Tag Archives: balance

Don’t Be Where the Blow Lands

My partner has trained in Aikido, and he relates hearing the above advice years ago from his teacher. Ever since he repeated it to me, I’ve been turning it over in my mind.

We lately found a Tai Chi teacher and joined a class. I’ve wanted to do Tai Chi for a long time, and it’s every bit as much fun as I always imagined it would be. I practice it every day, and part of my practice is meditating on that wonderful piece of subtle Eastern wisdom: Don’t be where the blow lands.

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Tai Chi  is a Chinese martial art focusing on energy manipulation, practiced for defense and health. Many of the people in the class we joined are there to address balance and strength. I’m happy to support both my balance and my strength, but I’m learning Tai Chi primarily as a grounding and centering tool.

We’re learning a series of specific slow, repetitive movements that flow into one another. Each movement is called a form, and each form has its own, often poetic name: The bow, the crane, windmills, the lute. Tai Chi emphasizes locating and moving from one’s center, and it’s interesting how difficult I find that.

Learning the forms and stringing them together is no problem for me. It takes a lot of repetition to get arms and legs coordinated and figure out proper positioning, but I like repetition and want to practice. What I notice, though, is how easily I lose my center. I reach or step too far. I find myself up on one toe or another when I’m not supposed to be. I put one foot directly in front of another, like a model on a catwalk, instead of maintaining a more stable, wider-based stance. My ankles are weak and unsteady. If I’m doing one form at a time in isolation, I can tighten my core and be solid, but Tai Chi is flowing movement, albeit slow, and after a few different forms my center is gone.

Losing my balance in this way is a perfect metaphor for the way I’ve lived my life until recently. My energy and attention were always directed outward. I had very little ability to support myself; I relied on external support and I didn’t distinguish toxic inputs from healthy ones. I was too hungry and had too many unmet needs; I took a lot of poisoned bait. Not only did I stand where blows landed and bullets sped, I made a camp there and called it home. I believed I needed those blows and bullets, that they meant love, that it was my responsibility to endure them, and that I deserved them.

We can’t avoid life. Harsh words, verbal attacks, physical violence and unexpected events like fire, flood, riots and sudden public violence are going to happen. Even so, there are ways in which to meet life’s blows with all the grace and elegance of Tai Chi, and as I practice the forms and movements, I think about the skills that allow me to absorb the blow, to flow with it, and to step away from where it landed before it can be repeated.

I’m a big proponent of self-defense and I always carry a knife. I’m not afraid to fight. One day soon I’m going to learn to shoot and buy myself a gun, which I will carry. That kind of self-defense is a separate thing from my practice of Tai Chi. Tai Chi is not about any kind of an aggressor lurking in an alley or a parking lot; it’s about emotional and energetic safety.

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Tai Chi, along with swimming, dancing, ritual work, walking and writing, is a way to call myself home, back to the center, back to my bones and the source of myself. Maintaining my center absolutely requires my undivided presence. I can’t center properly if I refuse to know all of who I am. I can’t maintain balance if I refuse to love all of who I am. The minute I try to amputate bits and pieces of myself, deny my thoughts and feelings or start tearing myself down in any way, I’m standing (again) where blows are guaranteed to land. When I catch myself justifying; pleading; waiting for external validation; trying to please; choice-making out of fear, denial and self-doubt, I know that I’m standing on the shooting range with a target pasted over my heart and head.

I’ve spent too much of my life staggering under loads of other people’s shit, carrying vampires and dragging chains. Confusion, fear, perfectionism, disempowerment and constipated unacknowledged feelings have all kept me standing where the blows land. Arguing with what is has cemented me in the path of bullets. Clarity, self-confidence, making friends with my feelings and reclaiming my power allow me to deflect, block or better absorb the blows that come my way.

I’m intentional about living with the wisdom of choosing not to be where the blow lands. Reclaiming my center and moving mindfully from danger, not only physically but creatively and emotionally, all but eliminates my fear and anxiety. Concentrating on grounding leaves no room for anything but strength and rootedness. The meaning of my life is not out there, in the noise and chaos of what others think, say and do. The meaning of my life is in here, centered within the container of my body, expressed by what I think, say and do.

Photo by Amy Humphries on Unsplash

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go see if I can remember the windmills and the lute from yesterday’s class.

