The Caribbean Sea shines to the right of me as I pedal down the main road. It is a particularly clear day and she is laying long and proud in a cloak of deep blue, her waves dancing as they hit the shore.
I make a sharp left up an unpaved dirt road, passing by little houses and cabins in this local neighborhood, home to both locals and expats. This particular part of my bike ride is always an odd juxtaposition for me, as this is the same road I used to ride down to visit my cocaine dealer. So many times I would swear that I would not make that left turn. Yet, somehow, like a mechanical ride at Disneyland, my bicycle would always end up going that way, as if I had no control. I suppose I didn’t really have control…that is the power of this drug.
These days, however, I speed right down the road and past the old house that I used to frequent so regularly. I recall I would always keep my head low so that no one I knew would see me if they happened to pass by, shamed about the deeds in which I was engaging. Further ahead, I make another left and end up in front of my trainer’s house. Twice a week I take boxing lessons with Martin, a beautiful half-Jamaican, half-Cuban man who was born and raised in the United Kingdom.
My time with Martin is as important to me these days as Al-Anon and Yoga…a safe haven where I can focus on strengthening my body and also my mental resolve. Martin is more than a personal trainer. He listens. He REALLY listens and has brilliant nuggets of wisdom to offer. He knows almost everything about me and my struggles in the past and, therefore, is able to offer just the right emotional support I need. You wouldn’t think that underneath this tall, perfectly chiseled man lays the heart of an empath, but it’s a great reminder that looks can be deceiving.
I enter the gate and head back to the make-shift gym next to his house, a large grapefruit tree dangling perfectly ripe fruit just to the other side of it. He greets me warmly and we get to work: weight lifting, crunches, jumping up and down on tires, resistance punching. It is a particularly warm day so my sweat is flowing more than usual, which I counterbalance by taking continuous sips of my canteen of fresh coconut water.
Eventually, my favorite time of our session has arrived: He places the red boxing gloves on each of my hands and two pads on his own as my target. We begin easy with basic punches and move steadily into combinations of cross punches, hooks and uppercuts. Due to the fact that I am not completely healed from a bout with Dengue Fever, he notices my breathing is particularly labored.
“You know what I’ve noticed with you? You like to punch hard. You keep all of your energy in your shoulders and tire yourself out by making each hit as hard as you can. Let’s focus more on technique today. Try just touching your glove to mine and let the energy distribute throughout your entire body instead of saving it all for the punch.”
It’s true. I get so focused on making such intense contact between my glove and his that I abandon every other part of my body…to a fault. Lately, my left shoulder has become especially tight and several knots has formed as a result. I give his method a try and shift my focus from ‘attack’ mode to a focus on method instead.
Like magic, I become significantly lighter on my feet, bouncing around like a real boxer would. The entire experience turns from tense and goal-seeking (that punch) to more of a dance, where each part of my body is involved and working together to flow into each movement, one after the other. I also notice that I am no longer out of breath. My energy level has risen and the length at which I can continue this ‘dance’ has significantly increased. Lastly, I am having fun! I didn’t realize how seriously I was taking the lesson until I let go and let myself flow in the moment. I am now discovering the beauty of working WITH Martin instead of fighting him. Ironically, this actually makes me better at blocking his hits and quicker to follow his motions with my own.
I doubt that I need to spell out the symbolism here but, needless to say, this serves as a reminder that I must continue to look at how my tendency to isolate certain parts of me, in preparation to hit hard, actually inhibits me. When I use all pieces of myself to work with what is really present in each moment instead of having my focus solely on the end result, I have more energy and life becomes fun. In addition, I am actually able to accomplish even more success with this approach than I do with my tendency to work relentlessly against the flow of the moment.
As I pedal back home, a cooler breeze drying the sweat from my brow, I come to the end of the road and face to face with The Sea. Once again, I watch her waves dance upon the shore and smile. Yes…Let’s both keep dancing, shall we?