Two and a half years ago, I wrote a blogpost entitled “Training for Death”. I started it with this quote:
Under duress, we do not rise to our expectations – we fall to the level of our training.
– Bruce Lee
I thought of this quote again last week, at a women’s circle I go to in Oakland full of extraordinary, tough and jolly women. It came to me after I had disintegrated into tears during a round of check-ins. The topic of the night was “Carry Your Death With You”—a mis-paraphrasing, it turned out, of an interview one of the circle members did with Marina Abramovic.
For me, carrying my death with me wasn’t something I had to think hard about. As I detailed recently, I’ve been carrying around with me the death of a dream of a life I thought I was meant to live. In fact, I haven’t needed to carry it at all—it just keeps showing up in the billboard of a pregnant woman, in my pregnant coworker, in my coupled friends, in the engagement announcements I see daily on social media and in the innumerable small tasks I have to move through to legally dissolve my marriage.
On top of all this, it had been a particularly rough week at work that also held within it a little ego death. So that’s what my check-in in the go-around was about and what led to the tears.
I laid this all out, wrapping within it an update on my divorce, etc. Then I finished. Just as the woman to my left was about to speak, someone interrupted.
“Can I just say thank you? That took a lot of courage to be vulnerable and honest with us, including strangers you’ve never met before. So thank you.”
Many people have commended my courage in being open about what I’m going through right now, and even called me brave to step away from my marriage. And bravery and courage feel like the wrong ways to understand the energy behind my choices—until I think of this teaching from Sifu Bruce Lee.
Under duress, under the stress of major life change and loss, I am falling to the level of my training.
That training has involved more than a decade of seated meditation in which I dig into my heart, opening my flesh with my bare fingers to know what’s inside. To face what scares—what existentially terrifies—me. And to speak authentically and with coherence between what my face, words and body are communicating. This is how I have trained, and therefore now, this is how I live.
To be entirely honest, I feel like I speak these days and hardly know what I am saying. I’m exhausted. Being awake to my pain and processing—and fighting all the myriad ways I try to turn towards distraction or dissociation instead—has plain worn me out.
At this point, I am living in large part out of habit and muscle memory. So thank goodness for my training.