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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.

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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

Frightened

– “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
theawkwardyeti.com

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.

Perfect

The other day I overheard someone say, “Oh, I overlooked that. I’m a terrible person!”

I know this lovely being to have perfectionist tendencies. But what hadn’t been so starkly clear to me until I heard this language is how he conflates his value as a human being with never making mistakes. On the rare occasions he slips up, this is what he says about himself. To himself.

And to others.

Panning back I suddenly re-witnessed a lifetime of this. Me doing it to myself; others doing it to themselves; others doing it to others; others doing it to me.

Yes, doing it to. This is an attack. It’s an assault. It’s a holding of an impossible standard: perfection. And not just perfection, but perfection according to an individual: a subjective, ever-moving target, impossible to reach or sustain.

There are some who do this prevalently, but even those of us blessed with a modicum of perfectionism will sometimes perceive others’ mistakes as affronts. If someone “messes up,” according to us, they’re a terrible person. They’ve attacked us with their awfulness. When really the opposite is true. We’ve devalued them with our assessment. We’ve deemed them unworthy of living (or at least living in our presence) because of their flaws. Our fear of our own imperfection leaks, often mercilessly, onto others who probably don’t hold the same standards for themselves (or they do, but the standards are distinct from our own.)

This breaks my heart a million times over. Especially since it’s not possible to project onto others what isn’t going on a thousandfold in ourselves. “I’m a terrible person” is a chant that took root at the back of some of our skulls at a young age. Our lives became about proving this isn’t true through constant vigilance, striving, performance, judgment. Never relaxing, never settling, never feeling okay. This can be too much for a body and mind to hold. No wonder we foist some of the burden onto others.

This isn’t a universal survival pattern, but it’s pretty common—even celebrated—in our culture. Achievement, productivity, performance determines our worth. Look at cover letters. Look at commercials. Look at the damn Olympics. Mistakes don’t factor in. They’re not allowed. They’re covered up, condemned.

And yet mistakes are the only way we have of learning anything at all.

Of course there are wonderful things about perfectionism too (every pattern has a light side). Without the minds and talents of our über organized friends we wouldn’t have beautiful design, helpful systems, or vital infrastructure. We need these tendencies in the world. It’s just that harm is caused when we are unconsciously driven by them.

So what to do?

Challenging though it is to try to deprogram a lifetime of learned behavior, we can always start with compassion. Turn toward that voice that asserts that we or anyone else who is flawed is also awful. Connect to it gently. Ask it where it got these messages. Find their origin; question their truth.

We can spend time around those we judge as being chaotic or messy or not having their shit together. Connect with the joy, ease and creativity they may also bring. Notice that mistakes as we perceive them don’t actually result in death or anything close to it.

And hardest of all: we can let ourselves start to feel. Feel the pain and sadness inherent in holding ourselves and others to such impossible standards. Feel the freedom in doing something insane like not paying a bill right away, or being two minutes late, or not being the one to replace the empty toilet paper roll. Feel into what your body and heart are asking for in a given moment versus what Should Be Happening.

And for the love of god, go easy on yourself with this. Don’t apply perfectionist tendencies to the task of loosening them. Easier said than done, of course. So, get support. Don’t do this alone. (Yes, I know you’re capable of doing it alone, but that’s not the point here. Quite the opposite, in fact.)

Under behavior—any behavior—is our essence. Our true value and worth. Who we really are. A beautiful, already perfect soul comprising love and joy. There’s nothing to prove there. Nothing at all. It is she who we’re looking to connect with.

We’ll explore this and other patterns in upcoming posts, and at the Energy Basics workshop coming up next month.

Growing pains

ho·me·o·sta·sis (n) — the tendency toward a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements, especially as maintained by physiological processes.

Change is very, very difficult for humans. As biological beings, we are bound by homeostasis. If an aspect of our being goes out of whack, our system will do its best trying to bring it back into balance. To use a very simple example, if our internal temperature deviates a degree or less, we shiver or sweat. Two or three degrees, we’re sick. Three or more degrees and we’re in danger of dying. According to our most basic nature, change does not correlate to survival. Fundamentally, despite our best intentions, we avoid it.

