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Authors: Elena Stowell

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BOOK: Flowing with the Go
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oach has a resonant way of saying “stay connected to the Earth.” On the mat, it means to keep at least one foot planted firmly on the mat so that you always have a physical focal point from which to push off. If I do not have a foot securely on the Earth, I will not be able to leverage my opponent. This is analogous to staying emotionally grounded. You must be whole and present. In Jiu-Jitsu, if you let your mind wander, if you are not fully present in your body, your opponent will have his arm around your neck, and if you do not become present and tap out, you will become unconscious and pass out.

In life, we seek to be grounded in physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional well-being. Many of us are stuck in the paradigm of entitlement. I know I was. Before Carly died, I felt entitled to her— indeed, my own—well-planned future. I felt entitled to my emotional and spiritual security. I felt entitled to my health and intellect. And I felt entitled to knowing when my life was going to change so that I could prepare. But we are not entitled to these types of groundedness. We have to work for them.

One of the hardest things for me to accept about Jiu-Jitsu was that I had no control over what my opponent might do. In my mind, I would formulate brilliant game plans for sparring and competition. I would visualize the entire session. Then in reality, my opponent wouldn't follow my brilliant plan, and I would be lost. Often I would freeze up or fall a step behind while trying to make a new plan in real time. I wasn't able to adapt and flow without great effort. I would get angry with myself, and sometimes, with my opponent. I would lose my groundedness. Now when I am sparring and tactics go awry, the first thing I ask myself—after
are you remembering to breathe?
are you
connected to the Earth?
I know that if I can get at least one foot firmly on the mat, then I will find the leverage to upset my opponent and regain my sense of well-being. When my opponent is Grief, and I fear its tight grip around my neck, I also ask myself if I am connected to the Earth. Life requires that we are consummately receptive, regardless of preparation. We must adapt and flow seamlessly. Being connected to the Earth provides the comfort I need to get closer to my grief.

Accommodating grief and fear takes courage. Early on, I believed that I could not do it. I could not accept that my daughter was gone. Every day I had to decide whether or not I had the courage to face the day and thinking that I might be overwhelmed by emptiness and give up. For a long time, I was far from grounded. Time is the enemy of grief, and I eventually learned to live with the feelings of uncertainty grief left for me. I can't say that I embraced those feelings or anything that enlightened, but I did learn to carry them with me as if they were a wild animal in a small cage. I felt empowered that I could bring them under my control, knowing that at any given moment, I had the power to release them. That release would only happen when I allowed it, when I felt equipped to face those feelings, brave enough to retrain my response to fear so that its hold on me was not as strong and crippling.

Will we ever become allies, grief and I? I think it's possible we may have a commensal coexistence, like tolerant roommates. Do I respect the power of grief? Absolutely. But that does not mean I have to play the subservient role. I also do not have to define my grief and fear as good or bad, and instead simply see them as they are. I don't have to try to escape from them. In the past, when I tried to escape from my grief, I sought comfort externally. (Cue the choirboys singing “Looking for Love in all the Wrong Places.” ) If I ate, drank, bought, watched, or read “this,” I would feel better. I was my own worst counselor, thinking that all of these external things would make me feel better, but instead made me feel worse. The affirmation I sought was short-lived, and I would suffer from an “emotional hangover.” These hangovers left me drained, cloudy-headed, irritable, bloated, angry, and steeped in pathos. I was disconnected from the Earth.

Like an addiction, I kept participating in these disconnecting behaviors. You know how, when you were little, you would come home and say “Mom, my [body part] hurts when I do this . . .” And Mom, gifted with maternal wisdom, would say, “Then don't do that.” That's how self-destruction tortures you. You engage in the self-destructive behavior because there is a period of time where you don't see your behavior as self-destructive; you see it as comforting and a portal to a better time. Then comes a time when you know your behavior is self-destructive. You then have to decide if you are going to engage in that behavior. Sometimes you do engage, because you feel like you deserve to feel shitty. Other times, you can resist and tell yourself that, maybe if you don't feel shitty about yourself, you can feel better about everything else . . . like being able to see Carly's picture or walk past her room, and to respond with memories that make me smile and give me a sense of thankfulness for what I had with her, not what I am missing now.

That's my journey. I'm not there. But I do feel like I'm on my way. Sort of like Dorothy and her yellow brick road. Hers was not an easy road to follow. There were flying monkeys, intoxicating flowers, and an evil witch trying to keep her down. But Dorothy was resilient, wasn't she? I'm not going to braid my hair and wear a pinafore, but like Dorothy, I am going to surround myself with friends who can help me stay on the road. I am going to fight back. I may not get what I want the first time—remember how Dorothy got turned away at the gate?—but I am integrating the strength and tools I need to live fully my life as it is now. I will stay connected to the Earth.

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud
was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

— Anais Nin


f part of groundedness involves taking care of your physical, inside self, then I was a wreck. Sure, I was getting exercise now; I had integrated back into society, work, friends, etc., but physically I felt terribly unbalanced. I had been training at Jiu-Jitsu for about six months, even competed one time. But I did not feel like an athlete. I was still heavy. I would get gassed during training. My weight would fluctuate five or ten pounds constantly. I was pre-hypertensive. The blood pressure really freaked me out because I had been 110/70 my whole life. I was tired, frustrated, and stressed out.

