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Confessions

Of an Extremist

An Ode to Internal Self Defense (ISD)

The world is not safe.

Convoluted with

magic bubbles of control

we falsely create.

Until POP!

Your wife cheats on you.

You lose your job.

You can’t get out of bed anymore.

Your car crashes.

Your body breaks down.

You are trapped in addictions and see no way out.

Your illusory grip gives way

to glass shattered chaos,

And so you scramble

to build it back up,

one brick at a time

boxes of perfectly packaged security,

desperately trying to absolve your human nature,

with sugar plum dreams of immortality.

The news flashes

a world full of violence.

But it can’t happen to you.

Until it does,

enter your sphere,

piercing through privilege and naive hopes

of happily ever after.

We train to protect.

Ourselves,

our loved ones,

with guns, knives, and 401Ks.

With insurance and righteous responsibility,

we pour all our resources into a solid future

but at the end of the day we still cry.

We say don’t do this, don’t go there, or you will be cut off

from the pack

of wolves

that only eat your raging soul

named Freedom.

We fight like hell to fortify our certainty

pretending

“my shit is together”

secretly haunted with endless “I don’t knows.”

We shoot fear into our veins,

our children veins,

trickling down to the bones of our children’s children.

We want to survive,

outlive our numbered days,

Human. Valiant. Primal.

But what happens when the fear becomes the predator?

The psychopath trespassing

day and night,

cutting us off

from living moments we so earnestly defend?

We pour poison down our throats to forget the daily daggers of “what ifs.”

We feed the hungry ghosts inside with

Pie. Crack. Shoes. Houses. Sex. Worthiness.

Perfectly drawn lines in the sand of who we are.

Every excuse.

“Not me.  Certainly, I am innocent!”

Raining red,

hard stones, exploding ancient lava

A volcanic eruption,

stoic strength spilling out,

Breaking spirits of those who dare get close,

unafraid of the fire because they secretly love the burn.

Who is defending us from ourselves?

Where are the guns, knives, fists, chokes, laws, that will save me from me?

The one predator that

I

can

never escape?

No one is coming to save me.

And I have desperately been waiting for a hero,

as I impatiently spin my webs

that wrap me tight in cocoons of my own suffering.

It feels like death in here.

Like the spider must be close to sucking my life blood

and I should just give up,

But I say no.

Fuck that Shit.

I will become the one I have always been waiting for.

It is imperative,

we train as warriors of internal self defense.

No longer employing external eyes to see,

we have the power to create a kinder container.

saying YES to the uncharted path,

one delicate choice at a time,

we have the resilience to unravel ourselves

out of the most intricate suffocation.

We can break out,

with Patience. Persistence. Tender Courage.

Bathed in love.

We ask for help.

We accept support.

We listen to the intimate voices rooting for our liberation,

and we keep moving.

Crawling until we can walk.

Even if daylight seems impossible,

we can feel it in the darkest night

because they go together.

In a sky without stars,

we know in our bones

clouds and cities always give way to a blanket of light.

One simple breath after the other,

we pause.

In the distance we can hear birds singing,

coming closer,

until we look up,

and see a sky full of wonder.

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A Love Note to Fear

Hello old friend.

I think it’s time I come clean with you.

This relationship isn’t working for me.

 

No matter how goddamn hard I try to break up with you.

You wont leave me alone.

A relentless suitor, with hungry eyes for the wildest one.

You love to stalk me in the night and in the daytime too.

I was searching for a hero and there you were.

A knight in shining terror that not even the toughest armor could fend off.

They tried.

Oh, they all tried to save me from you

and I think we all believed they could.

But here I am.

Alone again

You and me.

And so let’s get something straight.

I’m tired of fighting you.

Trying to prove how strong and full of courage I am.

Because we both know

I’ll always believe I can kick your ass.

This trash talking harlot.

Luring you in with her “I wish a mother fucker would” bedroom eyes.

You look back at me

Haunting smile

You see through the ferocity to my shaky bones and pat me on the head.

Stay home sweetie.

The world is too dangerous for you to be in.

I don’t believe you!

I scream.

I yell.

I act out.

But the tantrums only spin circles

Until we’re both dizzy and nauseous with regret.

So what if I stopped trying to get rid of you?

What If we tried to make this work?

You and me?

My limbic lover,

that wards off all predators real or imagined.

Thank you for keeping me so safe,

but that’s not a safety I’m interested in anymore.

.

My fragile heart has been tested with glass shattered.

I have always risen.

I honor what you have tried to do for me

but, I need to set some boundaries.

I can feel your wisdom in my bones.

A beautiful destruction with timeless power to create.

I bow to you for whispering your ways, chills down my spine.

Intimate.

Ancient.

Mysterious.

But I no longer can be seduced by your siren call to stay home and bake bread.

I need my freedom back.

