Being a Gentle Warrior

We seek happiness by believing that whole parts of what it is to be human are unacceptable. We feel that something has to change in ourselves. However, unconditional joy comes about through some kind of intelligence in which we allow ourselves to see clearly what we do with great honesty, combined with a tremendous kindness and gentleness.

Pema Chödrön, American Buddhist Nun

It’s been a long and challenging week, hence no posts the last few days. The flu plague that came to dinner has been reluctant to leave our house. Accumulating bodily injuries have left me limping and shuffling about like Quasimodo on his slow trek to the bell tower. No broken bones, just a foot injury, forced rehab and a break from high impact activities. Cumulatively, it has sent me into a mild depression.

I badly need that runner’s high and the adrenalin I get from sparring at taekwondo. I am so overwhelmed with “to do” lists that I do nothing. My desk pile has spread like some sort of mildewy growth. My writing is excruciating. My brain operates sluggishly, completely uncooperative, rife with doubt and dullness. This is where the bottom is for me.

When I hit mental bottom, it is in my nature to assume I must get up and duke it out with the saboteurs in my brain that make me unproductive and resistant to taking proper care of myself. I mean, haven’t we all been taught that it’s all about willpower and discipline? The problem with this reaction is that it usually doesn’t work and only ends up making me feel worse. I am learning to make friends with my dark, obstreperous side. And to gently coax myself into affirming behaviors, while riding out the malaise.

I turn to the very basics: Sleep, water, good nutrition and gentle exercise. I’ve made it through the first two steps, which explains why I was up once an hour last night. It’s like Rock, Paper, Scissors – small, aging bladder always beats restful sleep. Today, I’ve got to work on the last two steps. I’ve dutifully thawed out salmon, taken my vitamins and plan on doing some juicing today (the icky vegetable kind) and yoga is on the agenda after leaf-raking and pumpkin carving.

My sole work goal today: clear my desk, so that I start off the week with no hidden worries that I’ve forgotten something underneath that pile. My desk is wonderfully representative of my brain. I am concise and clear and organized when I have a pen and a notebook and little else on the desk. When not a clear spot can be seen on the desk, I’m overwhelmed and struggling. By cleaning it off, I’m taking a stand against paralyzing stress and shaking my mental cobwebs loose.

The approach of gentleness, compassion and curiosity about the destructive side of my nature is a relatively new idea for me. With my family history of mental illness and substance abuse, I have operated constantly on the defensive against any suggestion or possibility that I might have my own issues. I would force march myself out of bouts of depression and make too many commitments during periods of mild mania. It was demoralizing and I was always at odds with myself, constantly battling my demons.

Now, when the depression comes, I let it roll like a gentle wave over me. I know it will pass and I remind myself to focus on one step at a time. I try to be kind, not self-flagellating. When the mania comes, I have learned to say “no” even when my impulse is to say “yes”. I enjoy the energy and the level of productivity, and take advantage of the creativity. I am lucky to be able to manage things this way. Low environmental stressors and regular exercise keep the ups and downs as hills, not mountains.

I often write of battles and fights and struggles. I am learning that being strong does not mean showing physical toughness or saying hard words. Being a true warrior means that you have the courage to face who you are and to learn to work with your weaknesses, as well as your strengths. Sometimes that just means cleaning off your desk and giving your mind space to imagine life on the other side.


39 Comments on “Being a Gentle Warrior

  1. Just take it one step at a time. When my desks (yes, I have more than one!) get cluttered, I feel defeated before I start. But picking up one piece of paper at a time and dealing with it is so therapeutic. Once my desks are clear once again, I can’t imagine why I waited so long. 🙂 I’m glad you’re feeling better – take it slow and do what you can.

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    • That is one piece of advice that my mother gave me that I really held onto – “Just do one thing”. Inevitably it leads to more “one things” and back out into the light. Thanks for reading and commenting! I have so much blog reading to catch up on!

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  2. Beautifully put! I also find it hard to be “strong” and accept my “weaknesses”… but slowly I’m finding that in doing so I make little steps of progress. Enjoy the necessary basics!

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    • Sometimes I think the resistance to accepting, as opposed to changing weaknesses, is what causes misery. I suppose it’s the difference between “working with” and “fighting against” – entirely different approaches.

      Thanks for commenting – I’m all for “little steps of progress”!

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  3. You sound like a true survivor and you’ll make it true. Also, your writing is so entertaining. Honestly, most blogs I follow I scan the articles and only a few I really read. Yours is one of them. 🙂

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  4. “Now, when the depression comes, I let it roll like a gentle wave over me. I know it will pass and I remind myself to focus on one step at a time.”

