First Neighborhood Meeting

Today was my first NB meeting and… I really dug it. Definitely a lot of issues to consider re: board efficiency, community involvement, and getting work, but I had a blast.

I’m going to do quick summaries of cool community services I hear about via Instagram Story. If you want more details, you can always check out the minutes.


It’s about You. It’s about the collective Us

I saw The Last Days of Judas Iscariot and it hit me right where I needed it to. I’m re-reading the play and stumbled upon this gem in the first few pages.

I also think that religion gets a bad rap in this country and that non-maniac-type people who are religious or spiritual have a responsibility to stand up, be counted, and gently encourage others to consider matters of faith and to define for themselves what their responsibilities are and what it means to try to be “good.” It’s not about joining a team or a church or choosing sides or learning a prayer. It’s not about man-made concepts of good and evil. It’s not about doing “enough” or “too little.” It’s not about shame and guilt. It’s about You. It’s about the collective Us. Thomas Merton said, “To be a saint means to be myself.” What if that were true? What is it that we need to overcome in order to truly be “Ourselves”? I won’t pretend at all that this play answers that question, but if it provokes the question in you, then please let it. Ponder it. Because we need you.


Guirgis, Stephen Adly. The Last Days of Judas Iscariot: A Play . Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.

From Education Week: Honesty In The Fight: What ‘Game of Thrones’ Teaches Us About Education Discussions

I’ve been thinking a lot about trust, honesty, and transparency lately. Here’s something I put together for EdWeek.


There are always three ways to handle a difficult conversation: you can skirt around the issue; hoping someone understands your meaning; you can simply run from it; or you can stand up, look the problem in the eye and tell it like it is.

Jon Snow definitely tells it like it is.

Many people watching the Game of Thrones season 7 finale watched with bated breath as Jon Snow decided whether to lie and gain allyship with an enemy queen or tell the truth. Many yelled at their televisions when the King in the North (the aforementioned Jon, for those of you who don’t watch the show) decided to tell the bold-faced truth and potentially ruin that allyship, frustrating his current allies in the process.

I, too, was struck by Jon’s honesty, and wondered about the need to lie to help the greater good. Then, Jon Snow said something that stuck with me the rest of the night. He looked his frustrated allies in the eye and told them, “We need to be honest with each other if we’re going to fight together.”

I was struck by the simplicity and truth of that line, and how much it applied to so many aspects of our life. If we’re going to be on the same team, we have to trust each other. That means being transparent, up front, and telling our truth even when we think it’s difficult for other people to hear.

The thing is, once that trust is broken, we start playing Littlefinger’s game in our heads. At one point in the finale, Littlefinger, an aid to the Lady of Winterfell, asks her to imagine someone’s worst intentions for doing things, to see if the possible reasoning matches up.

Once we lose trust and faith in the word of those we seek to ally with, it is difficult to trust their intentions. It becomes harder to assume they want the same things we do and for us to grow together as a team. Disagreements and tension can be worked through, but losing trust means losing the ability to be vulnerable and honest with those in the trenches with us. Without trust and transparency, we cannot challenge each other to do better.

How many of us have lost that trust on our school teams, within our community, or with our students? How many of us are unable to trust that we all want to move forward despite disagreements, and thus have been unable to make that progress?

In order for growth to happen, we have to model honesty and trustworthiness by having difficult conversations because we know that they’re important. We have to make the first step to look our problems in the eye and name them so that we can fight together. We have to challenge each other to be better, and we need to disagree sometimes in order to grow everyone’s thinking. Is it scary? Yes. Can it threaten our ability to ally? Sure. But if we all name the real problem, we can all move towards a common good.

And our students deserve that. They need us to be honest and upfront with each other and with them so that we can fight the common enemy of systemic oppression and educational inequity. When done with the right intention, it is the compassionate thing to do. It allows us to demand the best and push each other and allows others to challenge us when our own thinking needs to be changed.

So, we need to trust each other to fight together. Without it, we find ourselves isolated and weakened. We can’t afford that now since we know that the winter of our national discontent is no longer just approaching. It is here, and only our work together can begin to let the light back in.

The Ragged Sweetness of My Own Voice

“You need to get up now. I need you to get up.”

I am kneeling on a cold floor, sobbing into bedsheets.

