Getting Pushed Around

Why I Wanted To Be Bruce Lee

Let’s face it, nobody likes being pushed around. It can be demoralizing whether it is physical, verbal or emotional. I like to maintain at least an illusion of control over my circumstances and being pushed around tends to undermine that. It was one of the primary reasons for my training MAs in the beginning. As a child, I almost always felt as though I had no control over my own life (I probably didn’t). Do this, don’t do that. I was also bullied constantly. Then came Bruce Lee. Here was a guy that not only didn’t get bullied, but would track down and beat up the bullys. Then came Yojimbo (Toshiro Mifune), now that was a guy you didn’t want to mess with! For a long time I wanted to be that guy. Invincible. So, I trained. And trained. And trained. Grew up, got big, started practicing my ‘mean face’. My plan, surprisingly, worked, sort of. Most people stopped messing with me. Never been robbed, mugged or harassed, except for the police, who decided that anyone with such a well practiced ‘mean face’ was undoubtedly a thug and therefore up to no good. Also, with intimidation being such an integeral part of my training, I eventually began to have problems. For starters, I developed back problems from holding my posture all the time (chest out-shoulders up) and while my reaction time increased, over reactions became the norm. If someone hit me with x amount of force, I would reply with 10x. If I thought someone was thinking about hitting me… 20x. More often than not, they were thinking about something else entirely, which may explain how I got a reputation as an assh@le. Even in conversation I would adopt a defensive posture and then ‘attack’ if they overreached. As you may have figured out, I was much more the knucklehead then ‘qi-hugger’. I also had difficulty identifing with groups, which is why I never fell into the ‘my art is better than your art’ trap. I would simply take what worked for me and abandon the rest. This enabled me to become a better fighter in a short amount of time, but also made it impossible for me to develop a solid foundation.

The Need For Change

As I grew older, I got into less and less physical confrontations and more and more verbal ones. I was becoming constantly defensive and argumentive. I wound up in the habit of taking the opposing view automatically. This and other constant knee-jerk reactions eventually came to my awareness (I can be real slow about some things), but how to change and even what I should change it to, eluded me. I found that being defensive made me more of a target somehow, while being aggressive not only turned molehills into mountains, but would often create problems from thin air. The awareness of a need for change coupled with an inability to effect that change resulted in no small amount of pressure. That pressure grew to a point where I had to become almost totally disassociated simply to function. Whether it was dealing with my girlfriend at the time or coping with pressures at work, checking out kept me from becoming overwhelmed. It also improved my ability to deal with the public. No matter how stupid, rude or obnoxious they were, I would just smile and nod, while going about my work. Within a year, my reputation had shifted from ornery coot to buddhist monk. I actually made lots of friends and patched things up with my girl. I honestly believed I was onto something. Then, the depression set in. It was inevitable really. I was becoming more and more dissatisfied with my life. Despite everything I had going for me at the time, I was too removed to enjoy it. I realized that the majority of my new ‘friends’ liked me simply because I didn’t interupt their monologs. No matter what they said, I didn’t care enough to agree, disagree or correct obvious misunderstandings. And they almost never asked my opinion seeing as how it was beside the point (from their perspective). And as much as I wanted to, I could not connect on an emotional level with anyone, since that would open me up to the possibility of being hurt. So the relationships just kind of stagnated. Which brought it’s own kind of pain. I also began to develop stomach problems. For example, on my way home from work, I would often begin to choke and often threw up. I once just passed out all together. I tried changing my diet, started drinking milk, eating antacids. I didn’t realize at the time that it was being caused by stress. I thought I had solved that, but in reality, I had only shut out the awareness of it. The stress was still there and building.

