Tuesday Night

Written by: Emily Blair, Director of Operations

reflection

Reflection.  Such a tricky term for someone such as myself.  When I think of reflection, I am consumed by perfectionistic thoughts, wondering how to reflect “correctly,” as if there is such a thing.

I know the truth is that there is no “right” way to look back on what was and look forward on what is to come.  That’s a difficult concept for me to digest, which may sound silly to some.  But maybe others can relate.

So when thinking about our intention for the month of December, reflection, I initially sat down to create a formula on how to engage in reflection.  Thoughts such as reflecting has to be chronological, I must hit all of the major events, I should include both the good and the bad, ran through my head until soon it turned into I have to write down absolutely everything from 2017.  Suddenly I was crafting a novel instead of engaging in a meditative reflection.

And so, as I’m writing this, I am choosing to leave behind everything that initially came to mind when considering how I could go about sharing my thoughts on reflection.  Instead, I’ve decided to share an experience I had at my dojo (the place where I practice karate).

On Tuesday evening of this week, I went to a meditation class after attending a sparring and technique class.  One of two women who run the dojo, Sei Shihan Nancy (her title, Sei Shihan, indicates that she is a 6th-degree black belt), leads the meditation each week, and after the meditation, she often shares some of her own personal thoughts on the practice.

This past Tuesday, I was feeling incredibly insecure.  I was having a terrible body-image day and feeling defeated after one of the previous classes, sparring, which is still a very new and difficult class for me.  I almost didn’t attend the meditation class because I was feeling disconnected, my mind racing with thoughts telling me I was inadequate.  Some part of me decided to stay, though, sitting on the ground, deepening my breath, trying to quiet my thoughts.

It is not the meditation itself I want to speak about but rather what Sei Shihan Nancy shared afterward.  Sei Shihan Nancy began to discuss the founding of Thousand Waves, which is the name of the dojo where I practice martial arts.  I knew that the dojo had been founded by women, for women, as a space to empower each other, but on Tuesday, Sei Shihan Nancy went into more depth about the history, sharing a piece of the story that moved my heart.  She shared how she began this mission largely because of the way women are at war with their bodies, and how we often don’t feel beautiful or strong enough, thanks to the way our society has crafted an entire industry to cultivate this thought pattern.  She went on to tell a story of one woman who used to stand on the outskirts of the training floor (at a previous space they practiced at), watching others engage in karate but never feeling confident enough to do so herself.  One day, a friend dragged her in, and she experienced the art for herself.  She is now retiring at the end of the year after learning through the senior Shodan curriculum (Shodan is the rank name for a first-degree black belt) at the Seido school.  Sei Shihan Nancy shared how it was moments like this, watching women discover the scope of their capabilities, that reminded her of why she did what she did.

After hearing Sei Shihan’s story, I began to reflect on why I started martial arts.  I began because I desired to deepen my sense of self-worth, to begin to use my voice, to stand up for myself, to set boundaries, to understand that I am more than something to be looked at, to heal my relationship with exercise.

And I thought to myself: this is reflection.  A quiet moment of genuine, non-formulated reflection.

I’m glad some part of myself urged me to stay for meditation class on Tuesday.  I feel as if, in some way, Sei Shihan Nancy knew the words I needed to hear that night.

A Moment of Reflection

Written by: Madeline McCallum, contributing writer and blogger at http://madelinesmusing.blogspot.com/?m=1

“You do not just wake up and become the

butterfly

 growth is a process”

Rupi Kaur, The Sun and Her Flowers

Day to day, we expect to fix everything, change the world, and heal ourselves within 24 hours. We get frustrated when important things take time, when we are forced to sit with any discomfort. But when we take the time to actually reflect on our life over a certain period of time, the realization of just how much you have grown and changed can be staggering.

As I was taking a walk in a park near my house the other day, I found myself really contemplating where I was at that moment versus where I was at this time a year ago. As I watched the evaporation of my breath curl around the fingers of my gloves, I felt tired and run down and a little bit lost.

I’ve found the relentlessness of time a bit overwhelming lately – feeling like I need a massive break from life for a bit, but actually, I only have a few days off for the holidays before I am back in the office again. After graduation and upon entering the world of “adulthood,” the majority of the markers of space and time we are used to cease to exist. I’m used to working myself to the bone until winter break, or summer break, relishing in the weeks off and the downtime spent at my childhood home, where I easily slip back into the dependent lifestyle of an exhausted teenager. Life was marked by semesters, by summer break and the beginning of term in the fall, by the schedule of our classes and the weeks we were able to spend resting or on vacation. Now, I can’t help but feel that when I look into the world ahead of me, all I see is “work work work” on an endless loop, with no time off and no space to breathe.

