Tension, Release…Relax

Tension is not the problem.

Tension is needed to be productive, efficient, and creative, but we need the skill to know how much, when, and how to release it.

Holding on to it for too long is what creates problems.

Creating tension before we bring that note back to its root adds color, it sounds so good! That is what we love about music.

To increase flexibility or joint mobility, creating muscle tension, releasing, and relaxing are necessary to expand our range of motion.

Tension and release used by a skilled person will yield significant results.

Expect confusion, conflict, toxicity, drama, and anxiety when tension is created and held on to without the skill of a person who knows when to release it at the right time.

Adrenaline = Overstimulation = Symptoms

To implement the antidote, we have to understand the problem we are trying to solve.

When we feel “anxiety” we are referring to the symptoms we are having, e.g. Dizziness, out-of-body feeling, heart palpitations, shaking, sweating, anticipating danger, among many others.

We are having these symptoms because our body is over-stimulated. It becomes overstimulated by releasing too much adrenaline for long durations.

The waning of the symptoms will happen when we cool the body and the stimulation decreases.  It could be a long period of stimulation producing lasting symptoms or a burst which we call a panic attack and our symptoms are exhausted temporarily.

For many of us, we don’t know, or we can’t identify why we are feeling these symptoms in the moment, but there is always a reason and they will return.

The answer isn’t to understand why it is happening right now, it is to first understand that adrenaline produces a stimulated body and an overstimulated body will produce symptoms.

Thinking can lead to an overstimulated body. Why? Because if we are in fear and there is no real danger, we will still produce adrenaline.

This is why we call it the mind-body connection!

“Anxiety” isn’t the culprit, it isn’t the bad person. It is like a dog barking at the stick that was thrown at them.  That is trying to solve the wrong problem.

Quiet Period at Camp Massapoag 74′

If it was 1974 now, I would have been just returning from camp. I was ten years old and it was my first year at camp Massapoag in Dunstable MA. I remember imploring my parents to let me stay home, I didn’t want to go, but they were not wavering.

It was a two-week overnight camp and the memories are as vivid today as they were back then. I always wondered why as an adult I had such positive feelings about my experience when I would have chosen to stay home at the time? The next year, in 75,’ I remember all the campers talking about the movie Jaws. There was so much anticipation about the movie!

One evening the entire camp was taking a hike deep into the woods. I remember thinking how great it was; there was no fear because you are with 100’s of other campers and most of them were older than me, I felt safe. The camp counselors leading the way held these huge torches so they could see, and we just followed the campers in front of us; we could smell the smoke from the torches as we walked. We hiked for what felt like an hour and we came to an open area with a bonfire and everyone sat around it.

They announced that they were going to give some awards. The camp Director held up a tree stump with some writing on it and he read it. It was an award for the best camper for this 2-week session. I was taking all this in when they called my name. I remember walking up, not quite sure what had just happened or what to think; it didn’t really sink in. I still have that tree stump 47 years later!

A counselor then led us in singing some camps songs and then a person that I hadn’t seen before pulled an acoustic guitar from its case and sat near the fire. Everyone became very still, and it was so quiet you could hear the crickets. He started strumming and began to sing; the song was ‘500 miles away from home.’ I clearly remember my eyes watering up because that is how far I felt from home. I wasn’t feeling homesick, it was a feeling of pure joy, I was happy to be there in that moment, mesmerized by this person playing and singing. When I returned home, I asked my parents if I could play the guitar as I was so moved by that performance. A few years later I started taking lessons and I still enjoy playing guitar every day!

It is our daily quiet period at Camp Massapoag at 1:00pm in 1974. It is writing time. I typically daydreamed during those moments. They didn’t call it mindfulness, but that quiet time had every essential quality of being mindful; just sitting, writing, observing, and breathing.

The campgrounds, cabins, and swimming area look exactly the same as they did in 1974. I went to visit about seven years ago and it was a bit surreal. It was hard to believe that it actually did not really change! I have daydreamed, just like I did during quiet time about what I could do to bring back camp Massapoag as an overnight camp.

My mind was also drifting and thinking, “What if someone is reading this that went to Camp Massapoag at the same time and reached out to me. It was a long, long time ago!

Barefoot Landscaping

Taking out the lawnmower and cutting the grass barefoot may seem like a dangerous activity, but that is how I do it. Sure, it is not something that you see that often, but I started doing this about 12 years ago and I have never put on footwear again when cutting the grass.

When I first felt the sensation of the grass and the connection with the ground as I was working, it was a therapeutic feeling. Learning Tai Chi Chuan in China back in the ’80s, I was taught about the importance of “Rooting.” This concept is a skill that you must feel be able to apply and I thought, “This must be it!”

My lower back pain has persisted for many years and when I put on shoes or sneakers, it seems to change my gait or creates an imbalance. My lower back feels relief when I remove my footwear and walk barefoot, it is just more comfortable. I make a point to go barefoot as much as possible.

There are a myriad of therapeutic shoes and sneakers that I have invested in hoping to find some relief. All of these models of footwear claimed the benefits they offer for relieving lower back pain. Perhaps others have received this benefit, but, for me, they did not feel any better than the most basic, cheap shoes or sneakers. The footwear that seems to neutralize my pain is the flattest, minimalistic shoe possible, sans the gel injections in the sole, special arch support design, with specially designed foam that is supposedly lighter and is made out of a secret material that molds to your foot.