    Exactly! I’m in a bit of a low right now – I need to move house, I have a neck injury that’s preventing me from exercising and I’m letting my stress and bad moods be an excuse to neglect all the things that I know will keep me feeling good. I know I need to just focus and take one thing at a time to start feeling better – it’s nice to know I am not alone!

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    • You’re definitely not alone. I think a lot of people go through these bouts, whether situational, biochemical or a combination. I finally realized that I always let go of the basics of self care first and that just makes everything seem far worse. Sometimes you just have to say “this is what it is” and ride it out, without blame or judgment, but taking compassionate care of yourself. Hang in there!

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  5. The approach of gentleness, compassion and curiosity about the destructive side of my nature is a relatively new idea for me.

    I’ve always thought that learning to embrace, not fight, ones inner self is one of the keys to peace. That doesn’t mean we can’t try to grow and change–we absolutely must–but we are who we are, and in some ways that inner core self doesn’t ever change.

    Think back to the “you” from high school. No doubt much has changed in your life and in you, but are you not in some ways still that person? Have your core beliefs changed? Do you feel really different at heart then that person?

    You’ve come a long way since then and done very well. I can say without hesitation that the person I’ve come to know in following your blog is a great person and well worth embracing.

    Peas be with you! 😀

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    • And with you also! I sometimes think my inner core got a little warped in the beginning, so a lot of self-destruction sprung out of that. Sometimes it takes a little time to not only recognize destructive patterns, but also getting more exposure to the world to know that there are better ways to live. Thanks for checking in and the kind words!

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  6. Wonderful that you are able to look inward and know how to deal with these feelings. Several members of my close family deal with depression and I so understand what you are going through. Wish I had read something like this years ago when trying to help those close to me. You ARE a Gentle Warrior!

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    • It’s taken a lot of missteps and a little desperation to deal with it the way I do. I’m grateful for having the life I do and glad that I am able to share my experiences with others. Thanks for your kind words!

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  7. I love your definition of a true warrior. This post was very encouraging to me. Thanks.

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    • I’ve thought a lot about what strength means and the Buddhist nun I quoted really helped me. I’ve been listening to Pema Chodron’s CDs/MP3s for the last few years and she always talks about making friends with yourself – all parts of yourself. I find it curious that so often we treat our friends so much better than we treat ourselves. Thanks for reading – I’m glad that you found some encouragement here. Sometimes I wonder if I get a little too “heavy”!

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  8. You are wise…always have been; I’m so glad you have gotten easier on yourself. Life can be enough of an up-hill climb without adding our own mountains.

    I hope you are (all) feeling better very soon.

    Love to you.

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    • You’re right about not needing to add to our own mountains. Thanks for your kind words, Sam. I’ll see you when I won’t give you the plague!

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    • Thank you for the compliment! Some days I’m more successful than others learning to work with who I am. It’s exhausting if I don’t – like swimming upstream and not making much progress. I think befriending ourselves, warts and all, is a challenge for a lot of people, but it’s a worthy pursuit.

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  9. I enjoyed your post. Anyone who doesn’t admit to having a rough patch of road occasionally is either lying or delusional. I’ve certainly had my share in recent months. I’ll draw from your strength, feel free to draw from mine.

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    • Thanks – I’m guessing writing about it is therapeutic, since I feel in somewhat better spirits today. Plus, this is a pretty amazing community – it’s one thing to know intellectually that you’re not alone, but when people are so generous in sharing their own experiences and thoughts…wow. So thank you for reading, commenting and being generous of spirit!

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  10. Once again, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Stay with it; you are obviously a talented and intelligent human being who only needs a scintilla of inspiration and a clear spot on the desk to wax philosophically. When I was teaching (I’ve just retired) I never left for the day without cleaning off my desk, to start anew and fresh the next day. Good luck. We’re watching the water rise here on the East Coast!

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    • There is something beautiful about a clean desk to start the day. I was like that at work, when I was in an office – even if it meant just shoving everything into a drawer!

      Thanks for checking in – stay safe and dry!

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  11. I can so relate to this statement:”I am so overwhelmed with “to do” lists that I do nothing.” Another thing I find is that I get easily sidetracked…looking for something in a pile on my desk turns into discovering something else I forget to respond to which leads to formulating a response, searching for the correct reference, but finding instead something much more interesting to read….before I know it, three hours have passed.
    I love that you chose to quote Pema Chodron. I found her book When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times extremely helpful a couple of years ago.

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    • I love Pema Chodron’s recordings – she is so down-to-earth and self-deprecating. My Monday turned into a string of completely unrelated things in which I accomplished absolutely nothing. I’m declaring Tuesday a “do over” day!

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