I kept walking further into the park, around the back where there is a lovely little duck pond and a small running creak. I stood on the bridge, watching the ducks slowly swim around and the circular ripples dance out around them. I thought about how right in that moment, when I took a deep inhale in and an exhale out, I felt rest. How crucial it is to now mark my time intentionally by moments like these – in the midst of a working week, taking some time to breathe in and reflect on time passed and ponder the future.

The past year has been tumultuous to say the least, packing in probably the most change I’ve gone through the smallest period of time, ever. I found myself wondering whether I would ever feel grounded again, or if I was just a perpetual wanderer, a gypsy looking for somewhere to lay her head and someone to hold her hand. Although I don’t feel completely settled, I look back on those memories of complete disorientation and feel my feet firmly planted, my thoughts less anxious, and I smile. We truly have no idea what the future holds for us, and hindsight is such a funny thing. If I could tell 18-year-old me what lay before her in the next five years, would I? Would she even believe me? There is no way I could have fathomed how my life would play out.

As I stood looking out onto the pond, the winter air freezing my cheeks, I thought about how there are always ripples created, and the possibility that another duck may fly over and create even more disruption to the circular swimming motion, but the ripples also always settle. If I stood there long enough, I’d see the pond settle into a glassy surface, reflecting back to me the beautiful view of the park trees and the greenery surrounding me. That seemed to me a pretty beautiful realization – no matter how chaotic the surface gets, it will eventually settle. The pond may even freeze over, but the depths below are always kept warm, flowing, just waiting until the next season when things will thaw out and expand.

We do not just wake up one day and become fully-actualized. It takes so much time, and maybe our entire life time. Somehow we put the pressure on ourselves to figure it out before the sun rises the next day and we forget to reflect on how far we have actually gotten, just by getting out of bed every day. Five years ago I had no idea what I wanted, I had no idea who I was and what I liked or disliked and what gave me enjoyment, made me feel alive. The other day in the park I felt warmth in my heart because I knew I loved the trees, and walking, and listening to my favorite music while I walked past the man selling the Christmas trees and hot chocolate. All of the things I have done this year, and in the last decade, have led me to this moment of contentment. And even the parts of this year and that moment that don’t feel so certain or so great – I can take comfort in knowing that next year at this time, hopefully I’ll be smiling at the ways the universe got me through these, too. The sun rose this morning (even though it was pretty gray and in the British winter time, the sun seems more of an abstract idea than an actual, physical presence). But it is there. And it will be there tomorrow.

Wishing everyone happy holidays and a very happy new year – may you allow yourself to rest and reflect!

Spirituality

Written by: Morgan Blair, Founder and Creative Director

My heart felt dry, like someone had taken a sponge to the pumping machine inside my vulnerable chest and dried up all the blood, water, and liquid that might have offered some relief. My eyes were dry. My skin cracked. And there came a time when I was so delusional that I had no concept of which way was up and which way was down.  

Then came the fall. The painfully, terrifying free fall towards everything new and nothing I understood. The fall towards the unknown.  The inevitable fall. I had been resting on the edge of a cliff for years now, teetering between what was real and what wasn’t. Until one day I finally said, “it’s about time,” and jumped off the side.

I fell for months in complete darkness with no idea where I was headed. I fell in despair and hopelessness, in tribulation and trials. I fell for everything that was no longer serving me and towards everything that could be rebuilt.

There was a bottom. It came with a thud and skinned knees. It came abruptly. It was painful. It was scary. After all, I had lived in utter blackness for months. I didn’t recognize the world when it was caked in such color and possibilities. I wanted to go back. I wanted to rest back on the cliff in the confusion and depraved heart. “Help,” I called out and there in the space above my scared little body came a hand. “Take it,” said the hand and the moment I reached up and touched it everything became clear.

Rainbows and butterflies, dancing unicorns and glittering turtles. The world became a magical place.

The Crack in the Crystal Ball

 Written by: Gracie Mayer, contributing writer

We will never fully understand the world by trying to look into the future and predict where our paths will take us.  We usually only understand our experiences when we reflect back on where we have been and what we have learned.

Because we spend every day with ourselves, we fail to see how much progress we make on a daily basis.  Progress and growth are often so uncomfortable and painful, yet we don’t take time to stop and appreciate the process that is happening and give ourselves recognition for all we have walked through.  My birthday is at the end of November, which is also very close to the New Year.  So each time I add another year to my life, I make an effort to reflect on the calendar year that has passed.