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

River of Stone

Photo by Andrew Montgomery on Unsplash

I often imagine life as a river and myself in a boat of my own making, floating on it. I don’t picture a sailboat, having no experience of one, but a small boat that glides with the current and can be paddled. I don’t imagine a single river, but a vast network, far more than I could ever explore in this lifetime. Sometimes it’s a river of water, sometimes a river of stars. Sometimes it’s a river of green moss that carves a path through thick forest. Sometimes it’s an air-borne river of leaves and feathers and pieces of sky.

Sometimes it’s a river of stone.

The thing about rivers is they take me where they take me. I can paddle and steer, but whatever river I’m on at any given moment is a living thing in itself. I’m not its master and it doesn’t ask me where I want to go.

Of course, I don’t have to surrender to this kind of movement. I can refuse to make a boat in the first place, refuse to learn how, refuse to try. I can take a short cut and buy a premade boat or jump in someone else’s boat. If I do manage to create a boat, I can still make my way to the shore at any point and stop.

I can always throw myself out of the boat, too … but then I’ll never find out where the river is taking me.

I can also fight with the current.

I know a lot about this.

In the last few days, I’ve been floating on a river of stone.

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Photo by Paul Van Cotthem on Unsplash

Stone is very, very, v…e…r…y slow. Oh, it moves, in the deep foundations of life. It shifts and compresses, slips, breaks down, heats and cools. It tells an old, old story, whole volumes of which are faded and weathered into illegibility, or hidden so well I know I’ll never read them. Now and then, though, a period of grace arrives in which I inadvertently enter a river of stone and have an opportunity, which I reject, avoid and try to escape, to hear whispers of stone stories.

During these times, others on the river are out of sight and out of hearing. My calls echo back to

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me off stone canyons and cliffs. If I reach out for another in my sleep, I wake with bloody knuckles. On the river of stone others do not respond. They don’t follow through. They don’t keep their word. My password doesn’t work. I can’t log on. There is no clarification or confirmation. I’m alone, in my little boat, and I feel adrift and forgotten, unseen and unheard, left behind.

The river of stone tells me a story of foundations, of beginnings, of layers of time and events, of family and tribe. My agenda, my insistence on movement and progress, my puny frustration with things not done, makes less impression than a fragile-winged dragonfly that flung itself into the stone’s embrace uncounted aeons ago and flies now forever in the river of stone.

The river of stone is inexorable. It forces me to slow down. It provides me with no distraction and no easy entertainment. Creativity falls into sleep from which I cannot wake it. Those tasks and activities I call “productive” cease. Frantically, I paddle my boat, one side, then the other, until my hands are bloody blistered and my shoulders are a block of pain. All the old demons in my head leap into life, jeering and heckling, joining hands in gleeful celebration, and they have their way with me because I’m trapped in a river of stone.

I accomplish nothing on a list. I write no pages. Plans fall through. I wait too long to walk, and then it rains. Dirty dishes sit on the counter. All I want to do is get lost in an old familiar book–if only I could stay awake long enough!

Then, gradually, frustration, panic and fear exhaust themselves and lie down to rest. I rediscover the beauty of emptiness. I begin to see veins and gems and stardust in the stone around me. I remember the difference between doing and being, and the delicate balance they must maintain. The stone speaks to me of strength, of endurance, of centering and grounding. I give myself to the pause in communication, in creative work, in the forward movement that I crave. I put down the paddle, the oar, and stretch out in the boat and rest, dreaming of stone-lipped wells refilling with spring water, dreaming of a spray of words leaping off waves or trailing behind stars in a river ahead, dreaming of friends whose faces I haven’t yet seen and broken connection repaired.

I doze, rocked in a cradle of stone. I rest, floating on a river of rock. I sink into the slow, deep, stony heartbeat in the center of all things, imagine inhalations and exhalations that last 100,000 years.

Photo by Brent Cox on Unsplash

I surrender to the river of stone, and in doing so I float out of it.

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Reciprocity 2: What It Is

Last week I talked about balance as a first step to understanding reciprocity. This week I want to refine my focus and discuss the term itself.

A few years ago I was in the car, either listening to an audio book or the radio. I was in the off phase of a painful and confusing on and off relationship. Whoever I was listening to asked the question: “Is he crying about you?”