“You need to get up now.”

I brace myself against the command, the voice thick with emotion and wet with tears. I grasp tighter at the soft cotton, the smoothness of it against my palm soothing. I shake my head, sobbing harder. My anchor-heavy heart sinks further into the ground, the leaden weight ripping a track down my gut as it goes. I open my mouth, and my sadness begins to tumble out and patter to the ground like broken shells, each one cutting my throat and making a thin, little wail and cough each time they hit the floor. I actively open my jaw wider, as though I could let out all this feeling, all this hurt, all this stuff out with tears and small-hurt-animal-sounds. I shake my head again, so sure I will not be able to get up, sure I will not be able to pick up my keys, sure I will not walk out the door. I am sure I will be anchored forever by the bed, in a broken harbor of my own making.

“You have to go now. You have to do this. I need you to do this.”

Even more strained, the seriousness makes me snap back to myself. I struggle to take a few deep breaths, my own inhalation rushing into me like ice. I blink my eyes a few times. I cough, the last few shards of sadness sputter out again, cracking once they land.

Stop. Breathe. Again. Good. ”

“You know you need to get up now. You know you can do this.”

I nod, recognizing the voice as my own. When panic hits, the separation between the head and the heart becomes so clear, so precise, that it’s jarring when the wall shatters and comes down.

Still, after years of begging others to help me come home, I take a deep breath, and hear my own voice– ragged and strained, but still sweet and drunk on its own agency– bring me back to myself.

“You know you can do this.”

I take a breath again. I see so many faces, people who have wrapped themselves around me like warmth in the storm, nodding as I finally, for the first time, come into myself as master of my own fate.

Today, that fate is merely picking up my keys and being able to leave the house.

I take another shuddered breath. I nod to myself again.

I pick up my anchor-heart. I feel the weight of it in my palms, notice how my arms strain to carry it. I sweep away the bits of my own sadness, mindful not to get cut, not scared if I do. I listen to my own broken voice, a siren’s call, begging me to come home. My throat is ragged with painful truths. I hear the sweetness of its own power. And I leave the house.

Today, that small victory is the flag on top of Everest. It’s the medal at the end of the marathon. It’s the ravaged warrior, finally come home again, not dead as once-believed but scratched, beaten, scarred, and smiling that they came out the other side.

Today, the call was my own voice. Today, I listened and came home.


An Ode to the Last Best Place

Yesterday morning, I climbed up Mount Helena one last time this summer.

When I first accepted a spot in this fellowship, I not only had no idea what to expect, but entered the process full of misconceptions. Firstly, I had no idea exactly where I was going. I had mistakenly assumed I’d be in Wyoming (where, to be fair, much of Yellowstone lays), for much of my summer. Either way, both Wyoming and Montana were states and regions unvisited and unmapped in my life. I had, in truth, no idea what to expect when I came out here.

Now, after two weeks in Helena, I walked outside a few nights ago to a raging red sky, and heaved a sigh that this was the last time this summer I’d watch the sun set at incredibly late hours under the face of Mount Helena, the last swipes of God’s brush streaking brilliant streams of orange-gold in purple canvas. When I left Hawai’i this summer, I didn’t expect to find lava in Montana skies, but there it was– another sort of fire goddess over the endless horizon around it; Big Sky a name never seeming more apropos than when the heavens are endless fields of light.

Then, this morning, I started trudging (there is no other word, my body ached) up Mount Helena’s 1906 trail– the only other time being my first morning in Helena. Every few minutes, I forced myself to stop and look around at where I was, still in awe at the scope of the place. Endless sky and blankets of pines cover the mountainside in a formation that I know is wild, yet is almost painful in the true perfection of it.

And I cried.

Not out of sadness, though I’m really sad to be leaving, but out of a far deeper, more visceral reaction. The gnawing in my chest when I saw the pines or looked up the faces of gulch cayon walls spoke to something more wild, more primitive even, in my being. It spoke to this deep connection between me, the feral beauty of the land, the creator who had set it all in motion, and the fate of that endless cycle in the future. Seeing the raw beauty of this place hit me right in a spot of my body that swelled with gratitude, awe, joy, and serentity that I honestly don’t know if I’ve felt before.