Plan C

Then I met Dave, my taiji teacher. I wish I could say that discovering taiji solved all my problems, but I can’t. I still have a lot of issues, but taiji was a good start. Doing the form and especially pushhands highlighted the roots of a lot of my issues. Plus it gave me a format for experimentation with alternative stratagies. When I first started, I used it as a medium for expressing my fustrations. Basically, I tried to level him. It didn’t work. In fact, the harder I tried to ‘get’ him, the harder I hit the wall (or ground, or fence, or car, etc…). With that option taken away, I resorted to being defensive. Rather than go to him, I would sacrifice the initiative and wait for him to push, then alternately, collapse, curl in a ball or jerk away with enough force to uproot myeslf. To Dave’s credit, he was really patient. He explained and re-explained how to neutralize, but like a lot of other things, it’s easier said then done. I stuck with it simply because it offered the hope of an effective way of dealing with pressure. Months into our practice, we were pushing hands late one night. After almost 4 hours I had yet to neutralize a single push. I felt like a fool. I was so upset with myself for not being able to do something that seemed so simple (Dave had a way of making everything look easy). Finally after picking myself up off the ground for the umpteenth time, I was just about ready to quit. Not for the night, for good. I decided to give it one more shot. Dave came with a gentle push and I turned (read: shoved) it to the side and came back with a quick push. To my surprise he moved back two steps. Here, I thought, the shoe is on the other foot. Two more times in a row the same thing happened. By the fourth time I was suspicious, so instead of a shove, I gave him a half-assed slap yet he still went back two steps. The jig up, he waited a moment then asked, “feel better now?” No. I didn’t at all. If anything I felt worse, partly for feeling good about shoving him and partly for being duped so easily. Dave sat on the ground and motioned for me to join him. We sat in silence for a minute while he rolled a cigarette. After a few puffs, he sighed and said, “Look, I’m not here to beat you up or make you feel bad. At my age, I don’t have anything to prove to you or any one else. If you don’t want to do this, go home. I’m only here because taiji keeps me sane and helps me relax. All I care about is my health and the health of those around me. I push hands because it’s the only way I know of to develop a deeper understanding of taiji and tao. I’m sorry if you can’t understand that.” I cried. Despite a lifetime of building psychic defenses, he had cut me right down the middle with a few words. I tried to apologize, but he wouldn’t let me. He guessed correctly that it had probably been a while since I had cried and said it was probably good since it meant there was still hope for me. We went back to pushing and I was so grateful to have another chance (despite my willingness to quit 20 minutes ago) the release was so great I can’t describe it. It felt like my chest had been ripped open from the inside-out, yet to feel anything at all was shear joy! After being pushed a few more times (laughing the whole time), I neutralized my first push. As it came in I felt it roll through the space where all the tension had been. I was elated. Contemplating the experience later, I realized that it was my acceptance of being pushed that defused it. Previously, I had done everything I could to stop, block, dodge, evade or counter the pushes. Here I find simply allowing myself to be pushed around grounded me in a way. Usually I would relax to a point, but when the push got too close, I would panic and tense up. Only by opening myself up to the possibilities (good and bad) would I stay relaxed enough to neutralize. It is a matter of faith. Faith in one’s self and one’s ability to adapt to and cope with whatever may come up. I feel privilged to have had this experience. While I still find myself having problems, I have the confidence to actively engage them, because I know now (win or lose) I can handle it.

Note: From now on, I will only post on my days off. Cause honestly, in rereading this, I don’t even know what I was trying to get at. So, sorry if I confused anyone!

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~ by aedhcarrick on September 6, 2009.

2 Responses to “Getting Pushed Around”

  1. Man, that was a fantastic rendition of the intimacy of real internal change:

    “We went back to pushing and I was so grateful to have another chance (despite my willingness to quit 20 minutes ago) the release was so great I can’t describe it. It felt like my chest had been ripped open from the inside-out, yet to feel anything at all was shear joy! After being pushed a few more times (laughing the whole time), I neutralized my first push. As it came in I felt it roll through the space where all the tension had been. I was elated. Contemplating the experience later, I realized that it was my acceptance of being pushed that defused it. Previously, I had done everything I could to stop, block, dodge, evade or counter the pushes. Here I find simply allowing myself to be pushed around grounded me in a way. Usually I would relax to a point, but when the push got too close, I would panic and tense up. Only by opening myself up to the possibilities (good and bad) would I stay relaxed enough to neutralize. It is a matter of faith. Faith in one’s self and one’s ability to adapt to and cope with whatever may come up. I feel privilged to have had this experience.”

    I feel privileged having read that. Thanks.

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