The same was true of a very expensive-looking therapeutic chair that I purchased. All you had to do is look at it and you would think, “This has to be a relief!” I ended up removing it and selling it because I found that it feels more comfortable to lie flat on my back on a hardwood floor.

When something doesn’t feel right and we are in pain or discomfort, we tend to think obsessively about what we can buy, eat, wear, read, or hopefully discover a newfangled product that gives us the relief we have been looking for to be healthier, happier, stronger and to live with less pain, stress, and anxiety.

We rarely find this; maybe, just maybe, the question we should be asking is, “What should we take away? What can we remove?”

To enjoy less thinking, less confusion, less conflict, less chatter, less clutter, this relief will happen by quieting the mind, removing attachments, and be content with observing.

To quiet our anger in our body and mind, the only way to get relief is through compassion; we are simply removing the ego.

Timing Your Mistakes is Good!

In music performance, I have heard it said many times, “if you are going to make a mistake, it is better to hit the wrong note in time than it is to hit the right note out of time.” You might want to read that again.

When we are at that point in life when we need a change, we are burnt out, we are stale, unmotivated, and constantly complaining, this is the “right time” to make a change. We need to put back those butterflies in our stomachs that wake us up. During this time of change, we will make mistakes, we will fail, we will try again and again, we will question whether we should have made the change, but it is the right time to do it!

When we are in the same routine, complacent, becoming agitated, and making mistakes when we don’t expect it, we typically are lacking enthusiasm, creativity and those mistakes just add to our frustration. We are doing the same things, the same way, week after week, month after month, year after year. Our days are on autopilot and we are hitting all the right notes because we have done the same routine over and over, but why are we feeling so disconnected from life?

Timing is everything, so be on time, that is controllable; bad notes will happen but this is certainly better than being out of time and continuing to do the same thing over and over in the right way.

Guarding Our Strengths

For the past 25+ years, I have taught Brazilian Jiu-jitsu to hundreds and hundreds of students. I have also sparred with just as many people if not more.

About 20 years ago we had a student named Brett in our academy. He was a white belt but I knew that he was going to make progress quickly and we would be giving him his blue belt soon. He was in class almost every evening. More importantly, it was “How” he practiced that impressed me!

In Jiu-jitsu we teach various forms of the “Guard.” It is a position from where you can be both offensive and defensive, using leverage and skill rather than pure muscle and force with your opponent.

Brett learned a form of this position called the “Butterfly Guard” and he was so intrigued by this technique that he spent 90% of his time practicing it when he was sparring. It was a bit soon for a white belt to commit to adopting this to his or her style, but we let it go as we did not want to disrupt his passion and flow.

I remember sparring with Brett and being amazed at how difficult it was to neutralize his butterfly guard. Here I am a blackbelt and he is giving me a difficult time. I couldn’t relax as much as I normally would with a blue belt as he would aggressively attack and defend with his skills. When I passed his guard though, then he was now out of his element and became a typical blue belt in his skill level.

Bretts mind-state was to develop his strength. Under normal circumstances, a teacher would say, “you need to learn a specific curriculum in a progressive sequence and become well-rounded in all of the techniques of jiu-jitsu.” But, if any Black belt sparred with Brett, and they didn’t know what belt he was, they would probably think he was a high-level brown belt.

As a teacher, I learned something important from teaching Brett. He was an anomaly and we didn’t have many students like him. I started to talk more about how we should be focusing more of our time on developing our strengths than our weaknesses! He was in a significantly better situation when sparring because he dedicated his time to enhancing his strengths and executing them with confidence. He still practiced the other techniques but he stood out because of how he developed his butterfly guard. He was able to spar and do well against much higher belts than him because of this practice.

My point is “how” we practice should be defined by our strengths, not our weaknesses or waiting until we think we have learned a specific amount of skills based on a curriculum. We spend too much time thinking we have to learn “the curriculum” before we actually develop and begin executing our strengths. This is “conceptual mind-thinking” and most will people never get to the execution stage as the “curriculum” thinking is holding them back.

The curriculum is a necessary guide, but if we let our ego take over we will spend too much time speaking about the curriculum and never take the risk of actually executing what we are good at.

Beginner’s Mind

On June 30, 2021, I “retired” from my job…not from work. I spent 32 years in the organization and I spoke to many people about “How” I wanted to retire. My goal was to move on gracefully, positively, with gratitude, and cheerful memories of the people I spent working with whenever I unexpectedly would reflect. This was extremely important! Of course, there were challenges, difficult times, successes, and failures along the way, but that was all part of the process we expect when building, changing, and growing an organization.
It was an appropriate time to move on as the organization was in a healthy place, I had plenty of energy and was excited to begin something new. I didn’t want to drag myself out. It was as simple as this.

During my last few weeks, I had a tough time separating the feelings of my first day there and thinking about my last day. It was emotional, but what was so interesting is that my thoughts and feelings of my soon-to-be last day of work, was not that much different than the thoughts and feelings of starting my first day. Does this make sense? It must be a “Beginner’s Mind,” I thought. I feel the same spirit, passion, and butterflies in my stomach of changing, learning, and starting something new.

There are no risks. If I made a mistake and realized that I shouldn’t have left, then I could just find another similar job.

When I wrote to our staff every Friday morning about our culture, our goals, and best practices, it was energizing. It was like starting a new week, every week. My goal was to inspire by writing stories about, life, music, health, and many other life experiences. I miss that and the mission of this blog is to fulfill the art of just writing again.