The word I keep using to describe what I’ve expereienced in Montana is “vast”– the immense vastness, the sheer scale of its beauty has been overwhelming to witness. For all intents and purposes, it should– and does, I suppose– put into persepctive my own small place in the world. I am dwarfed by the sheer scale of this place.

Yet, far from demeaning in any way, the experience has only been renewing. I see this beauty, am awe-struck, and then am filled with a charge, a kuleana, to appreciate and be grateful for this place.

There’s a phrase in Montana often used by locals to describe the state, calling it “The Last Best Place.” There’s much debate and discussion as to the origin and meaning of the phrase– but it can be found throughout as a pride-filled monker for a big state that still has elements of small-town life (in my limited experience). A lifelong Montana resident I met out here described it as “the last place of its kind to be preserved. Public lands, small-town friendliness, strangers helping strangers, more cows than people, bipartianship, that kind of thing.”

And that’s overwhelmingly been what I’ve found here. As, admttedly, unsure as I was (especially as a woman of color travelling to a mostly White state), I have found nothing but kidness, joy, and a fierce and loving sense of pride. I have been welcomed like family, given new friends, bought drinks and passionately and lovingly debated politics with people I have just met. I have felt genuine interest in my story from people here; I have seen a genuine desire to share their own stories too. There’s a love not necessarily for a culture, but rather for the very land itself. For the actual soil on which we move on each day, for each pine tree blanketing the mountain.

No place is perfect, of course. No place, particularly in the American West, is without its history– bloodied and ravaging– of how it came to exist today. Montana is not without its struggles, especially as a rual community. That same resident also reminded me that the phrase is “a little self-depricating, in that a lot of Montanans (like people from anywehre else would do) come back home because they don’t know where else to go.”

That’s the thing, though. The place– the earth itself and the people here– have called home to my soul in a way I have never experienced from a place I had never been to before. It called back to the deepest roots of myself, the parts shorn from the land itself, and forced me to listen to my own beating heart. It cured, as Stephen Mather said, the “restless nation” bubbling in my blood.

So, when they call it “The Last Best Place,” I see what they mean. To this visitor, anyway, it’s one of the last places calling us home to the earth we came from. It’s a place that gives you the space to find, hear, and discover the best of yourself. It’s a place, at last, that allows you to sit under big skies of golden light, consider the large scope of human kindness, and allows your soul to start finding its way home.


At Hellgate Canyon

Stop. Breathe. Again. Good.
Wind whistles in endless pine trees
as your neck cranes higher to look.
-do you see it yet?-
The bright blue sky– paint from a God-hand
streaks through the gaping canyons of yourself.
Places unexplored.

Sit on the black-orange-mold-moss that scares you.
Let yourself reflect on decay, on the parts of yourself dead and dying.
Smell the lambs ear of sage offered to you,
smell the tobacco you offered underneath that,
smell the salt of your own skin underneath that.
Places unexplored.

Sit among the sound of rushing waters– the call of your own blood
bubbling underneath.
Now is the time to ask, to listen to its burbled question,
What do you want? What do you want? What do you want?
Have you stopped to actually listen to the reply?
Have you turned the corner, seen the arrow of your own heart
and the sacred sites it points to?

When you are wobbling on the silk-water of shining rocks,
will you take the steadiness of hands offered?
Embrace the chill?

Stop. Breathe. Again. Good
Smell the braid of burning sweet grass, a protection.
Love the untamed red of the unknown mountain cherry and
see the ochre faded rust on stone, the handprint swiped like blood.
Smile at the violence used to create
the unexplored gaping canyons of yourself.
Look up at the sky and the wind,
feel your neck crane.
Do you see it yet?
Do you see?



Many thanks to Melissa Kwasny for leading us here and through the exercise that led to this poem. Needless to say, this experience has already been transformative.

The Stories I Weave Myself

I am sitting in a small dorm room at Carroll College. The window overlooking downtown Helena and the Helena Mountains is to my right, and the sun has just broken out of a thunderstorm to break into a beautiful sunset at 9:20PM.


Earlier, when I was supposed to be writing this piece (though I confess, I had no idea what I was going to write about), I was sitting with my feet up on the windowsill as a lightning storm passed through. Thunder boomed, lightning shot across the sky, and the rain streaked down all the way to the range– long fingers of cloud-wisps reaching from the horizon towards the trees. I sat in the room, alone, listening to Jazz music, just… watching.

