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True Power and the Universal Constant

I’ve experienced a life-changing event this week––actually two this month. I’m not going to talk about these events right now (I will someday when the time is right), but rather how they’ve affected me and the lessons learned from them. I’ve also picked up a habit of existential reflection as I level up in Wushu; funny how all these things align sometimes. I also experienced a beautiful expression of friendship and compassion that I certainly did not deserve, and am forever grateful to have experienced.

Both of those events left me feeling completely powerless, and brought about a painful awareness of the lack of control I have over circumstance and others’ actions. I may suffer more from these events or my suffering may be over because of them. It’s too early to tell. I can’t speak for everyone, but feeling powerless at an existential level does really weird things to my head. I withdraw. I hesitate. I pause. I fear. Sometimes when it gets really bad, the lights around me seem to dim and sounds become muffled. Colors begin to fade to shades of grey. It feels like the world around me is closing in, stifling, suffocating, draining vitality. I will literally catch myself holding my breath as I try to think of a way to regain power; to regain control.

But I think that’s the wrong way to look at it. In that moment that I catch myself holding my breath, I take a few deep breaths and begin to calm down, I regain my power. I regain control––only true control that anyone has, and the control that we can all retain no matter what if we want to. I regain my self-control.

And that’s just it. That’s what true power, and true strength is all about. The ability to catch ourselves in an act or thought pattern we do not want to be in and change it. I’ve read so much on why we do things that we don’t want to do. Quenk’s book, “Was That Really Me?” describes this as our inferior personality traits coming out under stress. I’ve read so much research on the power of habits that I cannot attribute a single publication, but a statistic sticks in my mind that 60% of our day is spent completely on auto-pilot. We are unaware of our actions and not actively making decisions because we are guided by habit.

But another reason––and I think an oft-overlooked reason––that we may feel powerless or out of control, is that we forget that there is literally an animal dwelling inside all of us. We share the same instincts as our primate ancestors and our furry companions that we keep at our side. When the dog becomes anxious and claws up the floor, we forgive him because it’s not his fault and he doesn’t know the damage he is doing. When the cat claws our arms to hell because we’re tying to rescue him from being stuck, we forgive him because he doesn’t realize that we’re trying to help and is just reacting from fear. When humans do things to hurt us, all too often I think we mistake it as a desire to hurt us or a lack of respect when it often just boils down to an animal acting like an animal.

Don’t get me wrong, some intend to hurt and that’s the very basis of criminal intent. That has no place in society. But I like to think that most people don’t want to hurt other people.

We feel the same instincts, impulses, drives, desires, and emotions as our less-cognitively developed companions on this planet. Left unchecked, our thoughts and actions can be guided by these animal instincts. We become fearful, we lash out, we try to regain control by trying to control our surroundings or, at worst, even other people.

In Zootopia, when Judy is investigating the disappearance of Mr. Otterton and hears that he attacked a limo driver, she has a hard time believing it. Mr. Big responds with one of the most insightful quotes from a movie that I can call to mind, “My child, we may be evolved. But deep down, we’re still animals.”

Mr. Big is right.

Can you imagine what would happen if you had a button in your home, in reach of your dog or worse––a chimpanzee, that would launch a thermonuclear weapon? He may accidentally step on it. She may get curious and just want to see what it does. He may press it out of fear that someone would hurt him. She’s certainly not fully aware of the destructive power and damage done for generations to come. They probably don’t know––or doesn’t remember––the last time one of these was used against another civilization and the effects that still persist to this very day.

Hmmm… sounds a lot like something we’re seeing on the world political stage right now but I digress…

That’s where our power comes from. We don’t have to be the animal we’re born as. We cannot change the surge of adrenaline when we hear a loud crash behind us. We cannot change the pain we feel when we are hurt or betrayed by someone we trust. We cannot change the way people have treated us, are treating us, or will treat us. But when we feel all control is lost, there’s one thing we can always regain control over.

Ourselves, and by extension, our actions and our responses to situations. In that awareness, we can always be in control. Always be at our most powerful. Always be at our strongest.

The habit autopilots. Stress and fear warps and distorts. The animal reacts. But if we master ourselves, master our emotions, and remain present and aware, we don’t have to do any of these things. We can respond instead of reacting. We can switch off the autopilot. We can look beyond the distortion. We can calm the animal. And in that moment of being fully present and fully aware of everything we are facing, feeling, and everything we are, we are in full control and are exercising our power to change. Change our minds, change our circumstances, change our behavior, alter our reality.

And that’s the universal constant. Change. Even stars die. Death and rebirth. The circle of life. I’ve always been of the opinion there are two types of people in the world. Those that resist change and those who embrace it (I often describe this as a growth or fixed mindset). Resisting change will eventually break that which resists. But change that happens too rapidly, or is forced, or not well-planned can be very damaging. I learned this the hard way tearing a few muscles last year trying to increase my flexibility faster than my body was ready.

Whoops. This is why balance is so important.

But embracing change is literally why we’re all sitting here today. Our ancestors decided that they didn’t want to pick fleas off each other anymore and start building a better life. I like to think it started with something really simple like that. I wonder what the conversation was like…

“Hey, why are we wasting time eating fleas off each others backs and throwing shit at each other?”

“I dunno, why don’t we find a way not to get them in the first place, find something better to eat, and learn to do something productive instead?”

“Who’s with us?”

(indistinct clamoring and whooping)

Who knows. What I do know is that the lessons I’ve taken from everything that has happened to me over the years can be boiled down to just a few words.

Circumstances happen, and I can control none of it. With proper planning, I can predict some things, I can set the stage for things I want to happen, but I can never force it. I can only control myself. And because of this, I never have to feel out of control again. The more I learn about myself, the more in-control of myself that I can be, and the more I learn to program the right habits, train the animal, and learn about the world, the more I have the power to change myself for the better.

And the better I become, the better I can be to those I care about.

This doesn’t mean ignoring feelings. In reading the philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, I came across a statement that really stuck with me. To paraphrase, events and actions don’t cause us to feel the way we do. Our beliefs do. And since we cannot change what happens to us or change what people do to us, all we are left to do is question our beliefs. Feelings bottled will eventually erupt in a torrent that is––at least for me––nearly impossible to control. It’s important to feel it through, but also important to remember framing. Why did this event make me feel like this? What can I change about the way I think to not feel this way if this kind of event happens in the future? How can I prevent being in a situation where these things happen?

I’ve also been listening to Imagine Dragons’ latest album, Evolve, lately. If you haven’t heard it yet, give it a listen. The chorus of the song, “Rise Up“… well, if you know me at all you’ll make the connection instantly:

I would always open up the door
Always looking up at higher floors
Wanna see it all give me more (rise, rise up)
I was always up for making changes
Walking down the street meeting strangers
Flipping through my life turning pages (rise, rise up)

The first time I tried blogging, I called it “Actively Living.” I have such a new perspective on that phrase now, but I think I was trying to tell myself all this and just didn’t have the words to explain it to myself at the time.

… or I’m just weird. Who knows. ~35 weeks until my black belt test, and one more color belt to achieve before eligible. I just cleared another personal hurdle towards being out of the miles of clouded hell I’ve been walking. The first milestone is in sight; I can’t afford to spend one second looking backwards.

The awesome irony of wushu. I started this sport to get in better shape. My brown belt test today clearly illuminated that I now need to get in better shape to continue progressing in wushu.

2 thoughts on “True Power and the Universal Constant”

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