Martial arts teaches me that playing it safe means no playing at all.

When I decided to quit practicing Tae Kwon Do, it felt like the right decision. The safe decision.

I was keeping myself safe from more debilitating injuries, right? After all, I’d been in physical therapy to strengthen my knee for six weeks already, when I stumbled in class and twisted my knee again.

So I quit. For two months. I was terrified of being injured again. I thought I was making a good decision.

It was a physical therapist during my second round of pt who finally set my head straight. “Luann,” he scolded me. “Professional athletes in peak condition still get hurt. It’s just something that happened.”

He assured me that being active was the best strategy to staying ‘safe’. He pointed out that he gets just as many clients in for therapy who are total couch potatoes, who fall on their way to the kitchen for another bag of chips and injure themselves.

If doing something you love motivates you to work out every day, then do it.

In his mind, “playing it safe” meant continuing to do the strengthening exercises he’d given me, faithfully.

Somehow, I ‘got that’, and decided to return to class.

In fact, I decided to also return to kickboxing as a way to train better for tae kwon do.

I heard a lot of protests from friends and acquaintances. “Are you crazy?! You’ll get hurt again!” they exclaimed. “Don’t you think you should take it easy?” Some suggested swimming–it was much safer.

Play it safe.

But here’s the thing: If you live your life fully, you can’t play it safe.

I like swimming okay, but I don’t love it. I don’t love it enough to show up to do it three to five days a week.

I do love martial arts–tae kwon do, kickboxing, tai chi. And I doshow up to do them, at least five days a week.

I know now that a daily practice may occasionally result in injury. But it will also strengthen me, stretch me, and improve my balance. All things that will serve my body, and my spirit well as I approve my sixties, my seventies, my eighties and beyond.

I’ve been playing it safe in my art, too.

Not just in getting it out into the world, but in doing the work I love. I’ve been holding back, making less expensive work, worried about whether it will sell.

Telling myself to give up on certain dreams and desires. Too unlikely. Can’t see it. It will never happen.

Figuring if what worked the last ten years wasn’t working anymore, then nothing would work.

So give up. Keep my head down. Play it safe.

You know how well that’s worked (NOT!) because I’ve been writing about the pain.

Art needs a different kind of daily exercise.

Normally, that’s simply doing the work. Making art generates wanting to make more art.

But I’ve been ‘injured’ doing my art. So I tried a little “emotional physical therapy” suggested by Martha Beck in her latest book, Steering by Starlight.

I can’t picture my perfect life right now. Too big, too scary, too unlikely. So I’ve been practicing how I’ll feel when I’m living my perfect life.

I imagine feeling joy instead of fear. I imagine feeling anticipation instead of dread. I imagine the world wanting exactly what I’m making, instead of me trying to imagine what I could make that the world wants.

And it’s working.

I see a wall hanging that my brain tells me could never be purchased. It simply wouldn’t fit in anyone’s house I can imagine.

But I imagine feeling my heart leap with joy. And suddenly I saw that piece laid out on a worktable in sections, waiting for me to work on it.

I have an idea for a book I can’t imagine would be published. I can’t imagine how I would find a publisher. I can’t imagine an editor who would be so on board with what I want to write, that she would call me every few days to read what I have and exclaim in delight and encouragement, with excellent suggestions on how to make it even better.

But I imagine what that would feel like, to have an editor like that, working on a book like that. And I feel anticipation instead of dread.

I know I’ll never be young again, ‘thin enough’, good enough to do justice to my martial arts practice. It’s too hard to lose weight, too hard to practice daily.

But I imagine what it would feel like to be light on my feet, to be strong enough to throw a kick perfectly, easily–and my spirit soars.

I’ve been doing this a handful of days. And I cannot express to you how much lighter and happier I feel.

I’m starting to really feel like good things are ahead.

Pulling out of my ‘normal’ routine for the last few years helped clear the decks. Cleaning the studio helped, too (though I’m sorry to tell you, my friends, that you can’t tell I cleaned at all in here anymore.) Following my heart on hospice has cleared a space in my schedule this spring. My dear husband allowing me the space to simply get through this and see what happens, has helped enormously.

For the first time, I am not afraid to simply wait and see what’s next. (While moving ahead all the same.)

And to prove that playing it safe does not necessarily keep you safe….

I did badly twist my knee again yesterday.

But it wasn’t in kickboxing, it wasn’t in tae kwon do. It wasn’t climbing a wall. It wasn’t while I was snowshoeing, yoga-cizing or riding.

I slipped on the ice while chasing a chicken out of my garage.

And when it happened, I laughed at the absurdity of it all.

p.s. I’m okay. Sore–but okay.

Author: Luann Udell

I find it just as important to write about my art as to make it. I am fascinated by stories. You can tell when people are speaking their truth--their eyes light up, their voices become strong, their entire body posture becomes powerful and upright. I love it when people get to this place in their work, their relationships, their art. As I work from this powerful place in MY heart, I share this process with others--so they have a strong place to stand, too. Because the world needs our beautiful art. All of it we can make, as fast as we can! Whether it's a bowl, a painting, a song, a garden, a story, if it makes our world a better place, we need to do everything in our power to get it out there.

15 thoughts on “PLAYING IT SAFE: Don’t!!”