I am in Helena, Montana, for a seminar on nature and education. It seems fitting to try and paint the picture of my setting for this story.


I had an interesting realization earlier this week. While I’ll be studying with a cohort of 16 people, I don’t know anyone on this trip. I don’t know anyone in Montana. I got on the plane out here knowing that, frankly, I was going to be alone. No one to meet up with or reach out to, no one sitting on the plane next to me holding my hand and planning adventures. I was on my own.

As much as I am an introvert and love my alone time, I realized that I actually am very rarely alone. I’ll go through brief afternoons and evenings, but I haven’t really been on my own since I moved to Hawai’i five years ago. Ever since then, I’ve found people– friends and family– to call mine. If I’m really honest, I’m a serial monogamist who hasn’t been single in quite a while either. I function best, I think, when partnered.

Or, I assume. Of course, I am still (very happily) partnered, but there was no feasible way to get my guy out here to join me on this journey. So, for the next three weeks, I’m flying solo, and it’s completely new to me.

And, as much as I should have been excited, I’ve actually been terrified. What if I lost all my luggage on the trip? What if being apart like this destroys my relationship? What if someone I love dies while I’m gone and I wasn’t there? What if I hate everyone? What if everyone hates me?

These questions don’t just stay simple, easy-to-answer dilemmas in my head. Unless stopped, they will often weave their way into full-blown, worst-case-scenario stories. I will very vividly visualize the horrors each one would rain upon me. A pit forms in my stomach. I can’t stop seeing the worst.

As much as I love stories, as much as I’ve been focusing my life on storytelling, I see now that sometimes my own stories hold me hostage.

I used to see Panic as the monster who would come and get me. That’s an apt metaphor much of the time, and sometimes my panic attacks will come out of nowhere, with no decipherable trigger. The problem with that image, though, is that it means I have no agency with my anxiety. Sometimes I don’t– sometimes it just hits me like a ton of bricks, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

Over the past few weeks, though, I’m beginning to see the ways I have, perhaps, let anxiety come to run parts of my life. I have become so accustomed to weaving tales that, sometimes, I’ll follow the yarn of a question all the way around and around until I weave myself into a web of despair, unable to claw my way out.

I am trying to get better at pulling myself out of the web. Instead of wriggling around, further entangling myself, I am trying to stop, breathe, and re-evaluate the situation. Often, though, I have someone who can help me start finding my way out.

Now, though, I am sitting in a dorm room thousands of miles away from the people who love me, with no one but the mountains and trails to help me find my way out.

So, at first, I was terrified by this.

But this morning, I woke up after very little sleep (Helena is currently in an unseasonable heat wave and our dorm room unexpectedly lost air conditioning, so little rest was had). I was tired and moody. I missed my partner. I missed air conditioning.

Then, I decided there was no one to cry to about it (literally, as I was the first person in the seminar to arrive), so I better just go out and do something else. I hiked up the 1906 trail to the summit of Mt. Helena. I saw nature like I never had before– endless sky and mountains covered in more evergreens than I could ever imagine. I was welcomed and helped by friendly strangers and their dogs. I ran down trails that looked like the ones I have dreamed of.

Then, I bought myself some chocolate milk, did some work, and watched the rain fall outside while listening to some Jazz music.

I’m currently going through a bit of a mind-shift, I think. As I’ve been asking myself what I really want, it also means coming to terms with the things I actually need– not just of other people, though, but of myself. What do I need to do to bring happiness into my life? How can I stop letting anxiety write the story that I should be writing myself?

I look out at the sunset, breathe, and remember the joy I felt this morning running along a lonely trail. Surrounded by trees, I felt so blessed just to exist, on my own, in such a beautiful space. It was a complete 360 from the despair I felt this morning. It was seeing that with each footfall I took, on my own, I was slowly stepping out of the web and back into myself.

And that’s where it begins, I think. As much as I love and need the support of people in my life to help me manage my anxiety, I need to be the one to break out of the narrative and back to the blessed reality that I am loved, supported, and incredibly blessed. People can tell me that as I further entangle myself in darkness, but ultimately I have to be the one to believe it. I have to be the one to set it down in ink on my heart so I don’t lose sight of it.

