Today I hurt. Physically. Mentally, I feel joy. I’ve started an exercise routine and I’m sore all over. And, for the first time in a very long time, I love the feeling of physical pain earned from good, hard work. It feels good to ache, deeply good.
I’ve known for a very long time that physical activity is good for the mind as well as the body, that it can help depression and anxiety, and I have tried to get into an exercise routine, but it only went so far. The exercise (mainly walking 2 miles to the store and back) was a good thing, it was helpful, but it seemed to have only superficial impact.
And now I’m beginning to understand why exercise hasn’t felt as good as it should, or as I remembered it feeling in college when I was on the fencing team (NCAA athlete! Yes I was!) or in school when I was doing serious amounts of dance (ballet, mostly).
The bruises from my years of emotional abuse went deep. My mental pain made me super-sensitive to any kind of pain, and it was overwhelming. Therefore, I avoided all other pain as best I could. The psychological pain turned me into a walking bruise, and everything hurt. I could not find much joy or pleasure in exercise because it was mostly like pain on top of pain with no relief.
My mental and emotional and spiritual suffering was like a fog that made everything around me into more sources of suffering.
It has taken a lot of work and time to get to the point of truly recognizing that fact, and being able to do something to change it.
Beginning a formal meditation routine has been key, but what inspired me to begin meditating? Those roots begin in the decision to get my son into Karate. Then, being the nerd that I am, I decided to check out what the library had on karate, and martial arts in general. That lead me to the connection between the martial arts of Asia and Buddhism, as the martial arts were said to have started at the Shaolin Buddhist monastery as a way to help the monks endure the rigors of meditation.
So a few weeks ago, I decided it was time to meditate for real, waking up early and getting down to it first thing (even before coffee!). I can’t say that I’ve been perfect in keeping my schedule, there have been slip-ups, but more often than not, I’ve practiced meditation.
Meditation has allowed me some space, some freedom of mind, to be able to face myself and realize that I don’t need to suffer all the time. I can find peace. Maybe not every day, maybe not every minute, but peace and joy can be found. And that’s enough. Even a small opening can let light into a dark room and illuminate it.
My son and I have also been exploring martial arts movies, and have discovered that they can be real sources of inspiration to him. Learning karate or sinawali is not easy, and it takes courage to persevere. Martial arts movies, especially anything with Jackie Chan, whose characters my son can relate to, inspire that courage in my son.
And also in me, as it happens. Watching the classic Jackie Chan movies from the start of his career, I find myself remembering how much I love that kind of physical activity – the stylized fights are not unlike dance. And fencing as well – facing your opponent, knowing that he or she is probably going to hurt you at some point in the bout, but launching into it anyway, using your training and reflexes to parry blows and deliver ripostes.
A real turning point happened a couple of weeks ago (July 25, actually, as I posted the event to Facebook). I had a dream in which I had been transformed into Jackie Chan, and it made me so happy. Not just in the dream, but throughout the day, I was happy. I have been carrying that happiness and cultivating it since then.
I am realizing that, to be whole, I need to recover that joyful fierceness, that part of me that loves a good fight, the scrappy me, the me that likes to dish it out as well as take it. I think I’ve been afraid of that, of my “fight”, because, for one thing, it connects me in uncomfortable ways with my ex, who was quick to anger, and quick to lash out, and wanted to fight to put others in their place, who punched cars because she was angry at their drivers who were driving or parking in ways she thought were bad (mainly, getting in her way).
But that’s not my kind of “fight”. I fight to defend, to dance with an equal, to compete, to challenge myself, to grow, to understand my abilities and my weaknesses, to overcome those weaknesses. I fight for myself, not to punish others. I fight because there can be joy in the dance.
Thank you, Jackie Chan, for showing me the way.
Jackie Chan, Legend of the Drunken Master