  1. Hello –
    we haven’t met, and yet by reading your blog entries, I find myself looking back at me, and in that respect, I’m glad that I have found your website, can read your blog entries, and be encouraged to continue on.
    I think playing it safe is for “regular” folks -people who have decided to stick to life’s plan as stated by others: work hard to get into the right school so that you can get into the right job so that you can find the right spouse so that you can afford the right house and live in the right neighborhood and do all the right things.
    Playing it safe can perhaps lead to a successful life, but it won’t lead to a memorable life. We can be playing it safe just like your doctor said, by sitting on the couch, staying still, and be killing our very soul.
    I’ve known for a long time that playing it safe wasn’t for me – that does not make it any less scary or make me any less willing to give up this artistic life and wish I could just play it safe and not have to worry about surviving.
    And yet I have found that by willing to get hurt, I have slowly become more daring, more willing to stand up for myself and my spirit, and I have found my truth, my being. It won’t let me play it safe – it has found its lungs, its voice and I can’t keep it quiet any longer.
    So thank you for writing this entry, thank you for voicing the exact statement I needed drilled into my head today!



  2. “I see a wall hanging that my brain tells me could never be purchased. It simply wouldn’t fit in anyone’s house I can imagine.”

    And it will directly say something unique, and intense, to some other person(s), who will want to have it with them wherever they live. Some personal reinforcement, like a special poem or favorite saying.


  3. Good for you! I’m glad you went back to Tae Kwon Do.

    Every time I play it safe, I feel disappointed. I often surprise myself when I don’t.


  4. So true, Luann. When we are totally immersed in the joy of what we are doing, everything seems to work in our favor, but if we are afraid that we’ll get hurt and pull back our energies, often that’s when we get hurt because we are not in total agreement with ourselves. The body is tense, the mind is preoccupied, etc. Not sure where the chicken fits in to all that, though ;-), but this is definitely something that I’ve been learning lately.

    I had an experience this weekend that I think demonstrates the power of envisioning what you want rather than what you can’t have. My son has been researching drum sets for months, and had decided on a new set that was beyond what I felt we could comfortably afford. I tried to understand where he might be able to see things differently, and I discussed this with him. My thoughts were that he wanted good quality, but he also wanted it now, and the two weren’t coming together. So I suggested that he look at how he could adjust his expectations in some way so that he could have what he wanted now, and within a few days we bought a used set that is better than the new set that he wanted and was half the price! I guess that was also about finding a way that your vision fits what you can do at the moment. Certainly, focusing on what he felt we couldn’t afford wasn’t going to get him anywhere.

    The Law of Attraction teachings by Esther Hicks talk about what you described as well.

    Here’s today’s quote:

    The basis of your life is absolute freedom, the goal is joy, and the result of that perfect combination is motion forward, or growth. Your goal is to find objects of attention that let your cork raise.
    — Abraham

    I’ll have to check out the book you mentioned as well.


  5. I was having a rather down day when I stumbled on my newsletter from FineArtViews and began to read your article. After I finished I felt I had to discover more about this quirky artist. You have a great twist on life and not unlike my own. I can’t tell you how you truly lifted my spirit with your wonderful story(Playing it Safe…). I was a fine crafter and it was safe and comfortable except not my love. I decided to leap into painting full time and in this economy but you have to have faith it is right. I just wanted to say thank you. You may want to check out Hay House Publishers- Louise Hay is a fabulous affirmation writer and you can also find my favorite, Dr. Wayne Dyer.


  6. Pia, Mary, Sydney, Cindy, Laurie, you have all blown me out of the water with your comments and insights–thank you for being so generous with your thoughts, and for your kind words. (‘Quirky’ works for me!) :^)

    Karen and Laurie, thanks for making me smile!

    The chicken: Okay, we have three chickens who make a break for it every time someone (ahem, DH!!) leaves their coop door open. I didn’t realize they were out til I was in my car and ready to leave for an appointment. And there right in front of the car in the garage was a chicken!

    DH was out of town, but fortunately my teen son was home. I ran back into the house to get him. He rounded up two pretty quickly, but that one in the garage was pretty tricky. She ran out onto the icy driveway, I tried to head her off, and whoop! One leg went one way, and the other didn’t.

    ow. ow. ow.

    But I did laugh. It was so ironic. It proved you can play it safe and get hurt doing something stupid. So why not get hurt having FUN instead?

    To make it perfect, the hen laid an egg for me that afternoon. I had it for breakfast the next day (French toast, yum!) :^) (The EGG, I mean, not the chicken!)


  7. I read the post and it uplifted me – I read the comments about the chicken and the imagery made me laugh so hard I snorted tea out of my nose 🙂
    (must remember to swallow the tea BEFORE reading your blog)
    nic xx


  8. Luann… I have been studying online all day.. wading through sales pitches and ‘come-ons’ to get to some genuine advice to help guide my own decision to leap off that precipice into going into business for myself (yes, in *this* economy! ..which I must have read a hundred times in the last three hours.
    Thank you for your joyful, stimulating and sincere efforts; for sharing your own process and *especially* for your lack of pretense.
    Your blog is an abs0lute joy to read as well as incredibly warm and reassuring; not to mention very helpful.
    Someone already beat me to mentioning that you’ve intuitively discoved the basics of the “Law of Attraction”; a philosophy that has completely transformed the way I see the world and my approach to, well, everything!
    I am smiling as I read… nodding along with what you’ve written, with the other commenteers (okay, I made *that* word up) and giggling out loud at the idea of that chicken driving home! 😉


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s