"There's a lot of heartache." ~ Keith Owens, BJJ Black Belt
Physical pain heals, it passes. Sure it can really sucky when it happens, though most times, pain doesn't last and there are tools to work with in order to recover and prevent physical hurts.
What about when you're not in pain physically but feel like you are suffering because of whatever is going on in your life? Isn't that type of suffering a form of pain?
On the mental and emotional mats within our beings, suffering manifests because of the ego. The ego will choke the sh** out of us, smash us, and punish us into suffering every chance it gets. The funny thing there is that it's very human to not submit to the ego, which drives us further into the cycle of suffering, even though symbolically, we've passed out, the joint's popped, or worse.
When I first got back on the mat for the first time since 2011 this past November, there was great joy. It was fun to come back and just stepping foot in the Academy, reconnecting with old friends, making new ones, and once more being a part of the grind that is Jiu-Jitsu really made me smile.
That's not to say, coming back after such a time away and with my activity a lot more passive over the years, the challenges didn't arrive tenfold with that first step back. The calf I tore at 31, the MCL I strained at 35, both yelled at me as I reconnected with movements I've not seen for some time. My lower back, which has 'gone out ' at random times for over a decade decided to have 'fun' with me during a week I took off where I had planned to to rest and recover from Jiu-Jitsu.
As they say, the best laid plans...
Having worked through physical issues in the past, I've grown more aware of my body and have an arsenal of tools to help me work through those setbacks and heal.
Younger me? He overtrained, ate whatever he felt like, and had no consistency in sleep schedules so he would have taken a long time off when facing the above challenges.
But what does that difference in the approach to training have to do with ego and heartache?
Well first of all, I have always loved Jiu-Jitsu and have an addictive personality so I want to be out there 7 days a week, as many hours in the day as possible. The reality of my life doesn't allow that and it's okay. So sit down ego, remember Jiu-Jitsu is a marathon, and by taking better care, this time we'll finish the race.
Well, that's all good and zen in making sense of your time off the mat but how are you on the mat?
Oh man, I have been smashed by the whole jiu-jitsu color spectrum and have tapped to the beat(down) of white, blue, purple, brown, black belts, AND their kids, who are little beasts in training.
That's got to be tough, right? Imagine if you hadn't stopped or come back sooner? Or this? Or that?
That relentless questioning can take us for quite a ride. Unless you catch the ego at work and stop the mental back and forth, you will be taken to the place where suffering lives.
The years off the mat taught me to work with my ego, in particular with letting go and not holding on to expectations, even achievements, which if you think about it are short-lived anyway, in both professional and personal settings. As soon as they crown a Champion, thoughts move on to the next fight, game, match. That's the reality we live in unless we hit pause, relish in whatever comes our way fully, then let it go, be present and embrace what's next, when it arrives.
Not before. Not after. But in the Here and Now.
Conceptually, I'm good at explaining these ideas. I live for them and Jiu-Jitsu was so great for me because it gave me such a powerful ritual to understand these concepts that I carried what I learned with me off the mat through all these years.
The most lasting lesson that I learned in that time while practicing presence off the mat?
I have realized life is a journey. Not just thought about those words. I have felt them as they took me by the hand and led me step by step through the highs and lows of life. From that, I know I'll survive and have something to be grateful for each day that I'm alive no matter if it's a bad day.
Just because today, or this season, in my life might not have been great does not mean that more awesome days, or seasons of life, lie ahead.
Being off the mat and rolling with life has also taught me to be patient, identify what it is that brings me joy, then valuing that fully, and manifesting a joyous, grateful attitude throughout my life.
For as life is wont to do, tragedy lies just ahead, maybe over there to the left, right, or even middle of the path.
Combining that inner work with being back on the mat is giving me the experience of what one of my teachers has referred to as ruthless compassion.
It is as though life knows what I have come to value and have sought to embody on the daily so now it's telling me, "Is that so? Well here you go f***er, have joy and gratitude while getting technically destroyed by those more advanced, man-handled by those who want to win at all costs, and well, because let's be real, you're just a Blue Belt, you suck."
A bad day of training is still better than no training; but it can be heartbreaking.
I have to watch those questions and negative thoughts I have about myself and not be attached. I have to acknowledge when someone got the better of me because that's just what happened, they caught me. After a night of getting smashed, where I couldn't do anything right, I go within, I feel the heartache for what it is, I watch as my ego chirps up, then let it go because:
1. I showed up. Some days, especially within the current season of my life, I don't even want to wake up. That I woke up, went to work, and Jiu-Jitsu, that's a win.
2. I got a great workout. Far greater than anything I did without Jiu-Jitsu. My clothes are already fitting better and my endurance is getting better each week.
3. I learned. Even if one is getting smashed, one can learn. I've returned to Jiu-Jitsu with a fresh mind and renewed hunger so the learning is amazing!
4. It was fun.
Those last two, that's what life is about, growing and enjoying so when I fold all that in, wow, it's just so humbling.
Everything about this return to Jiu-Jitsu has been humbling. It is humbling in an inspirational way to see my friends who have stayed, fought through their own heartache on and off the mat and how awesome they are as Brown and Black Belts.
It is humbling in a refreshing way to meet new friends who have been on the Jiu-Jitsu journey and hear their stories.
It is humbling in a comforting fashion to have a place again that I can call my Jiu-Jitsu home, with a team who I can call family.
And it is humbling in an embarrassing sense where yet again, I am left to gaze deep into the mirror of my ego, watching as it creeps on the mat. Right, when I start to think I should be in a different place other than where I am, whether it's pining over my lost years of not training and not being further along, or that I should know more than, BAM, brought right back into the present.
Jiu-Jitsu is such a great addition to life because it is ALL about THE journey.
If the end goal is to become a Black Belt, where think about what we've been told, the journey only really begins there, isn't it best to take all this journey offers and relax?
If this is to be lifelong (as Jiu-Jitsu should be), wouldn't it be grand to learn the lessons of grappling with the ego and flow with it as opposed to fighting every step of the way?
Recall, there are times and places to fight. Give it your all in a competition, in protecting yourself and your family on the streets, and in pursuit of a goal. But remember more so to have fun and enjoy the journey in all other phases because you will learn and find more fulfillment, both on and off the mat.
At this stage of my life, I would rather flow with each step than trudge through this marathon.