My fist are down,

legs cut off

and I am listening.

But I need you to listen too.

I will let you speak and then still bike down the steepest mountain

with messy hair and cackle like freedom

I will give you a wink and still spin under the stars

with my hands up in wonder.

I will feel your intensity in the ordinary moments

and instead of running faster.

I’ll have a cup of tea.

And we both laugh at that one, knowing

my restless raging spirit never slows down

But I’ll choose to forgive.

And so there is hope laced with gratitude of another day.

I thank you, my Fear.

Without your guidance

I would never know what it’s like to rise from the burning ashes

The fire I thought would surely destroy me

and all those brave enough to love us.

But we are still here.

I am still here.

Raw. Shaky. Tender. Ready.

A force that can never be tamed again.

My name is Pheonix, you may have heard of me.

Calling on Kali, Mary, Durga, Eve,

all the rebel warriors who wouldn’t be held down.

A cloud of witnesses, who hate chains as much as I do.

This has been a good talk.

I think we are clear.

You can stay, but you can’t control me.

I’m sure we will have to have this conversation again,

but for now.

I will get off my knees.

Give you a hug.

Turn around.

Open the door.

And with weepy, tired eyes, go light shit up.

Learning to Live with Fear: Lessons from Death, Yoga and Martial Arts

I have hated fear most my life. Since I haven’t been able to get rid of it, I learned to be intimate instead.

I remember writing a poem when I was in second grade about the monsters in my closet.  They would lurk in the middle of the night.  I would wake, feel the soulful terror, and with barefoot little feet, run across the house to my parents bed.  I sprinted that “wee hour sojourn” for many years, until I got kicked out and had to face the closet monsters alone.

I didn’t know what I was so afraid of, but the fear felt real and anciently terrifying.

Monsters in the closet were not the only phenomena that rattled my bones with fear, so did people.

Oh she’s just “shy” some would say.  I was not shy, I was frozen.  I would sit in my cold, plastic, elementary seat with all the alphabet people wrapped around the ceiling.  Mrs. Arnold, would ask the class, “How do you spell gift?”

“G-I-F-T,”  I repeated in my head. I always knew the answers, but fear kept me from speaking.  I would watch the “normal” children play from the sidelines at recess, wanting so badly to run, wrestle, bump up against other bodies, laugh, get dirty, but I sat like a statue on the sidewalk, wishing I could be back at my desk so I didn’t stick out.

Lunch time was the worst, sitting with my lunchbox, looking straight ahead or down so no one would see me. Not eating crunchy food because it was too loud and may draw the attention of others. I wanted to be invisible. I had imaginary friends. I felt existentially alone and learned to live with that feeling.

My greatest joy was before school, after school, on the weekends, running barefoot through the thick grass in my South Texas backyard. Jumping on the swing that was my saving grace.  I would spend hours in my own world, flying back and forth, long pig tails, finally free from the terror of being in the “people-centric” jungle.

As I grew up, not much changed. Soccer was an outlet, as I could be with others, working towards a common goal.  I loved the physicality of it, the teamwork, the dirt, sweat, blood, smell of grass and I was good at it.

But I was still afraid.  All the time. I was privileged enough to live in a house with my own room, in a safe neighborhood, where I could retreat and re- armor myself to go back out each day into the world that terrified me.  The one with people in it.

There was so much I wanted to say.  I had a deep desire for others to know me, to be vulnerable with them, to have intimate relationships, but fear kept me from being able connect in the ordinary, day to day world.

I was not completely dysfunctional.

I went to college and played soccer, I lived in the favelas of Brazil, working at a street children’s project, I volunteered for a year in Denver at a food pantry, studied for a Masters of Divinity, but despite all the experiences, fear caged me in. The big dreams I had, felt impossible.

It wasn’t until I came to Washington DC, that my relationship with fear began to shift.

I went to DC, with the hope of working with kids, as they were much more forgiving than adults.  But as life would have it, I ended up at a hospice instead.  Joseph’s House, an AIDS hospice for homeless men and women became my re-brith into the world of living. Instead of hating fear or being frozen by it, I turned towards it.

Snuggling up to death has a way of saying hello to fear with the most profound, ancient salutation.

Death: the phenomena we spend our whole lives running from, trying to avoid, not talking about, became my best friend.

For the next decade, I spent days and nights sitting at the bedside watching labored breath leave bodies.  Falling in love so deeply and quickly with people felt easy in this container.  So did repeatedly getting my heart broken when they died, but it was broken open to a new flow.  The one called change, that is a constant undercurrent of our everyday living.

The real conversations were often not with words, but a touch, a gesture, a warm towel, understanding eyes, a steady seat.  That liminal space between life and death felt safe to me.  It felt like a homecoming.  I could connect with people in ways I had not been able to my entire life.  When people are faced with the knowledge that they are going to die, things change. The world looks different. Priorities shift.

In the living world, I had always watched as an outsider. I struggled to understand  the buzzing nature of small talk, parties, and so many goddamn “how are yous?” without really wanting to know the answer.

I never fit in.  I did the best I could, but that world felt too intimidating.

I thrived in the “in between” space  rich with symbols, archetypes, soul talk, forced vulnerability of the bodies breaking down and all the fucking realness that comes with that.

People would always say, “Wow, that must be such hard work!”  I didn’t want to dismiss the sentiment, but it didn’t feel hard, it felt real and simple.  Hard work for me, would be getting dressed up for a party with a lot of people I didn’t know, and “networking”  Or dating, that would be really, really hard and why I never did it.

What being close to death taught me, was that fear did not have to be my enemy anymore, it could be my greatest Ally.  Instead of unconsciously ruling my life, I could get  intimate. Talk to fear personified. Do things that scared me, because growth and courage called just as loudly.

Through this work, I learned two pillars significant to my nature.

1. I live with intense fear, everyday, since the day I was born, and I’m not going to get rid of it.

2. I am soulfully compelled to move towards what scares me, in the name of growth, love and human transformation.

Practicing Yoga and eventually teaching Yoga became the next step for my re-birth back into life.  I learned very quickly, that it was highly distasteful to talk about “washing dead bodies” in the middle of half pigeon, to poor students just wanting a nice lunch time Yoga class in Georgetown.

I started practicing this foreign language called “small talk”, and realized it doesn’t have to be “small” it is just a way to connect on an everyday level and test the deeper waters.

Although I always preferred conversations around deep pain, joy,and aliveness, I also began to dabble with the ways of weather, work and politics.

Martial Arts/Self Defense was my third rise of the girl that always dreamed of carrying a straight razor in her boot. A confident, trash talker molded through intense training.  Kicking, punching, grappling and wrestling her way to freedom. Death and Martial Arts have a lot in common, there is a realness to these worlds.  You talk with your bodies, you learn trust, vulnerability and communication. You tap when submitted, simulating a death.

I just turned 40, and I am am catapulting into a new decade. I am still learning how to live everyday, how to navigate relationships, how to not become too attached when I finally let someone in.

It’s messy, I’m a “work in progress”, but I am fiercely committed to continue grappling. I am no longer angry with the lifetime of control fear has had.  I’m softening into a state of curiosity, wonder and hope.

My liberation lies in learning to take fear, grief, shame, resentment, jealousy, anger, the whole top team of repressed emotions and let them have a voice.  To really listen to what they have to say.

Not to dismiss and project them by looking outward with blame, justification, and need for concrete answers.

We have unending power when we can disassociate the storyline and choose to feel the ancient waves that move through us.

They are just waves, bodily sensations that have no meaning. They will not destroy us.  If we can unleash the ancient ocean into timeless creative fire, we become indomitable forces that will always have voice because it is our own.

I will commit to continue my bumpy, often unskillful, awkward, sincere, pretty fucking hilarious, sometimes wild and crazy, attempts to engage in the scary everyday world of people.  As I sink into my own skin, make mistakes, practice forgiveness of myself and others, I take a deep breath and drop into more easeful-ness.

I am not sure why I was given this gift of intense fear, but I suspect I’m not the only one out there and I will continue leading, teaching, loving and learning from this space, without shame or need to hide, with boldness, all the fucks, and an absolute relentlessness to rise.

How to Give Birth to your Creative Fire.

Have the conversations.  ALL of the conversations.

Not on a text.  Not on social media.

Face to face as much as possible, with as many different people  as you can imagine.

Not those from where you’re from, do what you do, understand your language and applaud your message.

Have the inspiring conversations, the uplifting ones.

The challenging conversations and the ones you are “too busy” for.

Engage with the people you feel indifferent towards. The ones you consider not “worth it.”

Have the conversation with the stranger at the grocery store, or the uber driver you wish would shut the fuck up, because you paid for a ride, not a connection.

Have the conversations with the children who beg for your attention.

The annoying ones who scrape your soul with chalkboard nails.

Sit across from the ones who ignite your primal kill switch.

Bathe in the conversations that are soul food.

The freeing familiar ones, where you snort with laughter and ice cream.

The intimate, vulnerable, butterfly connections , where your legs shake and voice quivers.

Have the conversations with the confidants, best friends, the ones that feel like comfy pajama pants.

LISTEN.

Way more than you speak.  And when you speak, be generous.

Don’t wait to be right, validated or perpetuate your already narrow reality of perfectly drawn lines in the sand.

Speak from the heart with a don’t know mind.  Allow yourself to be surprised and ask questions more than arguing answers you know to be true.

Tell the truth.  Your truth.  As you know it.  You won’t always get it right.  You are human.

Take responsibility when you fuck up.

Own your passionate outburst.

Your emotions are liquid gold, that make  living world sweet, sexy, juicy, wild and free, full of archetypal wisdom and pleasure.

Don’t get swept away by your senses.

Ride the waves, and know they are just waves.

Universal, timeless, and always changing.

Say hello, but don’t attach yourself, or else get lost in a sea of some bullshit story, that ends the moment it begins.

Have countless conversations with old, young, every color, gender, ethnicity, sick, well, rich, poor, sit down for coffee with the sea of humanity.

Have them all. You will never run out of opportunities to learn, grow, move forward.

Look around.  The signs are everywhere, waiting for you to get over yourself and make eye contact.

And then at the end of the day, in the depths of the night, in the wee breaking hours of the dawn, say goodbye to the external world.

Be quiet.

Silent.

Listen to the sounds around you.

Rhythms of Nature.

Tears.

Animals.

The flicker of a candle flame.

Water running.

Ants forming.

Birds calling.

The ice maker doing the job it was born to do, the fan, the creaks on the floor.

Listen to it all.

Can you hear?

The voice?

With all the answers?

The one you’ve been searching for?

YOURS.

You have it.  It’s in you. it’s waiting to be born.

You and only you, have the power, the responsibility to give birth to your timeless expression.

There is no one else like you.  There are no other ideas like yours.

The world needs you and your creative piece of the puzzle, plugging us into this giant work of art.

Shattering the moments we thought were real, solid and concrete.

Because the comic tragedy of our existence lives on.

Beauty is never lost in the here and now.

A continuous soul work of what’s always been, what is, and what will come.

Get in nature.  Listen to the rhythms. Be in your body.

A magnificent conduit of the soul.

Get dirty. Mess up.  Be gentle, kind and real.

Do Not think you are too old, too stupid, have nothing to say, it’s been done before, not enough time, not good enough, too good, lack credentials, have too many credentials, blah blah blah.

LISTEN.  You know the way.  You need you.  We need you.  The world needs you.

Give birth to your creative fire.  We are all waiting to bathe in the radiance of your greatness.

The end:

My two cents on giving birth to your Creative Fire.

The Trend of Self Defense: Are We Asking the Right Questions?

Making women safer is a topic near and dear to my heart. I do not claim to have any answers, except that change is inevitable. We will all die. Nothing is certain, and the only thing we ever really know is right in front of us. (even that is questionable.)  As the founder of Fit to Fight, Ryan Hoover, says, “It Depends.”

What do we mean when we throw around this trending term of “Self Defense”?

The legal definition states: “the use of reasonable force to protect oneself or members of the family from bodily harm from the attack of an aggressor, if the defender has reason to believe he/she/they is/are in danger.”

When discussing “Self Defense,” we are engaging in a conversation of probability, a game of statistics, a terrain of constantly shifting variables.

Sounds similar to the ebb and flow of everyday life.

We live in a world steeped in an ideology of control and safety, but are we really in control?

Are we sure there’s no hidden Wizard of Oz voice, similar to the drone of social media, bright lights of advertising, convoluted politics, unquestioned social structures, or ancient neural pathways that still run from the saber tooth tiger?

The debates about “real” Self Defense are endless. Everyone has a strong opinion, the best resources, techniques, theories, and practical applications.

Sorting through all the information, can become overwhelming and kinda like a dick slinging contest to see whose is bigger.

I don’t have a dick, and am not interested in “out videoing someone else” to prove my technique is better than yours, or that my self worth is intact. Why would I waste my time and energy focused on what someone else is doing and take away precious moments in my day to take action and move forward?

As a female Black Belt instructor, I can attest my own worst enemy is me. So instead of trolling the internet or looking outside myself for all the “wrong” shit out there, how about I stare long and hard in the mirror and do my daily “Self Defense” training.

By starting with the one thing I have power over, myself, I can free up time and energy to write, speak, create, have conversations, teach, learn, and do the work of making myself and others safer.

As a fighter, teacher and student of this field, I value the physical work. I think it is absolutely necessary to train in whatever modality your body will allow.  We do not all need to be competitive athletes, but it is vital to train with live energy. How do you respond under intense stress?

We spend a lot of time discussing the most effective physical ways to defend ourselves but who are the experts putting out videos on how to defend ourselves from our everyday selves?

Will a proper choke defense save me from that voice that says, “You’re not good enough?”  Will the the most effective mount escape keep me from putting shit in my mouth? Will the hours of wrestling heal the lifetime of fear and shame?

Let me be clear, as a collegiate soccer player and competitive fighter, I highly value the visceral, psychological, mental and emotional awareness that can be a product of physical training. In order to perform a technique in a limbic state, one must drill that technique at nauseum.

But why be so focused on a future attack, if I am an asshole? If I’m harming myself with lack of awareness and conscious decision making skills on a day to day basis?

Over the years my inner attackers have taken on various voices. “You suck. You’ll never be good enough. She’s prettier than you. You’re fat and ugly. You will always be alone. You’re not smart enough. You are not safe in the world. You are too fragile. You are weak.  It’s just the way it is. You are crazy.  You are too emotional. You will never win. You are irresponsible.”

How do we overcome these ancient predators?

What is the one thing I always have control over? My response to what is happening to me.  I change what I can and I accept what I cannot change. Not with a “poor me” mentality, but a “this is how it fucking is now, and I was born to rise.”

We need more Self Defense instructors debating, discussing, teaching and practicing emotional and mental toughness.

This isn’t a grit your teeth, “no pain no gain” mentality.  We are reconstructing the hardware of our evolving brains.

What if the answer is, there is no answer?

Fuck.

We crave certainty, control, safety, it’s a normal human drive toward survival.  We are wired to be “right.” We need the tribe to accept us, so the saber tooth tiger will not eat us.

But life doesn’t work that way. Self Defense doesn’t work that way. There are no absolutes. Everything is always changing. “It depends.”

I think it is vital as a community of teachers, leaders and students to ask the questions. Hold each other accountable. Be honest enough to say, “I don’t know.” Fight for something, and be free to adapt. Be willing to stand alone and with others. Embrace paradox. Do the daily work of training ourselves and others both internally and externally.

We the people are the movement, let’s get moving.

Out of the Ashes We Must Rise

I feel the weight of the silence.

Can you hear it? The place where ache seems poised to leap out of your chest with

every

single

beat.

Engulfed like a cozy blanket. There is no way out. You are falling

deep

into

nowhere land

butterflies feed in the pit of the stomach, sucked into timeless quick sand

spiraling

further

down

barren lonely desperate cries,  No one can hear the anguish, but your own broken heart. You are

somewhere

nowhere

everywhere.

Being swept away into the undercurrent called loneliness.  Secrets we never speak, unraveling our tightly wound stories of hope.

Who

are

you

The one that smiles brightly for the world, does not hold the key for entry. You must strip down. Crawling on your tired, bloody knees.

Naked

raw

broken

A lifetime of tears wash over your weary attempts to put makeup back on.

You will fall.

You must fall.

Do not be afraid.

Let the salty drops of courage whisper, “No one is coming to save you” Un-grip  your white knuckled fingers and let go.  Into the deep nowhere where your bones rattle with fear.

Ancient

timeless

trustworthy.

Can you hear the call of the silence?  The sacred wilderness.

A Barren

bone chilling

passage

From the pit of despair, you will rise. A fire that burns timeless. The world warms up to to the light that will never stop shining. A glow, returning from the ashes, cackles in the presence of defeat.

you will rise

you will rise

you will rise.

liberated from heavy chains shackling your wild soul, that has been crying out for your freedom. Welcoming home the birth right of liberation.

The world will take you down. No one will be pardoned. We all must go. And when the whisper of death beckons you.

Armor yourself with quiet.

humor

prayer

a huge heart broken open

The belly of sorrow will swallow you, spitting you back out into eternity.  Nothing can rock your newfound resilience. Stronger than distant dreams. Braver than armies of lions. More tender than a thousand sleeping children.

You were born for this.

Rise my love

We will all rise.

Be Your Own Hero

I am a huge fan of 80s music.  I have no shame belting out every Monster love ballad from Peter Cetera, Air Supply, Bonnie Tyler, Paula Abdul…the list of “hairbrush-worthy” rocking artist are endless.  I have secret delusions of winning an Oscar for my dramatic interpretation of these epic sagas at any karaoke night that will have me. Some of my go to classics are:

Bonnie Tyler: Holding Out for a Hero

“I’m holding out for a hero. I’m holding out for a hero til the end of the night. He’s gotta be strong and he’s gotta be fast and he’s got to be larger than life.”

Peter Cetera: Glory of Love

“Just like a knight in shining armor, from a long time ago.  Just in time I saved the day, take you to my castle far away.”

Air Supply: Making Love out of Nothing at all

“ I can make every tackle at the sound of the whistle. I can make all the stadiums rock. I can make tonight forever, or I can make it disappear by the dawn. I can make you every promise that has every been made, and I can make all your demons be gone.” 

The nostalgia of these songs makes me remember big hair, leg warmers, acid washed jeans, jean jackets, tie dyed shirts and MC Hammer pants.

Disclaimer: ( I am fully aware, the mediums are different for diverse demographics)

That said, the lyrics and implications of these ballads, for both men and women are absolutely horrific.