This was a real Aha! moment for me, because I myself was crying all the time and the answer to the question was no. I didn’t even need to think about it. I’d given him all the power. He was calling the shots. I wanted to be with him but he didn’t want to be with me—at least for the moment.

That was my first introduction to reciprocity. It didn’t come with context, language or tools, but that question was like a piece of grit in my eye and it continues to pop up in all my relationships.

Before we discuss it further, let’s define reciprocity. A 3-second internet search yields: “Exchanging things with others for mutual benefit.” Good enough.

What I understand now is that reciprocity is at the core of healthy connection and relationship. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, it matters. I see the presence of reciprocity as an indicator of equality. No one has power over anyone else. The playing field is level. Giving and receiving happen in balance. We see the needs of others as being as important as our own. Reciprocity is the old Golden Rule in action.

It sounds so easy. In fact, it is easy. A reciprocal relationship is a delight. Trust and respect are present. Drama and trauma are absent. Both parties show up with an intention to create healthy connection. Communication is loving, respectful and honest. Both parties take responsibility for their words, actions and choices. When we walk away from a reciprocal interaction we feel valued, understood, respected and connected—and so does the other party.

Reciprocity in relationships cannot be achieved if both parties are not internally balanced, which is why I started with balance last week. This is like boundaries. If we can’t manage our own boundaries within ourselves, we won’t have effective boundaries with others. If we don’t function well enough to self-care, make choices that reflect our priorities, and control our time and energy in a balanced way, we can’t create healthy, reciprocal relationships.

“Exchanging things with others” is not limited to concrete things. In fact, a commercial exchange doesn’t imply reciprocity at all. Reciprocal exchange means he heats water for my tea while I’m in the shower and I dry his socks in the dryer instead of on the line because he likes them soft. Reciprocity implies an equal but not identical contribution of time, energy, expression and caring. In many ways, it’s a subtle kind of dance. It’s a gift of ourselves to others.

Reciprocity is flexible, affectionate, creative, curious and cooperative. Reciprocity says: “What can I do? What do you need? What would be useful? What would create connection? Reciprocity requires that we allow ourselves to be seen and we’re open to receiving as well as giving. It requires that we communicate about what we want and what we can give.

Sadly, I think many people have never experienced a truly reciprocal relationship with a human being, although many of us have with animals. If that’s true of you, then there’s an important question to explore.

Is it you or is it them?

What’s been true for me is that it’s both. I’ve only lately begun to truly self-care and develop a sense of being valuable in the world. Most of my life has been defined by my sense of failure. What this means is that I’ve been a people pleaser, which is to say inauthentic and without good boundaries and balance. Naturally, that created problems, as well as attracting all kinds of people into my life who were also dysfunctional.

I have no power to change the behavior of others, but I can certainly learn and grow myself. Having language and context for aspects of relationship is enormously helpful. Being able to ask the question “Is he/she crying about me?” forces me to take a wider view and keep an eye on reciprocity. It empowers me.

It’s a great mistake to assume everyone wants reciprocity. I always forget that piece. I can’t quite get my head around the fact that some folks have no desire to be in a relationship like this, but I know it to be true. I can’t explore that effectively, having a great longing for it myself, so I’ll leave that aspect alone, except to note that it’s not effective to make up stories or have expectations and assumptions about another’s desire or intention in this arena. Reciprocity doesn’t exist without mutual consent and a willingness to share power. The good news is that after you run into the absence of reciprocity (for whatever reason) enough times, you stop trying to force it.

It’s also worth noting that there are many different forms of relationship, and lack of reciprocity doesn’t mean there’s no value in the connection. Not at all. The quality of our relationships declare and define themselves pretty quickly, it’s just that sometimes we’re so focused on our determination that things be a certain way, we don’t pause to consider what is actually present—and what is not. Denial is a powerful thing, and we can stay stuck in it for years.

Reciprocity is a high standard. If you decide you want it, many possible relationships will be disqualified in the early stages. On the other hand, if you accept nothing less than reciprocity in close relationships, the ones you do find will be joyful and vibrant, and you won’t have to cry alone in the first place, let alone wonder if your partner is, too.

All content on this site ©2016
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted