Lately my mind has been a bit foggy as I was consumed with the final stages of my Black Belt testing. I have been working towards this for almost 4 years, not including 3 years of Shotokan Karate training back while I was at University. In fact my previous training stood the test of time reasonably well as Taekwondo has strong roots with Shotokan as many of the arts founding member trained in Shotokan during the Japanese occupation of Korea in the early 20th Century … but that is another story.
It was a Friday night, just rolled back into town from work and went immediately to the Dojang (Korean for Dojo) as it was now time for our 3-hr meditation. We had been fasting since Wednesday which had limited us to 3-cups of cooked rice a day, plus water and green tea; a practice designed to cleanse our bodies. The meditation was a way to help clean the mind and spirit. Both are more practically demonstrations of our resilience, both a mental and physical hurdle.
For the meditation, the three hours would be broken into three segments with 5-minute breaks to stretch and take any required bio breaks. While we typically do a short meditation, 1-2 minutes at most, to start each class. Tonight we would be sitting for a stretch of 60-minutes not moving, not talking, with the lights off save for a single candle sitting center of our group.
This was going to be a challenge, and it was …
Part 1: The journey here – Looking Back
We settled into our places, getting as comfortable as we could. As our instructor left the room we gave us our task for the hour, a ‘look back at your journey here’, and the door shut. The candle flickering in front of me. “I got this” I thought as I straightened by back and started breathing, calming myself.
It is hard to capture a journey of your own life, or at least I was finding it hard. I have memories, both good and bad, inspirational and depressing – but nothing seemed to chart a course, yet I am here. I kept trying to build on memories from my childhood, and try and see how they influenced choices in my teenage years and further into my adult years. Thought about days spent on the ski slopes and fishing off the dock on the lake. Remembered friends. I searched for a line, a thread, something that would help tell the story of me but the theme would not come.
Switching gears, I took a look at more recent events. A train of thought I have been riding a lot over the last couple years. I wasn’t getting any emotional engagement from my mind on any of it, maybe I was just done thinking about it. At this point the biggest challenge was staying in the past … my mind, as it often does, was floating around. As it does when I am in happier moods, it kept moving back to my ongoing hopes and dreams. I envisioned personal projects. Thought about upcoming events and things I needed to get done. Mentally reviewing my budget. I was conscious of this rabbit holes of thought and I kept dragging myself back to the past. To talk personal history with myself … about myself, remembering the splash of snow as I plowed into the snow banks in my toboggan. Moments of fear as I was learning to drive and making incredibly stupid decisions. Started to wonder … how the heck did I live long enough to get here?
I have often thought about getting my memoirs down at some point, but I don’t feel I have much to say. Most of my life I have spent looking forward, and often don’t stop to drop markers or take a look all the fences I hit or donuts I was doing. Always had a 5-year plan overflowing with ambitions … and was pushing forward. 2015 was a rough year for me as I felt all that fade away, I had spent most of that entire year stuck in a quagmire, and I have just started feeling like I was getting traction again. My dreams were starting to feed my passions again … hmm, wonder if this was what he was getting at?
My hip was starting to ache and readjusted slightly … 15 minutes left. I pondered what the next sessions would be like and my mind soon was back down the path of dinner plans for Saturday afternoon.
Part 2: What is this?
Quick stretch, my hip was starting to seize which is not a good sign for the night. Shot of hot green tea to wet the lips and we were back on our blankets. This time to answer the question of “what is this?”
This was the hardest session, my body had ached after the first hour and we were not a few minutes in and already my right hip was screaming at me. My mind was a hard thing to contain, it wondered often with its own goals and aspirations, luckily we had the koan (mantra) to help drag me back. I started with the physical aspects, “what is this?” … this is a room, this is a candle, this is me breathing. This is our meditation session. This is our black belt exam … so no, a beer when I get home would not be a good thing. I started looking at internally … this is me hungry, that pain … that is my hip.
Ok, enough playtime … I had actually started hunching over a bit and stopped breathing properly. Honestly, breathing was uncomfortable due to conflicting hunger pain that were felt as I took a breath into my lower abdomen. I straighten my back again, raised my chest and chin, relaxed my arms … and breathed deep. Almost instantly my emotions changed.
What is this … this is my black belt test. This was an accomplishment. A black belt was not a prize I have been after though. Have always been interested in martial arts, but more in the way of life and general skills than in belting. Joined with friends to a club at the University, and it just sort of became my thing. When I moved I searched for a new school but nothing seemed to fit, then work got busy and life just took over. When we decided to get our oldest involved, it wasn’t but two classes before I was standing beside him … I was not going to be able to sit and watch, I was going to do it WITH THEM.
The Dojang and the training had kept the consistency of life going, which helped me stay steady when life got really rocky. It also helped to have somewhere to go and kick a bag for an hour. Life was turning around, I was moving forward. My dreams and aspirations where back … and what is this? This was an accomplishment, or more specifically the moment of accomplishment. Something I have not really felt in some time.
I held onto that thought, “this” was the moment, a turning point possibly? This brought energy, my back straightened again and my breathing slowed into a pattern, I was able to relax. This was a moment where I was moving on and up after years of feeling beaten down. This was a moment of pride.
Excited I took a quick glance at the clock … foolish me. So much time left. The pain in my hip became apparent again forcing me to shift my position and ease the tension. The muscles in my back could be felt … as could my tailbone. What is this … this is me at almost 39!
Thought about “this” being resilience, especially with the fasting we have been attempting. This was my resolve. I would get this done.
Part 3: Who am I?
With 120 minutes down and only 60 minutes left to go, I could sense the excitement not only in myself but the group. For the third time we settled in and relaxed; answer me this “who am I?”
This has been a question I have been longing to gain an answer to for some time, with 60 minutes it was time to dig into it a big.
I first thought I was a dedicated worker, a helper, a dreamer. I am a developer. I am a person. Yet all those thought sounded like I was answering “What am I?” … was looking for “Who am I?” I started to look outwards, to famous figure heads. Who was Albert Einstein? Thomas Edison? Wayne Gretzky? And … found I was answering “what” they were or more what they were known for. Who there were I could not assess as I did not know them.
Ok … taking a look closer to home. Started looking at my friends, my children, and my parents as examples. Who are these people? They are loving. They are caring. They are fun. They are inspirational at times, and listeners when needed. Felt like I was on to something. You always know when you are onto something when the gears start turning on their own, the self-powered mind.
So who am I?
I am a son, a brother and a friend. I am both a parent and a child. I am a student and a teacher. I am an imperfect guy struggling to find my way in the world, yet I am a mentor and a role model. What I finally honed in on was that who is am is a connection, I am the interaction I have with others.
Determined to not look at the clock, I focused on the candle and pushed the pain or soreness of my body aside and contemplated my connection to my boys. Who do they see in me? What am I showing them? They see my struggles, my pain. Do they see my successes?
Who am I? … I am Dad. I was left smiling as the door opened and the final session came to a close.
The take away
This was tough. Found it hard to breath as my body desired food. My muscles were stiff and ached as they started to move again. I sit all day at work and through my commute to work – this was more sitting, and my body did NOT thank me for it. But it gave me a chance to still my body and try and still my mind. Realized that this doesn’t really take that long, most of my main thoughts presented themselves fairly quickly. Left me wondering how I could train myself to spend 10-15 minutes in the morning … maybe just one day a week. I am liking the thought of it.
After three hours I was able to center myself and focus on some key elements on my life I had not managed to frame into a common thread prior. This weekend was a marker, a milestone for me. I was a father, a son, a friend and a brother who, in this moment, was starting a fresh chapter in life … and I am finally excited to see what challenges and opportunities lie ahead. The next day I successfully completed the black belt exam, but it meant more. I had a new perspective.