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.