No one can write my story but me.

Finding My Way Home

Recently, I’ve found myself running again.

Certainly not as often as I used to, and without the data to analyze (my Garmin band broke in JanuaryWhat’s Next: Teacher, Writer, …? and I’ve yet to replace it), but I’m still running anywhere from 3-6 miles 4 times a week.

It’s funny, as much as I start trying new sports or fear I’m moving away from running— this sport that has defined me in so many ways– when I take a second to step back I realize that I am, often, still “running myself back to myself.”

I was re-listening to the episode of On Being that I was fortunate enough to be featured on last year. The episode (especially the parts beside mine) is such a beautiful testament to what running does for the soul. It always makes me think, but this time through I was struck by Roger Joslin’s note that, for him, running was sometimes the only way to make him feel different than he did before.

That’s when it hit me– running has always had such transformative powers for me. Of course, the other sports I’m doing force my presence and change me, but running has a way of restructuring my DNA a little. It forces me to check in with my breathing and myself. It inevitably turns me into an adventurer. I still make it a point to explore new places and see new things while running. Even as I run the same Magic Island path for years, each time through allows me to experience the people and the place a little differently than the time before.

What has really hit home recently, though, is the cyclical and circuitous nature of running. So many of my workouts are linear: we show up, we work, we end up at a new place, skill, or PR. Running, though, is cyclical– the repetitive steps running the same paths day after day force me to consistently evaluate where I am, what I’m doing, and how my body is feeling in that moment. It can also give me the space to physically zone out a little and turn my focus inward.

At the end of the run, I always come full circle. The thing about running is that once you run to a place, you more often than not have to run back. Running forces me to do the work, put in the time, but also find a way to get home at the end of the day. As far as I push myself outside my own comfort zone, I always know my body will bring me back home.

So, I’m in an airport on my way to Orange County and eventually to Montana for the month, spending a month at Carroll College for an NEH fellowship. I’m excited not just to learn, but really to explore. I’m excited to find new trails and, just maybe, find my way home in a whole new way.



On Open Water

I am slowly dragging a kayak down the sandbar at Kailua beach– alone. A few days earlier, my girlfriends and I had taken a few double kayaks out and really enjoyed it. So, when I woke up restless and discontent that morning, something in me said I had to get out on the water. Stat.

That morning, I sat on the edge of the bed, unsure if I was actually going to go out on my own. Why did I need to go out there? What was I going to do?

I looked around the room and saw a few dried lei hanging. One I had bought as a welcome-home gift, a few that were gifts for my birthday or for presenting. Strangely, in that moment, those things seemed so far away.

A lot of things have changed in my life over the past couple of months. I’ve taken a new job, I have friends leaving the island and, for the first time since moving here, I’m heading out on a trip completely on my own. Now, we’ve hit summer break, and I’m left sitting with my thoughts for the first time in what feels like a very long time. It’s complicated and difficult and… good. I think.

So, looking at those lei, I knew what I needed to do. I grabbed the lei off the windows and the shelf. When I return to my apartment I grabbed the ones hanging there– gifts from students this past year.

I knew it was time to shed some skin. I knew it was time to say goodbye to parts of me. I knew it was time to sit with myself– and just myself– for a while.

So, as I lugged the kayak across the thick sand, a paper bag full of lei in the back, I prayed that I might find some peace out on the water.

The first time I went out on open water, I hadn’t known how to catch my breath properly.

I had asked a boy to take me snorkeling.

He was an accomplished swimmer and had grown up late-night fishing with his dad and swimming on weekends. For me, the beach was an entire-all-day kind of affair. It meant planning and packing and, yes, stress, so I rarely went. I had a handful of summer days riding waves on a boogie board when my church had a beach retreat, but that was about the extent of my water adventuring.

When he and I reached the edge of the beach, he asked if I was nervous. I nodded my head a little. He grabbed my hand and gave it a squeeze. He showed me how to put on my snorkel and we went out into the waters of Electric Beach, swimming through currents from a nearby power plant. The warm water draws tons of exotic fish in. It was beautiful.

