I’m pleased to present to you a guest post from Kai Morgan.
Kai Morgan is a blogger who focuses on how we can become better people through martial arts training. Read her blog and download her free e-book on how to attract and retain more female students at: www.budo-inochi.com
Martial arts are my lifeline, and my training literally pulled me up out of the abyss at one point.
At one point in my life, I was thrown into deep trauma and grief, of an intensity seemingly beyond all endurance. During that time I passed through the world like a numb little ghost, barely surviving to the end of every working day without falling apart or literally falling asleep. After which there was no energy left over for family, friends or pretty much anything else.
I saw nothing around me but a thick, bleak, exhausting fog, with no sign of any light beyond.
My tiredness was so extreme that I sometimes worried that I was seriously ill. I didn’t understand at that time the immense, unstoppable power of grief to hijack your brain and render you a living zombie.
Looking back, I realise now that my experience was just normal.
Avigail Abarbanel explains it beautifully:
The process of grief is physical. Building new brain connections and neural networks is tiring. It uses up a lot of energy and while the brain does that, we don’t have much mental energy left for anything else. It is similar to when a computer is being used for a massive computational task but we still try to use it for some word processing on the side. It’s going to be clunky and slow, and things are not going to work as well as when we have the entire computer power available to us […]
Because our brain considers adjustment to change crucial to survival, it will make it a top priority task and will allocate as much energy and resources as possible to the adjustment process. This is because from our brain’s point of view we are in danger as long as our mental image of reality doesn’t match our actual reality. Everything else that we have to do just has to take a back seat. Our brain doesn’t care that we have to go to work, raise children, pay bills, drive cars, run businesses, care for others, cook and do the shopping.
And now I’m able to understand more about what’s going on, when other people sink helplessly down into that place after great suffering. This is just one of the many blessings to have emerged and remained, after the fog cleared.
So how did I find the way out?
I believe that above all, it’s because I never stopped my martial arts training, however ill or desperate I felt. Looking back, it was the strangest life ever; a kind of double existence. But I desperately wanted to be well; and instinctively trusted at the time that consistent training would be my guaranteed shortcut to healing.
How is it possible for someone to barely function, and yet spend hours every week running around the dojo, fully engaged in vigorous physical and mental exercise?
Here are some notes I wrote at the time . . .
It’s not lost on me that I’m completely listless and useless most of the time, but every time I get on the mat, all my exhaustion vanishes and I become a focused, energetic little powerhouse. I often wonder if this means I’m “faking” my tiredness the rest of the time, but I know that’s not true—I’m generally a positive, energetic person who hates to be ill, and I know that this chronic tiredness is something way beyond my control.
So why am I always ok to train?
I can’t really understand or explain it, but I start to think about a strange, beautiful story I heard from one of my primary school teachers, very many years ago. The school was Roman Catholic, and our teacher told us one day about a little girl of our own age who was very sick—so sick that she couldn’t even eat and had to be fed by tubes.
But this girl was extremely devout, and wanted above all else to make her First Holy Communion. Her faith was so strong, that she believed she would be able to receive the sacrament, even though she couldn’t normally eat or drink. So they arranged for her to take Communion from her sick bed. Sure enough the miracle took place, and she was able to receive it just like anyone else, to the absolute amazement of her doctors and family.
Now I have no idea if this story is even true, or whether it was perhaps partly true and exaggerated for effect. But I had absolutely loved hearing it at the time (a small Catholic girl can be a very romantic and impressionable creature indeed). And it strikes me that I am now somehow like this girl. I can’t do my job very well at the moment; I can’t be bothered to return phone calls or texts from friends or family most of the time; indeed I can’t even get out of bed for long on some days.
But wrap me in a white uniform and put me on a training mat, and I’m somehow transformed. It really is a kind of personal miracle as far as I’m concerned.
One explanation for this may be that training gives me a guaranteed respite from all my fear, bad memories, grief and anxiety about the future. Learning Aikido and Aikijujutsu is so fascinating—and also so difficult, to put it frankly—that it literally leaves no space in your head for thinking about anything else at the same time.
This reflects the state that Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi labels as “flow”—a state of total concentration and absorption in an activity, which is so complete that nothing else seems to matter. I’ve come to believe over the months that I’m really fortunate to have such easy, direct access to this state of pure “flow” several times a week. I compare it in a way to taking painkillers or antidepressants, or receiving some other kind of therapy—but this course of “treatment” feels more akin to some kind of sublime blessing or miracle, and heals me at an infinitely deeper and more effective level.
The suffering I went through will always remain a part of me.
But so too, every hour of training I experienced was also absorbed into my soul like a magical balm; and healed me from the inside out, faster than the people around me ever would have believed possible.
When we eat food, our body seeks to extract all the good elements, and convert them to become a part of ourselves. Meanwhile, it strives to expel that which is harmful, or of no use.
Likewise, I believe that all being well, our soul sucks out every last drop of goodness from our experiences, whether they are positive and negative, and strives to assimilate all that good to create new versions of our ever-emerging self.
I would not change a single moment of that tough period in my life; and I am quietly thankful now for the rich personal growth it brought me. My greatest hope as I write this tonight, is that someone else will read this story, and allow the healing power of good martial arts training to work its sure magic upon their own shattered heart.