Again, a power beyond random chance intervened. During the fundraiser for The Carly Stowell Foundation I mentioned previously (see Chapter 7), a last-minute donation was added to our silent auction. It was for a full wellness evaluation with a naturopath. I had always been curious about naturopathy, and it was obvious to me that my traditional Western tactics were failing. I bid and I “won.” (I think it's funny when we are at silent auctions that my kids think we “won” something.
Uh, no honey, that's not how it works.
) I met Lisa two months after the fundraiser and following the holidays, and I felt at my physical rock bottom.

Naturopathic medicine is different from conventional medicine. The fundamental tenets of the practice reflect on treating the whole person with a holistic approach. It supports the innate ability our bodies have to heal themselves with the support of ancient healing wisdom and modern scientific knowledge. Lisa has an undergraduate degree in cell and molecular biology and a naturopathic doctorate degree. Because I also had a background in the sciences and did my graduate work in molecular biology, we were able to “speak the same language.” Identifying and treating the underlying cause of any imbalance requires knowledge of both physiologic and nutritional biochemistry, endocrinology (hormones), and the science behind emotional health. It isn't “hocus-pocus,” as my dad first called it. Later he conceded that whatever it was, naturopathy was certainly working for me and was therefore acceptable.

Lisa empowered and educated me to not only move toward wellness but to manage and maintain it. On her website is this most applicable tenet: “I endeavor to educate you how to care for yourself, and in turn you can help others care for themselves.”

Lisa confirmed some things I knew: my blood pressure was high, I was anemic, I was fat (she didn't say it like that), my blood chemistry was a disaster, and I was spiritually wiped out. What I didn't know was that my adrenal glands had been impacted by my chronic intense stress and my cortisol release was actually backwards from normal. These factors were likely the reason my weight kept changing and I had no energy. She patiently listened to my story of how I had gotten to this place, never judging, rushing, or blaming me. This is in stark contrast to some medical doctors, who, with little time and lots of patients, just looked at your chart, gave you a prescription, and said “adios” after fifteen minutes. Lisa was the most refreshing intervention I'd received.

I think it was no coincidence that I ended up in Lisa's office. When I saw her writing some things down, I gasped in shock, “You hold your pencil just like Carly.” My daughter had a bizarre way of holding her pencil that would have driven parochial school nuns crazy. It drove me crazy because I was subjected to nun-like penmanship and Pencil-Holding 101 back in elementary school. Carly held her pencil between her index and middle fingers and used her middle finger to press down on the pencil. I had never seen that style before, not even in any of my students during the course of my teaching career. To see that Lisa held her pencil the same way was a sign to me that I was supposed to be there and that I could trust her to help me unconditionally.

And help me she did. Let me be the first to say, though, that I did the hard work. She counseled and made suggestions and did the tests, but I was the one who gagged down some nasty-tasting supplements and followed through on her regimens. It was baby steps. And I didn't agree to everything. I adamantly refused to give up coffee for a long time. I didn't find “mindful time” every day. But I did honor the process. When I said I would do something, I did. And I started to see results. I didn't lose weight for a while, but I did get smaller, more toned. I definitely saw a change in my energy level, and I slept better. I began to feel like I could think more clearly.

When Lisa suggested something, she would also explain why she was suggesting it. She knew that I was a science person so she always included the biochemistry behind the nutritional suggestions, and I always got to see my laboratory results. There is a part of me that responds best to the numbers—the facts that drive the reality home. Lisa reinforced many things about nutrition that I knew, but had only dabbled in and certainly had not participated in for over a year. I had come to the point where I had nothing to lose (but weight), so I listened to everything she said.

Naturally, my improved health was a plus on the mat. I felt more energized and had more stamina. I had a more positive outlook about myself and my future. I learned that the choices I had been making to comfort myself were not healthy choices, and they affected how I competed. When I felt pressured, my Old Self would grab a bottle of wine and some Oreo's and hit the couch. I learned to ask myself, “Do you really want to do this? You know how you will feel tomorrow. Is it worth it?” With this new attitude, Lisa helped me hone my nutritional plan while I trained for Worlds. Yes, beet juice does help build endurance. And mentally, Lisa taught me how to relax my mind. We talked about my goals: how I had always wanted to have a plan, but did not want to become obsessive about it. I had been directionless for long time. When I would finally decide to do something, I had always given it up after a couple of weeks—except the Jiu-Jitsu.

So I admitted to Lisa that I was afraid, afraid that too much focus on any one thing would bring back my stress. I no longer wanted to ride an aimless wave; however, I wanted goals to be my guide and to allow myself permission to waiver occasionally. I wanted to be well, but I didn't want the process to control my life. I didn't need any more stress.

Lisa taught me that FEAR is “Forgetting Everything is All Right.”

“We see the world not as it is, but as we are.”

— The Talmud

My work with Lisa also taught me to be more patient and present with others. It was hard for me to be patient and present when my modus operandi had become give-up, breakdown, self-destruct, and feel guilty about it. I learned not to react impulsively to protect myself. Instead, I learned to slow down, breathe, and think about the consequences of my choices. I listen more intentionally. I accept that everyone has a different context from which they are operating.

For a long time, I did not see the world as a place I wanted to be in because I didn't think the world wanted me in my grieving state. Now I try to consider that whatever it is that people are saying or doing stems from roots we cannot possibly see, from something deep inside them with which they are struggling. Sometimes we
because we cannot
, and sometimes we
because we cannot
. Life is not an exam with only one way to solve the problem. Everybody's problem is different, and everybody's route to the answer is different.

BOOK: Flowing with the Go
9.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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