Look at habits. Look at the excruciating headaches that ensue from giving up caffeine, the emotional turmoil of quitting smoking, or the sometimes life-threatening symptoms of alcohol or opiate withdrawal. Once our body gets used to something, reversing the process sends it into a confused and urgent attempt to find equilibrium. Very often this involves pain.

Inconveniently, by this same principle, establishing new habits is as hard as breaking old ones. Always, always our system is trying to pull us back to what we’re used to – what it perceives as “safe.”

All this is to say, of course, that it’s very possible your body or psyche might be experiencing some disturb as you take up Aikido. This is not just common, it’s inevitable. Aikido is one of the most transformational practices there is because it blatantly requires us to shed layers and layers of the armor we’ve always used to survive, of who we’ve always taken ourselves to be. This is the only way to encounter our genuine, powerful, divine, authentic selves.

Not only that, Aikido insists upon doing this at a purely physical level. Processing and theorizing don’t help much. We just have to do it. Often we can’t explain the growth that is happening—to our selves or anyone else.

Faced with this level of threat, our homeostatic lizard brain will no doubt be on alert. This shows up in lots of ways: backing away from practice being the most common one I see. Whatever reasons we have for retreating can feel very real—needs suddenly materialize in other areas of our life, demanding our time and attention at the exact times we’ve planned to be at the dojo. Our protector parts can be very clever.

Starting Aikido isn’t like quitting smoking or taking up jogging or leaving a toxic relationship or changing our diet—obviously healthy decisions that everyone can understand and get behind, that after some months of discomfort lead more or less to a permanent shift. No, this is a spiral inward, ever deeper into ourselves to uncover endless new territory. And some aspect of our system will always be fighting like hell to make sure that change doesn’t happen. Each moment of transformation comes with some psychological or emotional or physical disruption—sometimes fun and mind-blowing, other times uncomfortable and painful. It’s a commitment like no other, it grows us like nothing else, and we have to be very, very brave to take it up and keep it up. We have to be warriors.

As I write this, I’m nursing an uncommon injury resulting from one of these all-to-common transformational moments: a badly taken fall resulting from (what else?) resistance. It’s brought up an inexplicable sadness; and a mysterious fear lurks, black and smokey, at the edge of my consciousness.

I recognize this as an inner valve twisted open to release some new layer of my soul that’s ready to emerge. Of course, that hasn’t stopped my mind from doing its cursory flip through the catalogue of ways to make the pain go away: give up, retreat, find an alternative, blame, keep resisting… Fortunately I’ve been at this long enough that this list breezes through in a matter of seconds, dusted atop the solid knowing that the only thing to do is get back on the mat in a few days. Slow my movements way down. Get support in practicing, practicing, practicing this particular thing to loosen my resistance around it. Get a reality check from Sensei on the dimensions of the issue that I know I’m blind to.

Generally, it’s important to remember that if we’re uncomfortable it probably means we’re growing. Trying to fix the discomfort by going back to an old way of being is not the action of a warrior. Plus it rarely works. Instead, welcome the discomfort. Get curious about it. Lean into it, explore it. What old part of you is being challenged? How and why is it fighting? What’s getting ready to shift? (The best place to check this out, of course, is in the dojo. Sure, journal about it all you want, but make sure to get your uncomfortable self back on the mat.)

And remember that everyone who chooses the path of warriorship is going through this on some level. In any given moment someone on the mat is on the brink or in the midst of a change that homeostasis is trying to talk them out of making. The serenity you see in the faces of more advanced practitioners is from having gone through this millions of times and knowing it’s going to happen again—and thankful for it, because each instance makes us bigger, opens us further, releases us deeper. Scary and inexorable. Sublime in its mystery.

Have compassion for yourself and your companions who are making the hard decision every day to challenge the allure of homeostasis and change for the better—and make a better world for us all.

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