This one gets a little heavy, folks. It's related, I promise.
I was an angry kid. I would often explode in fits of rage and screaming. Stomping, snapping, throwing, breaking.
I broke so many toys, threw so many books, and screamed so many foul things. And after being scolded on my "public decency," I made sure to have these episodes in private.
As I grew older, they would evolve with me. Manifesting in new bursts of energy laced with malice, I would retreat into silence and fear, punishing myself over and over. Because, you must understand, I never lashed out at others. Save for the few moments I stomped and screamed when I was young - and when I saw the people around me and how scared and confused they were - I learned that this was NOT how a young man acts in public. So I was quiet, respectful, and kept to myself.
My anger made people uncomfortable. So I buried it. And as I grew older, I found different ways to bury it. My anger was burned as fuel; I wrote the best music when filled with rage; I spoke the best when I was fired up at myself; I performed the best with a fire in my belly.
But anger taxes you. It robs you of your grace, your energy; it can sap your reason and patience, and can blind you from what matters most.
I didn't care. I could be better. Of course I could be better. I could practice harder, learn more, stay up later, work harder, sleep less, disappear from the world for awhile while I work. No, you can't rest. There's no time to rest. How dare you sleep, you lazy sack! You've wasted your whole damn life so far and you're still so lazy to think there's time to lay down? Be better, damn you!
My inner dialogue was a lot more...colorful. It would manifest in surges of practicing, as if that would make up for a semester of poor habits and low motivation. Stints of good habits, only to be broken in a week. That voice that says I WILL CHANGE that grows quieter each day. Anger, and the energy it grants you, is finite.
And then I embraced the martial arts. I began to realize the most powerful tool we all possess. The secret isn't to push through, but to stop. And breathe.
It is our breath that binds our soul, our ki, to our bodies. Patience lets you focus, and breath allows your body (and your mind) to be patient.
Even when I was studying the martial arts every week, I still used anger to fuel my learning. I had already "wasted" 10 years learning different systems, while my friends were already testing for black belt. I was BEHIND. How dare I become behind; people looked up to me, and I let them down!
And when I finally achieved black belt - somewhere in a haze of adrenaline and anxiety - I felt empty. Not like an empty cup, eager for more knowledge, but like an old car...barely limping into the trade shop. I returned to class for a time, here and there, but I felt such a weight of guilt. Like I didn't earn it. I rushed it. I wasn't ready. Not by my standards; to me, I didn't EARN my belt.
And with every class in my new "position," as you come to realize that you, actually, know nothing - and when your goal for half your life has been to make it to black belt, and you DO, only to feel as if it were handed to you - that weight becomes heavier and heavier. So I responded the best way I knew how.
I got angry. And then, I got very, very sad.
I stopped coming to class, I stopped helping in our events, I stopped coming to kick-boxing. And then I stopped training altogether. It felt like a lie to me.
As of the date of writing this, I still haven't returned to the dojo. Something about it fills me with shame.
In fact, I feel a lot of shame for so many things. Like tonight, when I came home feeling like a bad storyteller. Like a bad player; a bad DM; and a slob who isn't able to get his life together.
And normally, feelings like this would crush me. Pound me into the ground until I cry myself to sleep and face the day exhausted, then repeat the process until I make myself sick with depression and call out for a day to recover. These feelings would do this. But they aren't. Not tonight. Because tonight I remembered something.
I remembered my breath. I felt it flow through me like water. And the more I waited, the more I recognized what it meant.
I am a brass player. I know the power of air. I was...I AM a martial artist. I know what breath does to my body, to my muscles, to my mind. My players have seen me use it before running a game, or when I need to focus despite being exhausted. It is equal parts the simplest and most complex element we have in our arsenal of control.
Yes. It is 3:47am and I'm not asleep, but for the first time in so many months, years even, I have stopped...to breathe. To stare at my wall and let my eyes drift over the collected business cards of acquaintances and allies, to pick apart their names and logos to form new ones, and set them aside for later worlds. To quietly, and deftly, take care of the house; gently purge accumulated books and instruments I've never needed or used, but kept to make me feel better; to recycle, tear, and burn away notes I've studied into oblivion. To covet and save the things that matter, and not only vow to use them, but organize them in a way that demands I do so.
My breath reminds me that that cruel voice inside is LYING.
I am not a failure.
I have nothing to be ashamed of.
I am a work in progress, and I get better every damn day. Sometimes we fall down, but it doesn't matter how many times we do. What matters, my dear friends, is taking a deep breath and getting back up again.
It's 3:52am and I am literally crying while I finish this post, as I have called my demons out for their kahnastrixa, and if you know that reference you are one of my favorite people in the universe.
So tonight when I face them, and every day moving forward, I'm rolling weighted dice. My inner monk is calling. Breath yields radiance. And my soul is ready to shine.
Yeah. That's right. I just ended this with obscure 5th Edition D&D references. Fight me. ;)
Remember to breathe.
I'll see you at the table.
Professional Game Master musician, music teacher, game designer, and aspiring fiction author.