Steps up to the gym. Walking up again, weary legs, tight chest, deep breath. Resist gravity, disrupt the daily inertia, it grows back like an overactive organism. Mental training is the only effective defense against this sisyphean dilemma. After countless times forging this path, the ascension is usually heavy.
I am grateful when I take these steps in faith, believing in the natural law of accommodation where repetition is the only permanence, where improvement is inescapable. Allowing a focus on becoming present and purposeful while at the gym created a career trajectory I never could’ve predicted. As a student, I flail, mired in doubt stubborn as a shadow Peter Pan would envy. I find my grounding as a guide, as teacher. I can’t affirm my worth as a athlete for my own sake; paradoxically, I find my purpose and strength as a boxer in helping others learn the craft. In 2008, I was in training with a multilevel group of women where mentorship and co-coaching were encouraged. I had the opportunity to share what I knew of technique, to instruct by example. This was a radical change for me, as a trip to train cued the Choir of Our Lady of the Righteous yet Fearful: “what am I going to get out of this? Will I get stronger, leaner, more efficient, harder? Will I fix in place a reputation as the toughie I longed to be? Will I prove to myself, my coach, ringside chess players, wide eyed art students sketching on location, god and the pitbull who wags between the heavy bags, that I am good enough?”
This simple change of perspective led me to listen, rather than need to be heard; to watch rather than need to be seen; to help rather than demand to be helped.
And at the dawn of 2010, my actions reflect this change of perspective: I teach a class modeled on this braided approach of awakening and fearlessness, of looking the world in the eye, which scares the pants off me. My courage in the ring has prepared me for this challenge on more than one level. I’m undertaking my first 200 hour registered yoga teacher training beginning in January, a surprise to myself, and myself alone, as everyone who really knows me sees this as an obvious next step. This broadened vantage point of possibility beyond the narrow win / lose paradigm is a relief, soothing in the face of boxing as a purely competitive pursuit. It allows me to love it and accept myself for the “failures” of a 3-8 record.
I write this because I need to see in black and white that this path is my own, one foot after the other, a step forward, then a few back. As I write, I tremble with all the doubts I plague myself with; my ego real is my only enemy. During rounds, my awareness becomes a self-destructive weapon, warring voices chip away at my confidence, rob me of experiencing the present moment, which is, in itself, challenge enough.
“Real warriors do not think in terms of challenge, nor are their minds occupied with the battlefield or with past or future consequences. The warrior is completely one with bravery, one with that particular moment. He or she is fully concentrated in the moment because he knows the art of war. You are entirely skilled in your tactics: you do not refer to past events or develop your strength through thinking about future consequences and victory. You are fully aware at that moment, which automatically brings success in the challenge.” – Chogyam Trungpa
I see myself looking to blame externalities for the doubting cycle: people places and things that, if rearranged, would cement my confidence – I must need the right playlist, X hours of sleep, a vitamin regimine, a sweatshirt. I watch myself move to a different heavy bag I will feel better at, I switch rings, this one is too squeaky, I don’t want to slip on the tape holding together a tear, I adjust my bandana again, I change socks to ensure a better practice, I investigate a new coach, the next sparring session, that’ll get be back on track. I am distracted, hunting desperately for comfort on inevitably uncomfortable terrain. Thoughts of quitting jab at my sides, this is torture, I fight tears, I entertain appathy, I turn everyone in that gym into my mirror – I look at them to glimpse my worth, and I protest too much, and what I fear most comes. This is bearing witness to self-sabotage.
One of the best instructions I heard in training was “don’t wait.” It refers to hesitation before throwing a punch. This moment of withholding contains a library, an audit, a camera lens, a labcoat. It’s the intervention of the thinking mind that stops satori in it’s tracks. Thinking thinking thinking stirs up regret, anticipation, everything from before and everything that’s coming, and there goes this moment. Don’t wait – throw, hit or miss. Waiting for the perfect opening, waiting until I really feel ready – I’ll be at a standstill for quite a while. In my experience, there’s no right moment, and I’ll probably never feel prepared to stand at the edge of my comfort zone. It’s in the simple, focused actions that I begin to experience and play with openings, im/perfections, and readiness. Growth happens when I miss, then throw again, duck again, pivot again, paying no mind to the inner critic, relentlessly tearing me apart.