Let’s first break down the message to men. You are a “man” if you spend your time and resources to create an identity of “Knight in Shining Armor”, “Timeless Hero”, “Protector and Savior”,

Those character traits seem to be a lot of pressure, especially because men are human beings, who are also scared, uncertain, tired, insecure, and don’t always have their “royal” shit together. Much of the world teaches men from an early age, in order to be a “man,” you must always be ready to fight, protect, take care of, console, and save a woman.  The message further states, “If you are “un-masculine”, sensitive, emotional, vulnerable or weak, you will never have sex or have a long term relationship with a woman.

And the message to women?! Hold out for a hero, princess.  Practice being fragile, beautiful, needy, and ready to be saved at any moment.  If you search hard enough, giggle loud enough, act coy enough, work on being pretty and skinny enough,  you will one day find a man.  But hurry up because your clock is ticking. Age is your enemy, which gives you grey hair, wrinkles, and varicose veins.

I am not claiming to be “above” or “un-affected” by these stereotypes or social pressures. I reiterate, I grew up loving 80s music, and have definitely had moments when it was really nice for a man to fix my problems, and save me from my highly emotional “rollercoaster” self.  Without being aware of the vicious cycle of expectations, these patterns can become destructive.

My own internal and external work has been to create new stories and ways of being.  I am my own hero. It is my job to take care of me. I am just fine alone and actually thrive in this space.  Of course, we need others to survive, but I have to be okay with me and me, before I can be truly be intimate with others.

I will still rock the shit out of Peter Ceteras, “Glory of Love” at any open mic.  But what I commit to NOT doing is being an unconscious player in these limiting patterns that hurt both men and women.

Why can’t we all be “a knight/knightina in shining armor” to our own epic tales?  Only then can we really trust each other, be vulnerable, and live “happily ever after” ( which is another lie, for another blog post.)

Be your own hero. Save yourself. When one of use chooses to rise we all rise.  Warrior Woman Republic.

Embrace the Suck.

I’ve had a good run the past few years.  As a 39 year old woman, i’ve felt pretty physically invincible.  I guess I thought I could outrun the inevitability of the human condition: We are all going to die. Our bodies breakdown.  Change will find us, even if we are fast, smart, busy, strong, vivacious, energetic, and a “pseudo” force to be reckoned with.

It’s confusing to me how I spent 12 years working intimately at the beside through hospice, but have completely rejected the reality of surrender. I went through an intensive year long, “End of Life Counselor” training, I studied at the New York Zen Center for Buddhist Chaplaincy.  I’ve put my time into the world of dying, and somehow forgot who I was, and who I want to become.

I’ve taught Yoga forever and even though I feel extremely competent and popular in my delivery, I haven’t been practicing Yoga in my own life, because I have refused to let go.  I will fight. I will overcome. I will rise above pain. Physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.  I will grit my teeth and keep moving forward no matter what.

Until life says no.  And let me tell you, life has said fuck NO! It has kicked my ass into giving up control.  I can’t help but laugh at the comic tragedy of it all. I finally get a long awaited MMA fight scheduled.  I’m scared shitless, but determined to rise in spite of my fear. I do the mental work and start committing many hours to training.  In a Jiu Jitsu class after I had biked for hours, worked my ass off, and was prepared to spend the entire afternoon training, I tear my ACL, and sprain my MCL. I’m immediately in denial. I scoot off the mat, chanting, “I’m fine, everything’s fine, I’m gonna bike home.”  I make an appointment with an orthopedist, where I confidently walk in and tell them what happened and what I need.  “Do you have cortisone?  I need cortisone.  I have an MCL issue and you just need to kill the pain so I can keep training and fight.”  Everyone shook their heads and chuckled under their breath, “Oh lord, we are dealing with “THAT” patient.”  The surgeon examined me.  He told me in a very professional, indifferent tone, that he is pretty positive I tore my ACL, sprained my MCL and possibly tore my meniscus.  I wasn’t going to be fighting anytime soon.

I took in the information, but still had delusions of invincibility.   “Okay, whatever, but you don’t know me!  I’m strong, I will not give up.  I will not take no for an answer and that didn’t happen.”  A week later we looked at the MRI together, I still asked for multiple opinions, argued about the meaning of a “full tear” when fibers are still hanging on? I did my best to assert my dominance and then was shut down at every angle.  Looks like surgery is my option.

After a week of weeping and gnashing of teeth I felt like I was at a place of surrender.  Okay, “this is how it is now.”  I will WIN at physical therapy.  This is my new fight and I’ve got this.  I will rise no matter what.

And then life threw another bone.  A relationship that means the world to me, comes under fire.  “Wait life, NO, this isn’t fair….fuck you, I can’t handle this!  Why me? I will cry and feel sorry for myself and refuse to let go.”  But unfortunately that strategy isn’t working for me right now.

I co-led a Yoga Teacher Training this weekend.  I felt at home.  What I was undergoing could preach in such powerful ways.  Teaching many classes through no sleep, shaky legs and tears, I felt powerful beyond measure.

