re all so damn scared. Imagine if we could accept and admit that. Look into each other’s eyes and souls and mutually acknowledge our wounds and our terror, and that all we’ve done and continue to do are warped attempts to feel safe. We act  in ways we’ve learned, that help us make sense of the chaos and the dread.

I’m not calling for peace—too late, too ancient, too moot. Fear began when humans began; it’s nothing we can untangle in a moment, a day, a lifetime, a millennium. Kindness must be radicalized now, the volume on courage and sanity turned way way up. Anger—worlds different from hate—expressed and heard. That’s what is happening during this sea change and that’s side I’m on. No way am I neutral on this.

At the same time, though, I pray to stay connected in every moment to the okayness of the greater surround (not this earth, this earth is mortally wounded, our fear has done this. Forgive us, Mother), but the infinite intelligence of All That Is. Aligning with that knowing, that all is well, that all is love, and that there actually is no need to be afraid. There never was.

“Hey – don’t worry, don’t be afraid – EVER – because… this is just a ride.” —Bill Hicks

I endeavor to recognize the fear behind the hate in everyone who hates, and in every shameful act of my own. Try, try to ask questions instead of making judgments. Keep unearthing layers of my own fear: its roots, its origins, the age I was or lifetime I was in when it formed. Nurture that little being, acknowledge her feelings and her fear. Shake and cry with her. Love her into maturity. Forgive.

Try to see past the defenses and glimpse the terrified, vulnerable kid in whoever I look at, no matter how odious. Tall order. It’s scary. I try.

And I’ll join the mobs of good, brave, scared people marching out to stop ignorance from spreading. The immune system of our shared humanity rushing to the wound. Triage, stabilize, and maybe one of these generations we’ll be well enough to begin healing for real.

Self Doubt

From The Awkward Yeti

Proof of progress

Behold, my 6th kyu (orange belt / first adult rank) test in 2011. 

Most white belt students in my dojo these days have more grace in one pinky finger than I had in my whole being. Our dojo has evolved! (For one thing, if you are a current Shusekai student, this serves as a wonderful instructional video on how and when not to bow.)

Flash forward to my nidan (2nd degree black belt) test in February 2017. This test is about 10x longer than the first one, so here are a few excerpts. If you watch closely you might notice one or two improvements…

This one does play correctly despite the rotated still.

Hang in there, it begins eventually … 

So, dear friends, whenever you find yourself in doubt that consistent training leads anywhere, I hope you will return here and be reassured.

Where’s your spine?

Where’s your spine? You’re spineless. Have some backbone. Phrases like these tend to be uttered by the mean and misguided to point out another’s fear or hesitancy. Horrible, hurtful … and, it turns out, inaccurate.

Of course, as with most concepts in our language that have become warped and contorted, it has some basis in the truth. Our spine is indeed the source of our strength, our courage, our autonomy, our attunement, and lots else.

Our spine, called the backbone because the vertebrae can be felt and sometimes seen through the skin on our back, actually runs right through the center of our torso. It’s a kind of tent pole, if you will, that holds our bodies up. It’s the core of our energetic field. Keeping our attention on our spine keeps us attuned to ourselves, our truth, our needs, our edges, our experience.

Some of us do this naturally. Many do not (*raises hand*). Instead, we reference the world outside of ourselves. (By “reference” I mean put our attention on; make central; use to determine how, where and who we are in a given moment.)

This particular pattern of attention references anything but self. It instead goes through life asking, usually unconsciously, “what is the situation here and how can I blend into it so I’ll be accepted? What is this person up to, and how can I give them more of what they want, or be like them, so that they’ll love me?” Someone who does this pattern can be charming, nurturing, generous. Emotional. Loving. They can also be overly social, scattered or chatty, seeking feedback through protracted eye contact or touch, and not especially adept on third plane without others doing things for them.

Having never gotten enough—food, nurturance, attention—as a little one, we are always reaching for more love. More approval. We’ll contort ourselves however we can to get it. We’ll abandon self—not by leaving our bodies, but by liquefying our field to merge with others’. (Which, if the other person isn’t accustomed to behaving the same way, they might feel invaded or ‘slimed.’)

The physical phenomenon beneath this pattern of attention is that we’re not aware of our own core. We’re so accustomed to referencing others that we forget (or actually, never knew) the same resources are available within, and that we are capable of holding ourselves up. We’re looking everywhere but at our own center, our own spine—hence, spineless. But not cowardly. How can someone unaware of their own capability willingly reject it? Would you do this on purpose? Of course not. As with all survival strategies, we can’t know what we never learned. Can’t do what we were never shown.

The great news about any habit that has its roots in our physicality is that we can address it there. We don’t have to spend years analyzing it or unearthing its initial causes. (I mean, sure, we can do that for kicks, too, if we want. It’s just that emotional wounding—any wounding—results in a warped energy field. I’ve come to appreciate the simplicity of going directly there.)

There are lots of other ways to take this up. Any martial art, where you’ve got to know where you are before you have any hope of interacting successfully with another, is a failsafe way to build core. (I didn’t realize this was what I was doing when I started Aikido, but I know that it’s helped me reference core to the point that my mergey tendencies are almost undetectable now.) Same is true of partner dancing. Pilates is the most obvious one as it goes right there: its stated purpose is core strength. There are also balancing exercises and meditations where we visualize our core going through our body and extending into the earth and up into the heavens.

With our attention on our spine more consistently through one of these practices, we can then start to notice where our edges are, when we might be invading someone else with our needs—and when that is happening to us.

We can help our friends who do this pattern too. Rather than engage their need for feedback (or in addition to it), we can put our attention on their alignment, their capability. Their spine, really. Pay as much attention to their courage and autonomy as to their great hugs and delicious brownies.

This is a small piece of a huge topic: a lifetime of behavior built on a strategy used to survive as a baby. We’ll explore it and others in Intro to Energy Basics.

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