Tag Archives: healing

Anger for Sprints, Humor for Marathons

Yesterday was my third mounted archery lesson. I show up early enough that the mists still cover the hills. The vineyards, the barn, and the arena are still chilled and dewy. Usually, no one’s around except for the dogs, cat, and occasional hen that come to see if I have food or cuddles, or both. When someone asks how my training is going, this is never what comes up. They expect the hobby to be fueled by revenge. They expect me to be angry.

Anger gives energy in short bursts. It can be an extra jolt of motivation, and armor to wrap yourself in. It converts two-way communication into a one-way street. Under certain circumstances, when you need to protect yourself, when you need to pull yourself up over the ledge — anger is excellent. Anger rises when someone has crossed a boundary. Anger is both an alarm system and a security system, and it will snap shut on the offender. It is as intense as it is instant, and when you’re done, you’re worn out. Even for those who have a long fuse, I’m referring to the moment the fuse triggers the explosive.

The obsessive mind latches onto a perspective and holds there. It takes a stance, chooses a narrative, and makes it into the sole truth. It chews and chews until the original flavor — the objective truth of events — is gone. Only the narrative is left, and that’s what the obsessive mind feeds on. If the narrative is the story we tell ourselves, then we have the power to choose that narrative.

For example, I’ve unconsciously started looking for his car when I’m out driving. I can’t help it. Since I don’t know how to stop playing this game, I look for the cars driven by people I love and am still close to, instead. Chew, chew, obsessive brain, chew on something healthier.

After the breakup and subsequent loss of our child, I couldn’t find my anger. I felt drained of strength, and without my strength, I had no identity. Without anger to shield me and energize me, I didn’t know what to do or where to go. What confused me even further was that the strongest feeling wasn’t anger, but love. I was still in love, and generated love, but I had no place to put it.

Without anger, I felt weak, but the love and warmth in my heart kept growing and growing. Love wrapped itself around the heartbreak and grief. I didn’t want to be bitter. I didn’t want to destroy or be destroyed. I wanted to transcend this, and be transformed by it. When I started practicing archery more often, those feelings imbued the experience. I wasn’t ok, (I’m still not ok), but archery helped me get out of my head and into my environment for a little while. I felt the bow, the arrows, the targets, the trees, the grass, the hawks and the quails, and my fellow archers. They and I were all wrapped in presence and stillness. In that stillness, I could pay attention to the tiny movements that influenced my technique. Shooting wasn’t about the kill; it was about the stillness.

When I found a mounted archery teacher, it was the same thing. We think of warriors on horseback as a thundering wave of death; but one-on-one hasn’t been like that at all. It’s me and the horse, learning to talk to each other. You have to listen to the animal, and acknowledge the terrain and other distractions. You also have to listen to your own mental state, and its effect on your body language. Riding wasn’t about taking power; it was about listening.

My body has always told me early on when something was wrong, from vitamin deficiencies to appendicitis. I’ve learned to trust it. It knew that anger wouldn’t make me better this time.

Don’t get me wrong — there’s a lot of giggling in the midst of the zen. I’ve had arrows hit the target and then flip over themselves and land in the grass somewhere. I’ve done a great fast-draw and then dropped the arrow on my toe before I could shoot it. More than once, while standing in the stirrups, my horse would just stop and pitch me forward. This is silly, slapstick shit. Beauty and stillness is all well and good, but it’s not really fun. Fun is being able to laugh at yourself. If you want to climb a mountain, you’ll have a much easier time if you enjoy walking and sweating. If you can make your fuck-ups funny, you’re set. You look forward to the victories, but also for the jokes. It’s hard to quit if you love what you’re doing.

After the ride, I feed the horse and sit with him until he finishes. I brush him and pet his flank while he eats, the same way I pet the other animals at the barn when they ask for it. Then I take him back to his pasture. The exercise, the countryside, and being with animals is helping me heal in a way that breaking, burning, and screaming never could.

Even the self-talk has shifted. Rather than say “fuck!” when I make a mistake, I say “well, that was silly.” Maybe I was silly. Maybe the horse was silly. Maybe the arrow or the target was silly. Blame and negativity aren’t part of the learning experience. Each success is a surprise, and each mistake is hilarious.

So no, I don’t picture my ex when I’m shooting. I have no desire to do harm. My own pain was enough. When I ride, I’m with the horse. When I shoot, I’m with the landscape.

There was a woman I trained with a long time ago who always smiled. I’ve never seen a photo of her where she didn’t have a big toothy grin. At the time, I took her less seriously because of it; but I was wrong. She’s knowledgeable, formidable, and a fantastic friend. I think she was on to something.