I must say, life is calling me to something different right now.  The absolute power in surrender. The humor in adaptablity. Embrace the suck.  Dive into the most horribly uncomfortable feelings.  Know you will survive, but not from “willing” your way through.  You will move through by acceptance, surrender and asking for help from so many other beautiful human beings who understand, who care, and who are cheering for you to rise from the ashes.

I hope my story inspires you in some way, because it then gives context to why I’m here.

I go in and out of “okayness” with my situation, and yet, I will NEVER give up my relentless to rise.  The human spirit was born for this.  It’s what we do.  It’s in our nature.  We all have it.  If for one moment through my pain, grief, sadness, loss, uncertainty, inspires someone else, it’s worth it.

We will rise.

A Fighters Guide: Moving Forward with a Side-Lining Injury

Over the past several years, I’ve had my heart set on competing in an MMA fight. Scared, anxious, full of doubts, but fueled by those feelings to train harder and never give up.  I did what my coaches said. MMA was always my desire, but I competed in Muay Thai bouts, Jiu Jitsu tournaments, on the path towards my goal. I started late in a sport that values youth, speed and athleticism. I said fuck it. I may be almost 40, but I feel young, spry, determined, stubborn and ready.

After lots of waiting, training, tears, losses, and unrelenting fire, I finally had my first MMA fight scheduled.  Utterly terrified  and exhilarated in the same moment.  Two months out, I was ready to tuck my chin, and throw myself into the physcial, mental and emotional preparation.

I was pumped. On a roll. Huge momentum. Top notch coaches and teammates surrounding me.

And then the unfortunate day. A Jiu Jitsu class, where my body went one way and my knee went the other.  The deafening pop, reverberating through my entire body.  The butt scoot off the mat, chanting “I’m okay. I’m okay. I’ll be okay.”  A visit to the orthopedic doctor, in hopes of cortisone, turned into a heart breaking sentence. “I think you tore your ACL, strained your MCL and possibly tore your meniscus.” I would have argued with him, but he explained everything thoroughly and really seemed to know what he was talking about.

Every fighter/ athlete has or will have to deal with this reality. Below are a few helpful tips that have got me through thus far.

1. At the beginning, take time to weep bitterly, gnash your teeth, rage your fists, and be a depressive ball of self pity.

Squeeze it all out and then get up off the floor, proudly hobbling forward into your glorious new life. This is how it is now, who do you want to be in it? (Knowing the feelings will come and go like waves, so get a board, a friend, and good beer.)

2. Keep doing the internal work of “who am I?”

You have been given an opportunity to strip away identities of being a “well-bodied” person, self sufficient, rugged individual, always “fine”, an athlete, a fighter, a badass, a field identified with your body.   Life is a little different now.  You can’t do all the things you did before.  DJ Khaled’s chorus, “All I do is Win,” has become a distant memory. Your body seems like it’s failed you, but it needs your kindness to heal.  There are still ways to fight. It doesn’t have to be in a ring or the cage or on the mats.  There is an everyday fight for everyday warriors and now you have the extra time to access those inner resources and become a serious indomitable force.

3. Welcome the extra attention, awkward small talk, general concern with a wink and cackle-like freedom.

As someone who does not like to be the center of attention, walking down the streets in DC with crutches, a sun dress and big ass knee brace, is eye catching to say the least. Cat calling has lessened, as I think it just feels wrong to heckle a gal hobbling on crutches. No one dares honk at you for being slow crossing the street. A few people may lag behind you on the sidewalk, as they feel bad passing you.  Everyone that knows you (even a little bit) will ask what happened…. some are generally concerned and some are just uncomfortable, but they all mean well. People will strike up more random conversations, usually pertaining to their past similar injuries. (this is always extremely helpful) As one of my Buddhist teachers says, “Welcome everything, push away nothing.”  Just like in a ring or a cage, you can’t hide. All eyes are on you. Get comfortable sticking out and have fun flying your freak flag!

4. Ask yourself  the question what are you fighting for? Don’t let a day go by without finding ways to access your fighting spirit. 

You may not be able to “fight” or “move” in the way you want to, but goddamit, you always have a fight within you.  This may be the fight to “do nothing.” To slow down. To sit with your restlessness until you want to scream. It’s a big jump from three intense training hours a day, biking for transportation, and bounding up stairs in between, to your physical regimine now consisting of walking a one block radius, on crutches, stabilizing your core, and developing coordination to move your body and crutches simultaneously. Every day you can do something. Every day you have a choice. It may not seem like the case, but it’s true.  You will have good and bad days, but there is always a way through.

5. Keep learning your craft from a different perspective, explore other passions, take advantage of the time to do nice things for others, meditate, trust the process, and let yourself feel it all! 

