On Her Own

Becoming resilient

On Friday, I wrote about some of the bad and good of martial arts training for self defense. On Saturday, I went to Brazilian jiu-jitsu class, and was reminded of perhaps the most important lesson for survival that engaging in this sort of activity can teach you.

See, I went to class utterly exhausted after a long week. There have been some crises at my day job. I started lifting again after a break, and also made my way to an extra BJJ class. Errands had to be run and done, and there was a flu shot that knocked me out with fatigue. Dragging myself out of bed Saturday morning was rough, and starting to move required a little extra mental kick than usual. Some of our warm-up exercises were downright painful as I started to move my body more than it wanted to go. To add insult to injury, we ran a little longer than usual too.

Somewhere in the middle, I started thinking about what it would mean to make it through the entire 90+ minutes, as tired as I was, as sore as I was. There would be a sense of relief, of course, in getting to the end and being able to crawl home and into a hot shower. There would be a sense of accomplishment, for finishing class even as beat up as I felt. But perhaps most importantly, there would be a sense of faith that no matter how hard the going could get when I’m trying to survive, I could make it.

Whether it’s a long slog through a difficult period of life, a short and violent struggle against an attacker, or something in between, we need that resilience, that grittiness to keep going, to keep fighting for what we want: to survive, to thrive, or simply make it to the next year, the next day, the next minute, even when we want nothing more than to throw in the towel and quit. We need to be able to take each step, one after another, to do all of the small things that need to get done, the things that add up to survival, to success, to triumph even. Winning a fight, after all, isn’t just about the techniques and the tools. It’s not just about having the right skills and the right weapons at hand. It’s about having the heart and the spirit to keep trying, with everything you have in you. It’s about being able to say, and mean, “not today” to the person who would try to take tomorrow from you.

Doing hard things when it doesn’t matter as much is one of the ways to ingrain that mindset and to not only learn the ability to do so, but to learn that you can. Staying and participating all the way through a class that is difficult for you, no matter what the reason, is one way. So is completing a long run or hard workout. It doesn’t have to be physical either. Not walking away from that ridiculous 5000-piece puzzle or tough conversation matters too, or finishing that entire package of music or cooking lessons you bought on a whim but decided you didn’t love after all.

While there’s something to be said for only doing the things you love in life, and for learning how to walk away when it’s no longer healthy for you to be engaged in an activity or a relationship, there’s a balance between pursuing only that which makes you happy and grinding through that which might not, or at least not yet. Figuring out which something is can be its own challenge, and the answers aren’t the same for everyone. Being forced through an experience can be emotionally traumatic and take away the benefits of getting through it, and certain experiences are themselves unhealthy regardless, like staying in an abusive relationship or training a sport while physically injured so that you aren’t a “quitter.” But stopping at the first bump in the road isn’t so good for you either, when you don’t learn how to disagree respectfully with a friend or partner, or manage the discomfort of embarrassment or sore muscles because you only stick with the easy and the enjoyable.

After all, it’s okay if you fail. That’s why you’re working on this skill, the skill of resilience, by doing things that you might not succeed at right away. If you did, you wouldn’t be learning how to go back for another attempt, to dig your heels in and take another step forward even though you’ve been shoved backwards again and again. You need practice at living with that kind of discomfort, and deciding that the answer is to put your head down and work until you’ve escaped or have found that you’re okay with where you’re at after all. Then, when you are between that rock and hard place when you have no choice, when you didn’t put yourself there, you’ll know that it’s going to be okay. That you have the mental and emotional strength to keep on fighting until the very end, whether you win or lose.

I hate the saying “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” so I’ll leave you with something perhaps a bit more inspiring. It’s one of my favorites. I hope you like it too.

Do not go gentle into that good night
-Dylan Thomas – 1914-1953-

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Hi, I'm Annette.

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