One day, recently, while leading a writing workshop within an inpatient treatment facility, I heard myself say, “change isn’t easy, but taking the first step towards what you want to become will set you on your way.” I was speaking about learning to live life without the aid of drugs and alcohol, but as I heard myself, I knew that I had to make some changes, as well.
While I haven’t used alcohol for well over 13 years, there was a time when I believed that I needed to use prescribed Xanax to numb a reality that I didn’t understand. But being a writer and firm believer in reflective journaling, I focused my thoughts and behaviors on learning why I acted and reacted in ways that made me believe I needed Xanax. In time, I learned that I didn’t actually need anything; I just needed to stay “in the moment” and not allow myself to get too far into the future or too far away from wherever I was at a given time. In practicing that focus, which I still do, I stopped using Xanax. That was well over 12 years ago.
But in listening to myself that particular day, I realized that I needed to go further in my study of the human psyche, both my own and other’s psyche. So, in the spirit of heeding my own advice, I took the first step towards learning more about the psyche. Specifically, I am seeking to understand how to become an integrated person. That is, I want to become someone whose spirit, mind, and body are all integrated and aligned towards developing all that’s good and strong and beautiful. So, I took the first step, which was a course in energy psychology.
In that course, I learned about meridians and energy centers within the body known as chakras. It seemed a bit hokey, but the more I read and researched these energy pathways and centers, the more it all seemed to make sense. From there, I stumbled upon Tai Chi and Aikido, which then led me to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (bjj).
When I was young, I trained in various martial arts, but if someone had told that I would start studying BJJ at 45, I would have said that he was nuts. But that’s exactly what I did: I started training bjj. It was difficult, at first, and my body was in shock. I had never done many of the movements and I was sore in places that I didn’t even really know existed. Although I struggled and felt pain, I continued to train. Not because I had any interest in becoming a competitive fighter, but because I sensed that it was a great laboratory for concepts I learned in becoming certified in Mindfulness.
For example, one concept within Mindfulness in self-regulation. Basically, it’s the ability to keep oneself balanced regardless of the circumstances. In an article in Psychotherapy Networker (Jan/Feb 2017), Harvard graduate and researcher, Dan Siegel said, “Almost every mental health problem – anxiety, depression, eating disorders, personality disorders, thinking disorders – are issues of self-regulation. Ultimately the goal of therapy is to optimize self-regulation, the coordinated flow of energy and information through the major systems of the brain . . . and then between one brain and another” (p. 68). Dr. Seigel’s description of self-regulation is the EXACT mental space necessary while in the middle of a bjj sparring session. Maintaining balanced energy flow when someone is trying to choke me has proven to be an exercise that I can carry forward when I’m not training. Once I learn to maintain that level of self-regulation, I hope to be able to teach it, just as I teach writing.
I’ve been training now for 6 months and I don’t intend to stop anytime soon. There are ranks in bjj, just as there are in other martial arts, but I don’t know if the color of my belt will every change, or that it even matters whether it does or not. For now, all that matters is that I study and practice and use the bjj mat as a laboratory where I can apply mindfulness techniques such that I can master them on a whole other level. Soreness be damned.