If I were angry, I couldn’t do any of these things. I’d be stuck in the cycle of raging, passing out, and raging again. That’s not a long-term strategy.  Instead, I’m learning to flow with what is, and let go of what isn’t. I won’t hit the bulls-eye every time. I won’t always be graceful in the saddle. But if I’m laughing the whole time, who cares? I’ll be back tomorrow, no worse for wear.

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
― Sun Tzu

Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.
― Samuel Beckett

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The Language of Your Inner Demons

I’ve been revisiting “Xena: Warrior Princess” on Netflix. In an episode called Paradise Found, Xena and Gabrielle find themselves in an isolated compound where they each become more themselves.

Gabrielle — the storyteller who often serves as Xena’s moral compass — finds yoga, cleansing, and stillness.

Xena gets more jumpy and agitated, wounds appear on her body, and she keeps envisioning herself hurting or torturing Gabrielle. Once Xena loses her mind, she wanders through the gardens killing songbirds and bunnies. It’s as horrific and goofy as it sounds. If the darkness in you lives, no one is safe, not even the people you love, says their mysterious guru.

Facing one’s demons is a massive part of my books. If every writer has one theme that permeates their work, that one is mine. Every character has to go through it, whether it means reconciling a relationship or — literally — fighting a monster born from their own fear or shame. Another line from that episode of Xena goes: Goodness going to waste in peace, without evil to keep it alive and fighting.

I, and my characters, need both to be whole.

I’m convinced that our inner demons are on our side. They’re part of us, after all. We get into trouble because we speak different languages and we’re too afraid of them to try and bridge the gap. When you have dark or selfish impulses, that’s your little demon-voice telling you that you have an unfulfilled need. Hear its intention, but don’t listen to its suggestion. It doesn’t understand what consequences are — only that it loves you and you’re not happy.

The same is true if you go deeper. When your inner demon tells you to off yourself… it’s responding to your unhappiness. It knows you’re in pain and has no concept of healing. It loves you, and wants to help. It doesn’t realize it’s not helping. Your demons only understand you as much as you understand them.

What I love about Xena and others of her archetype is her willingness to learn that language and investigate what others are afraid to see. Some speak the language with compassion and understanding; while others only learn enough to hear what they want to hear.That journey, and what they do with that understanding, is how an archetype transforms into a person.

Do not look upon this world with fear and loathing. Bravely face whatever the gods offer.”
– Morihei Ueshiba, father of Aikido

 

I hope they cannot see
the limitless potential living inside of me
to murder everything. 
I hope they cannot see,
I am the great destroyer.
– Julius Robert Oppenheimer, father of the A-bomb

hell

How to Cry Effectively in Three Steps

When I studied swordplay in China, I came across a piece of information that made me grimace.

Women are like water. They are supposed to cry. For men, even if something awful happens (like the death of their father), they should never cry.

I thought this was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard. I pictured Lin Daiyu; weeping at the slightest provocation, good or bad. She cries so much and so often that her constitution is horrible and she dies of it. Unrealistic. Revolting.

Surprise, surprise, many of the women at the monastery heard this lesson and breathed a sigh of relief. ‘Oh good,’ they said. It seemed to legitimize what they, too, saw as an embarrassing weakness. All of these women were tough. They kicked, punched, ran and trained daily with the men; but I would never call them tomboys or unfeminine. I’d come to trust them.

The fact that those women didn’t bridle at the idea of crying made me second guess my own opinion. I’ve always embraced my masculinity and the behavioral expectations that come with it; but maybe this time I was wrong. I decided to look into the act of crying and figure out how to turn it into a useful tool.

There are three types of tears:

  1. Basal tears – Keep your eyes moist and clean.
  2. Reflex tears – Triggered by onion juice and/or shampoo.
  3. Emotional tears – Triggered by, let’s face it, practically everything.

It turns out that human beings are the only mammals that produce tears in connection with emotions. The tears produced by emotional crying have higher levels of the hormones prolactin, adrenocorticotropic hormone, Leu-enkephalin; as well as the elements potassium and manganese. It may be the shedding of these chemicals that gives the act of crying a sense of catharsis.

The more you picture crying as a physio-chemical release, the easier it is to cope with the need for emotional release. It’s just another product we excrete. Not very many people are sentimental about pissing; especially when uric acid – the stuff that causes gout and kidney stones – is what you’re getting rid of. I’m not 100% on what those particular hormones do in your system. (As far as the elements, manganese helps stabilize blood sugar and prevents hypoglycemic mood swings. Potassium depletion is often associated with depression and general tearfulness.) These chemicals are a physio/endochrinological response to what the brain interprets as feelings.