But it was also terrifying. I had never swum so far from shore in my life, and I was ill-prepared for how tiring swimming is if you’re not used to it. I was sure I’d be fine, given my athleticism, but I quickly found myself huffing and puffing, and becoming anxious that I might drown. The current and winds were stronger than we planned, and I felt myself getting pulled farther from the shore than I wanted.

The boy pulled me to him and held me in his arms, my hands clumsily tangled around his neck and in his hair. He reminded me to catch my breath as he held us above water. He promised me we would be okay and make it back to shore. He asked if I trusted him. I nodded my head.

Eventually, he guided me back to the shore, and I learned that I could actually catch my breath under water, through the snorkel, by floating and lowering my heart rate so I didn’t panic and hyperventilate. We saw some more fish and eventually touched down on the sand.

When we got there, I was so exhilarated to be alive and to no longer feel scared that I ran into the boy’s arms, kissed him hard, and told him I loved him.

He was surprised; hell, was surprised. It wasn’t that the words were necessarily untrue, but they were said without really thinking through what I was actually feeling.

“Love” in that moment encompassed gratitude and companionship. I was grateful to be alive and that he had guided me to the shore. I was thankful that, in that moment, I was not alone.

What– I take a huge stroke with my paddle– the hell— another stroke– are you doing?! I think as I begin to pull my kayak through open water. I still can’t believe I’ve actually done this– I feel my parent’s voices in my head berating me about never going out (in water, or in general) alone.

Still, I am only going about a few miles from the shore, and am surrounded by other kayakers, surfers, and paddleboarders. After a few minutes of pulling the oars through the water, I smile to myself. I make it to one of the small islands, grab a few photos, then decide to keep going and see how far I can paddle on my own.

Paddling, I soon learn, is about the closest, soothing movement I have found besides running in a very long time. The consistent strokes of the oars through the water are meditative. It is easy for me to set a direction and then just… go.

Out on the water, I quickly realize I have accidentally paddled into the reef area that the informational video I watched a few days ago reminded me to avoid. It was rocky and often had waves that capsized boats. I momentarily panicked.

I am gliding forward, unsure if I should try and go around the reef in either direction (I had no clue how far out it went, and trying to go around the other way meant heading back nearly to shore). All of a sudden, a turtle popped its head out of the water, raising its right fin at me.

“Oh, shit! I’m sorry, man!” I yell (out loud) at the turtle. It ducks back under the water and glides under my kayak, and I can’t help but start laughing. I take the turtle as a good omen, and carefully navigate my way through the reef. I let the waves gently keep me above the rocks below, and paddle hard when I get to open areas, looking out for rocks that are sticking up when the waves settle.

And, after a few minutes, I make it through the reef just fine. The water beneath me now is clear, bright turquoise. I look up and see that I’ve made it nearly to the Mokes, something I was unsure if I’d even be able to do that morning.

I start laughing. Then, without thinking, I start to cry.

I have built a life around the wants of other people. I come from a culture of obligation, where love is often shown by self-sacrifice, by giving, by choosing what’s best for the team or the family or the community instead, sometimes, of what someone wants. I don’t think it’s bad– I am joyful in my service to others and often find the greatest pleasure in giving to the people around me. Still, like all things, it requires a careful balance not to lose myself and my agency. I am turning thirty soon, and I have to be honest: I am not very good at asking for what I want, or demanding what I need from others.

So, sitting out on the kayak that morning, alone with only the ocean and a forgiving turtle, I am answering a question that I have had a hard time asking for years: What did want? What did need? To put it in the words and context of Beyoncé and Brittany Packnett, “I need freedom, too.”

I am doing it in small doses as I sit, by myself, for that moment. I am joyful knowing that I have taken this small slice of adventure and– most importantly– love for myself. As I sit out there, laughing and crying in the water, I realize that I really do and must continue to love myself. Up until now, my love has been one of constant sacrifice. If I loved myself, I think my ability to love others properly could be so much bigger than what it was right now.

The boy I had told I loved on the sand had ended up breaking my trust and being, perhaps, unworthy of my love, but I had forgiven him long ago. I hadn’t regretted what I had said either, just perhaps gained a new appreciation for what “love” might actually look like in practice.