If you spent a good portion of your time, energy, resources on physical training, you now have a lot of free time to focus on other endeavors. It won’t feel good every moment and let that be okay.  Feel the feels, and give yourself the permission and gentleness to be where you are in each moment. Accept the generosity and kindness of others, and pay it forward. What do you want to do with this newfound freedom? You may not be able to express yourself through your physical body, but there are other ways of expression and constant growth. What about writing, drawing, painting, talking, listening, reading, singing, being quiet? Watch videos of your craft, Find something you can pour your heart into, with the same vigor you gave your physical training. Trust life. There’s no other choice.  This is how it is now, how will you rise? You get to create your outcome.  A fighter always rises and inspires others on the way up from the ashes.  If one of use chooses to rise we all rise.

Gritty Gratitude

Pollyanna was one of my favorite movies when I was younger.  I loved that she refused to see life as bitter, cold, and indifferent.  Even though it was nauseatingly idealistic at times, I couldn’t help but emulate her unabashed fight to always “look on the bright side.” She saw the silver lining even when others made fun of her, rolled their eyes, and told her she was full of sh%$.  At the end of the movie, Pollyanna, became physically paralyzed.  She sank into a real depression, that  “glad game” willpower was not strong enough to pull her out. She had to rely on the community around her for support, to mirror back who she was, to literally carry her, and remind us all, we NEED each other to survive.

In our modern culture, we strive for “happiness.”  Manifesting our dreams, and cultivating what critics of Pollyanna refer to as the “suffocating gospel of the grin.”  We often see this as an individualized glorification to the top, and forget that we will most certainly be broken along the way. The climb towards the “scenic overlook” of life, at some step will need the help of others. We’d like to think “chin tucked grit,” “rugged individualism” and “blood stained determination”, can rise above, but our fragile bodies and souls, need others generosity.

As a human being, it sucks to turn inward in pain. To feel helpless, vulnerable, out of control and immobilized. To watch the world around you go on, not able to participate in the way you want.  Whether this is from psychological, mental, physical, structural, or emotional paralysis, it is all painful and at times seems hopeless.

It feels better to stay open, grateful for simple moments and relationships. Yet, when we lose control of everything around us, our own bodies and mind, how do we make sense of the world? How do we rise, in spite of circumstances outside of our will power to overcome?

I am not an advocate of cookie cutter “cultivating happiness” or “manifesting positive thoughts.” I see the beauty in the intention, but it throws calloused illusions on real human suffering that can’t be pulled up by the boot straps, forced into action, with a perma-grin smile.

How do we rise, in a way that honors suffering, and yet, is lubricated with gentleness and understanding for our shaky human condition?  The path is not linear, it’s not black and white and it’s certainly not the same for everyone.

I have had many wise teachers, encouraging the practice of gratitude. Not as a state of mind, but rather a skill that becomes stronger with practice.  Gratitude appreciates the simple moments. The grass beneath our bare feet, the breath moving in and out, the love, the losses, the touch of someones skin on your skin, the laughter and joy of a child, the blue sky, sunsets and rises, the heart breaks, the endless tears, animals, random acts of kindness, the sun on our face, a warm blanket, a stranger or friends understanding gaze…the whole experience of being human and all the sweet vulnerable moments along the way.

The “pursuit of happiness” is often laden with what we “don’t have” and “need to get”.  The practice of gratitude, honors what what is here right now, even if all hope feels lost. The ability to weep bitterly and rage our fists, is a courageous fight, demonstrating our resiliency as human beings.

Fast forward to the present.  One of my goals before 40, was to win an MMA fight.  It terrifies me, I love the sport, and have found healing through all aspects of the training.   A date had finally been set for my first MMA fight, mid-November.  I’ve been training a long time for this day. I have spent the last week working through my intense anxiety to say yes.  I finally said yes, for me and no one else.

I felt ready and focused.

Yesterday, in a Jiu Jitsu practice my knee twisted one way and my body didn’t go with it. There was a loud pop.  I scooted to the sidelines, with Pollyanna ambitions of healing quickly. I would be fine. My body is strong and tomorrow is a new day.

Today is tomorrow, and my knee is worse. I am still hopeful, but realistic. I will fight to do everything I can.  Part of that fight will be gratitude and gentleness.  My body works hard for me.  It needs kindness, a break from all I put it through.

I do not have control of the outcome. I cannot “will” my way out of pain. I welcome the lessons. I WILL RISE, because that is what we human beings are born to do.  ALL of us. It’s in our nature.  We do not have to walk around the world with perma- gladness, or shells of robots who have all their shit together. We must trust that even when all hope is lost, in our darkest moments, we are still okay.  What other choice is there? Ask for help, reach out, know you are not alone. We NEED each other.  People are kind, if we slow down and let them be. Gratitude, not a search for controlled happiness, but an “okayness” with the everyday moments, that sometimes suck and sometimes are beautiful and always everything in between.

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