Enslaved and Empowered

I was speaking with my mother-in-law Judy over the weekend about mediums and the concept of an afterlife. To picture this conversation you have to understand that I was in the backseat with my crutches and my Air Cast and wondering how I was going to cope with the buffet-style meal my youngest chose for his birthday dinner. It was also the second time I’ve left the house for anything other than medical appointments or work since December 4.

One of the comments she made was along the lines of where does all our energy go when it’s no longer constrained by our bodies. The assumption kind of was (or at least I took it as) — we’re bigger on the inside than the outside.

I was brought up short by my own reaction. My hastily written note:

Gifted with body

I spent most of my time in my 20s trying to get out of my body. My body, especially as it had been used by others, was a pretty shitty place. I played PernMUSH back in the day, which was kind of a proto-World of Warcraft game, except you didn’t kill things, you just pretended to be someone else, on some other planet. Dragons were involved. One of the best parts of it, for me, was that I could interact with other people without having to deal with fingers, toes, clumsy actions, too-loud laughter, ugly smells.

There’s no question that if you had asked me about my beliefs at the time that I would have insisted that my body was one of the smallest parts of me. A regrettable necessity.

Being knocked on my ass by my broken leg, though, I realize how much that’s changed. Since getting going on my martial arts journey (and really several years before I knew I was on it), I work out to grow and feel my strength. I stretch out to feel the earth and the hum of the world around me. I breathe to connect with, yes, the energy that comes from some wellspring I can only touch and never describe.* I move because I love going ahead. I’ve been really frustrated with my limitations. But nowhere in the last 7 weeks have I wanted out of my body. (Except maybe the period between shock wearing off and painkillers, before my leg was set – I will give anyone that!)

The idea that I would be bigger after death doesn’t sound so right any more. I’ve held my daughter as she died, so I know something changes that isn’t just about breathing or heart rate, but about – for lack of a better word – soul. But I’m no longer sure that’s larger than life. Life is pretty big.

Years ago I cried in the bathroom because I had to go to a PR event that involved a pedicure, which meant baring my feet in front of colleagues and having a stranger touch me, and I did not think there was any way I could make it through that experience in one piece. (I survived, even though it made me feel like I’d lived on the wrong planet forever, and the icily polite person dealing with my unpampered heels clearly agreed.)

Yesterday I went to physiotherapy for the first time, and people touched my feet and poked and prodded, and we talked about what I can do and what I can’t do, and what I should do…and what I want to do. I felt great. Also my leg was all hairy. And I didn’t care.

I feel pretty lucky I came to this in my 40s, because I can see how the hill crests here somewhere and then it’s back downhill. Good thing there will be so many awesome books in the world.

* Being of Gen-X, you can pretty much substitute The Force for energy.

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Falling on the Floor

I attended a PIAC conference this fall. The keynote speaker was Dr. Stuart Shanker, who outlined some of the differences between misbehaviour and stress behaviour. He also pointed the audience towards Dr. Mel Levine’s The Myth of Laziness. It was eye-opening as a parent to recognize how easy it’s been for me to forget my original parenting position which basically comes down to “kids will do good if they can and have the right support and guidance.” I’d fallen into some patterns of assuming laziness in my children for sure.

And myself.

The premise shared by both Dr. Shanker and Dr. Levine’s books are that if a child isn’t succeeding, there’s probably something in their way. Dr. Shanker looks at stress and anxiety in particular, and how that kicks children into “red brain” — a stressed, anxious response as if a tiger were chasing them through the woods. And people who are trapped in their red brains can’t access the parts of their brain that help them to learn and perform at a higher level.

Ding, ding, ding. I know allll about the red brain, trust me. As a person with PTSD, I’ve spent a lot of time learning to (somewhat) manage my broad-strokes fight-or-flight response, sometimes better, and sometimes not so well.

I often (not always) do some of the right things for the “big” PTSD-related issues- deep breaths, calm down, get centred, “fake it ’til you make it,” etc. Five years of therapy helped. And in some ways I feel like I’ve mastered some of that to the point that I can turn around in my journey and start to more openly share some successes with other people to see if that helps.

My martial arts journey has been a big part of that, since learning to get grounded in my body and be in a place where I can learn skills, physically, that are completely foreign to me, and work through any triggers and upset, physically, has been huge.  I spent decades of my life becoming an expert at not being in my body, so the idea of being expert at using my body is…ridiculous.

When I start a class, I’m always ready to be at the bottom of it. But I go anyway.

And because it’s martial arts, and that was just brand new to me when I started, I come to it without expectation. If this were a movie maybe that would make me really skilled at the martial arts part of it, but unfortunately, it doesn’t – I mean I even broke my leg doing it! But I am willing to fail 99 times out of 100, because I don’t confuse my beginner status with my own value as a human being. I don’t have a sense that I should do this better or that better. I identify as a martial artist not by my achievements but by my effort. (Technically, I guess, I have a growth mindset.)

And what’s more, I recognize that some weeks, my capacity to risk myself on the floor is more limited. And I’m okay with protecting myself that way and seeing it as part of the journey.

But…here’s the realization as I grapple with having a broken leg while starting a new job in a new field, which involves a lot of walking around and I can’t walk yet…I don’t always apply the same principles to other ares of my life.

I let my critical inner voice mistake inexperience for incompetence. I let the frustration of those around me impact me. I judge myself as not enough.

And to some degree, what I am always going for is what I’ll label supreme competence. I like to be good at my job, to be the expert, to be the one who can be relied on to think things through and do things right. I don’t think these are bad goals.  I don’t want to be a lousy martial artist, and I don’t want to be lousy at other things that I do. I want to excel.

The problem is that in one case, I let myself really experience my incompetence, and work to get better, and it adds to my day immeasurably. In the second case, I experience my incompetence, and work to get better, while beating myself up and feeling like shit about myself, and stressing out and eating chips and being cranky about chores, and it eats away at my days. And it makes it harder because that tiger of anxiety that says “you suck, you’re ruining things, you need to be better” is actually contributing to lack of success.

I learn and perform way better when I am not generating a field of anxiety. Like…really.

So simple, and so not.

 

 

Byte sized #2: Reply All and the Girl Guides, plus bonus Alanis

This week’s Reply All, episode #28, Shipped To Timbuktu, made me cry. Find out how adults running Girl Guides, to loosely quote one of the interviewees, “saved the childhoods” of children living in a concentration camp. Not even kidding.

#ICYMI: It’s Gen X theme week, probably because everything is suddenly turning 20. Soraya Roberts over at Hazlitt looks at the making of Alanis Morissette.

Even though Father’s Day is over, Lindsay Popper’s How to Love Your Father When He’s in Prison for Child Porn on Narratively has stayed with me. (Trigger warning)

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Featured picture: Girl Guides: Eating Watermelon, circa 1924-1934. Photographer: Unknown. Archives: Girl Guides of Canada -Guides du Canada via Flickr.