Looking over the last year of my life is one my favorite self-reflection activities.  And yet sometimes I can feel paralyzed when I reflect on the unexpected detours my journey has taken.  I am reminded of how the unknown used to leave me so shaken that I would return to negative patterns of behavior that I knew would ultimately lead back to treatment – a predictable and safe conclusion.  However, the more I stepped into recovery, the more I realized that the universe does not curse or bless.  The universe does not dole out good and bad.  The universe only provides neutral experiences.  It is in the way in which these experiences impact our lives for better or worse that is in our conscious control.  A broken heart can render us incapable of leaving the house.  It can color our views of the world so much so that we refuse to trust those around us.  It can drive us to put up guards, locks, and walls around our hearts to make sure that nothing and no one will ever harm us again.  And little do we know that these guards keep the hurt out, but along with the hurt, these walls also keep out any potential good as well.  A broken heart can also drive us to create a masterpiece.  A broken heart can inspire us to chase a dream that has long eluded us because we realize the fleeting nature of our existence.  A broken heart can help us re-evaluate the kind of life/partner/career/family we want which instills a new sense of self-worth and a refusal to settle for any relationship, situation or activity that makes us feel “less than” or “not enough.”

Sometimes I see pictures of my younger self, and I sit in wonder.  This 6, 9, or 12 year old Gracie had no idea the turns her life would take.  Did she know that the college experience that she dreamed of — advancing with ease throughout all four years, meeting the love of her life and friends that would last a lifetime – would change into a series of residential treatment centers, struggles to go back to school, and ultimately attending a small college nothing like any that she had dreamed of?  Did she know she would fall in love like the magic she dreamed of only to have it crumble and leave her questioning what she could have done differently to keep it?  Did she know she would also have the chance to go to Africa, Europe, and South America?  Did she know she would fight back for her life and become strong enough to run two marathons?  Did she know she would meet people that would change her life forever and that she does have friendships that will last a lifetime?  Did she know that the turns in her life would grace her with empathy, resilience, fortitude and courage she never understood a fraction of before?

I no longer fear the unknown like I used to.  Of course there are still days where my stomach turns with anxiety, longing for a crystal ball that will assure me everything will be okay.  But more and more I have learned that the crack in the crystal ball – the unexpected event, or the unexpected gift that comes from the sometimes devastating turn of events – is really the most exciting and inspiring part of the journey.  Now I embrace change, and I even chase it.  I make a concerted effort to step into the unknown.  In the last year I decided to start the journey of yoga teacher training and became a certified yoga teacher, meeting friends and finding a community that brought such healing to pieces of me that I hadn’t realized needed it.  I graduated with my master’s in Social Work and was able to have the gift of working as an individual therapist, returning the gifts of a listening ear, understanding friend and unconditional support that were given to me at my hour of need.  I packed up my life and decided to move to a new state, start two new jobs and throw myself into a completely new climate and community.  I embraced change, leaned into it and actually chose it.  I chose growth.  I chose to trust the crack in the Crystal Ball because honestly it has been the most beautiful and transformative influence in my life.

I cannot wait for the future and yet I am constantly in awe by the beauty of the present.  I am so excited to see where this journey will lead me in the next year of my life.  I cannot wait to look back at pictures of my 20, 21, and 24 year old Gracie and think…she had no idea of the beauty that was to befall her life.

Thoughts

Written by: Morgan Blair, Founder and Creative Director

Somewhere between 7:15 and 8:06 I found myself in a tailspin of wound-too-tight brain zaps, which left me lying on the floor, wrapped tightly in a blanket, and my fingers counting my pulse. And there among the dirty carpet and snotty tears, I found a flicker – not an explosion, not an awakening – but a flicker of goodness among all these minutes of personal anguish.

I was okay.

I was okay and I was going to be okay.

One. Two. Three breaths and I was halfway across the rickety bridge to whatever the other side of this journey had to offer. And perhaps that is how it goes. One night gives birth to the strength to fight another and another night gives you the strength to face a day. Then, before you even know it you’re doing it. Whatever “it” may be. But in the moment I was there. I was taken to a place where I was scared and hurting and unwilling to go on. For this reason, the moment was precious. I bottle it up and save it on my shelf as a trophy, gold, shiny, glittering with pride and accomplishments.

Victories are found in the quiet moments, the moments we are certain we cannot go on, and then we do. “The strongest warriors are the ones we know nothing about.”  I read that quote the other day and shrugged it off. But as I lay here, heaving into the carpet, I think again. That quote is me and that quote is you. It is about anyone who has breathed through the night they didn’t think they could survive.

So, I turn off the lights and I stay on the floor until all my tears have dried. I fall asleep to the rhythm of my short distressed breaths. I have no dreams. No thoughts I can still muster up. But, then I wake up and feel a smile creep upon my lips. I get dressed and find a way to begin again.