That said, sometimes you just need to cry. Pressure, stress, anxiety, loss, love, beautiful sunsets, great books, poignant movies and broken bones all fill your emotional ‘bladder.’ Like your normal bladder, some people can hold it in longer than others. Some people are built for long road trips. Others need to pee every twenty minutes or so. If you drink eight liters a day, you will have to pee. If you find that your emotions are very responsive, you will need to cry. The more you hold it in, the more urgent the call for tears will be. Crying is cathartic. When you feel full, you need to let it out. Crying is good for you. Like pissing, like vomiting, you feel better when you’re done. Emotional dump is just like any other dump. Sooner or later, you will have to visit your restful-room.


How To Cry Effectively In 3 Steps!

Step 1
Recognize that you need to go
Ask yourself simple questions. Are you stressed? Do you feel shaky or light-headed? Are you snapping at everyone around you? Are you normally a good eater who has lost your appetite? Did something rotten happen to you or someone you love? Do you feel unusually nervous or uneasy? Does life feel suddenly unfair? Are you about to enter a stressful situation that you can’t freely step out of?

Has it been a while? If the answer is ‘yes’ to any of these, you probably need to go.

Step 2
A trip to the rest(ful) room

The restful-room is anywhere you feel comfortable crying. It could be your bedroom, a closet at work, your car, or anyplace at all. Sometimes, it can be the presence of another person*.

*Crying, (like peeing) isn’t something everyone is comfortable watching. So, if you need someone to cry to, make sure that person is trustworthy, not a dick, and knows what to expect.

There are two ways to handle going to the restful-room.

The first is to wait until you really REALLY have to go and you’re doing ‘the cry dance’ (shaking, anxious, having trouble thinking, feeling overwhelmed, a little lightheaded, irritable/belligerent), or you can go in advance. Give yourself about an hour, and then go for it. Let the tears and snot gush forth like a fountain. If you need to really get into it, throw a cookie sheet at the floor. They make a lot of noise, but are hard to break.

The second is to have small, 5-10 minute bursts over smaller issues.

For example, if your week is going well, but you’re really nervous about an interview, cry before you put on your fancy interview clothes.

Depending on your needs, you could take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours crying. Looking at your schedule for the next day or the next week can give you a hint about whether or not you need to cry, and also when it would be the best time to do so. It’s just like going on a long drive; you can decide to pee beforehand, or you can plan out some stops along the way.

Step 3
Mopping up

Now that your cry is done, you’ll feel a little worn out. That’s normal. Crying takes a lot of energy and stamina, just like a workout. Like a workout, it is critical to have a glass of water once you’re done crying.

Let me say that again. When you’re done crying, drink a glass of water.

I’m serious. Especially for hardcore throwing-yourself-to-the-floor-and-kicking-and-screaming-for-three-hours crying. You must drink water. You’ve just washed your system clean of all those pesky chemicals, now you need to replenish yourself so you don’t get hung over.

Wash your face with cool water.

By the time you’re clean and have had something to drink, your heart-rate should have slowed back to normal.

And you’re all set!

The key is to recognize when those feelings rise, and to get yourself to a safe and private place to do what you have to do.

Once you discover your rhythm, and can better predict when you’ll need to hit the restful-room. Other aspects of life will become clear. You’ll start to identify why things upset you. From there, you can look at them more objectively and be able to decide if it will affect you. If you are calm, and you’ve had emotional release, you’re in a better position to think clearly and find solutions to things that challenge you. If something is truly out of your control, then it does no good upsetting yourself.

It doesn’t matter if the bus is late. If it isn’t there, you can’t get on it. With a clear mind, you can pursue other options; such as walking, calling people to say you’ll be late, or enjoying the play of sunlight and rain on the passing cars.

If you’re an emotional person like I am, it often feels like your feelings are trying to put you in a choke-hold. You can’t talk, you can’t think, and you can’t see a way out. By taking an interest in yourself, your needs, and your own rhythm, you can save the choke-holds for something really important; like the asshole that made you want to cry in the first place.

Thank you for your contribution, thirteen-year-old Setsu.

(Fun fact, the genesis of this idea came about Halloween night in 1998 or so, while trick-or-treating with some of my dojo brothers. The original idea — crying is like masturbation — didn’t cover the full scope of cathartic experience. It wasn’t until the possibility of losing a family member that I’d experienced the emotional overwhelm and deadening that can only be described as ‘pissing from the eyes.’ Thus, the chemical research.)

Next week: How to control your rage!**

** Haha, just kidding. I have no idea on that one.

Addendum!  I wrote a post on anger, when it’s useful, and when it isn’t.