It was not simply about companionship or gratitude. I realize that “love” now was knowing that I was fully complete. Love was the gratitude that I had chosen to take care of what I needed– then and, of course, before. Love reminded me that when I’d made that choice, people had come around me and embraced me as I was. Love showed me that I could do it again. Love was trusting that I would always be able to guide myself to shore, but knowing that I had cultivated enough love in my life that I was never alone.

Love was knowing I was worthy.

I reach behind me into the bag, and slowly begin laying the dried lei into the water. I cry and smile, silently filled with gratitude for each story the lei had represented, and then let them flow towards the ocean. The current pulls them away, not to be seen again.

I breathe in a deep sign, turned my face towards the island, and began to paddle.

Rhythm and Flow: Beating Myself Back Into my Body

I’m becoming certain that, as unexpected as it may seem, there is nothing quite as mindful as getting punched in the face or choked by your own collar.

I’ve been toying with the idea for several months now, ever since I started training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and sparring in Muay Thai. After years of becoming knowledgeable as and identifying myself a runner (something I’m struggling with), I’ve jumped into two physical worlds where I know… absolutely nothing. I’m newer than new to both sports. I had a brief stint with Karate as a kid, and trained some boxing and grappling on and off over the years, but nothing consistent.

Needless to say, the experience has been incredibly humbling. There’s a lot to learn, and while I’ve always considered myself generally athletic, there’s something really different about BJJ and Muay Thai that’s asking me to do something completely new: be totally and completely present.

Don’t get me wrong. Running and weightlifting both require thought, especially in order to do well. Running distance asks you to consider pace, strategy, and efficiency of motion. Weightlifting and doing a difficult WOD means thinking about form and timing strategy as well.

Still, both (running especially) have allowed me to slip into a cradle-rock rhythm of “work” and lose myself there. I’ve said before that running is a form of moving meditation for me. It often allows me to zone out completely until I’ve suddenly run many miles without realizing it. It has offered me solace and escape in this way for years.

Now, though, I’m working in a world where the consequences of zoning out will punch you in the face. Literally. As soon as the bell rings, all my attention has to focus on that moment– what is my opponent doing? Where am I expecting them? How will I counter their move? The physical muscle memory I am trying to build so I can hit or grapple safely and effectively is in a consistent, intertwining dance with the mental chess game at stake. Come at me with a body kick? I can be ready to throw the cross. If I’m able to take mount, I better be thinking about how to keep my base and try for a submission. Every moment is assessing the situation, choosing a response, and planning the next move.

Still, while it’s tactical, it’s a graceful and powerful experience too. It’s dangerous to overthink (and, thus, slow down) while sparring, so while there is consistently critical thought, there’s also the need to let go and see how well training and translated to good instincts. There isn’t always time to debate every possible move; the person in front of me demands a response in this moment. It demands my body to move in space with another. It forces me to interact with the world around so completely that I can no longer turn only inward and ignore everything around me. Instead, I allow myself to be drawn into the push and pull of another person, and the tension is fraught and exhilarating and reaches into a deep, gut-level part of myself that I so rarely get to interact with.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the state of Flow, a state of joyous and complete focus.

As strange as it is, I have always had a hard time reaching Flow while running or even while doing yoga. I would try and focus, be mindful, concentrate on my body, but the repetitive movement made it so easy for me to zone out, stop thinking about my body, be able to work through other mental things (something, again, I often love).

As I am trying to grow in these new arts, though, I find myself not only focusing more quickly, but almost being forced into Flow. In some ways, a sparring situation is a Flow or Die kind of moment. You either pay attention and do your best, or you get smashed.

There’s no shame in getting smashed though. If anything I’ve come to welcome it. There’s nothing like a teep in stomach or getting rolled over your head to bring you back into your body. When I am tempted to lose myself down the rabbit hole of my own mind, being in a space with other people who will beat me back into my body– quite literally– is actually incredibly soothing in a way.

Each hit, blocked or eaten, is a reminder to breathe. Each slam of breath out of my lungs makes me grateful for the next gasp I take in. And when time my training kicks in (finally!) and I land a hit or take a stronger position, there are double blessings: there is a brief moment of triumph that my I learned and executed something new, followed by the humbling realization that it was one moment in a series of many, and that I better get back to work.

Because the work is exhilirating, empowering, and exciting.