InYo: Journal of Alternative Perspectives Nov 2002
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Mental Combat: How to Fight for the Love of Freedom

By Jennifer Armstrong

Copyright © Jennifer Armstrong 2002. All rights reserved.

The Buddha said, "Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense."
About Me

I am someone who needs a high level of stimulation various sorts. I prefer my pleasures to be joltingly sensuous. The warm blood-rush on exit from a high-flying Cessna, dropping, free falling, both frightens and excites me as I pull my ripcord. Life, to the max! If I donít have these electrifying moments, I end up feeling like Iíve been wrapped in cotton wool, my sense of well-being, smothered.

About Pain

I also embrace necessary pain. Not because it makes me feel alive, but because I want to get to the bottom of it. I donít go looking for pain. Certainly, I do not enjoy being hurt. Rather, I seek intensity in living. You see, whether we are hurting or not, there is a difference between enjoying pain and enjoying the sense of being alive, of being in touch with your body and connecting yourself with your mindís thoughts. For example, I wouldnít like my leg sawn off. That would be mad. Being a free woman, I abhor masochism of any kind. What Iím writing about is more like the feeling I get when I have vigorously exercised my body. After the typically vigorous workout with sparring sessions, which I enjoy at Cobra-Ksha Martial Arts Academy, the gentle ache in my muscles reminds me very much of how alive I am. To put it in a nutshell, stimulation is my thing, not the pain.

Pain works on more than just the physical level. I must say that if you are in a situation that causes pain, it is best to be aware of it. The situation may be political or social. If you are not aware that you are becoming a tormented, distorted, benumbed personality, if you have ignored your underlying sense of something being wrong, then Iím afraid youíve already lost something vital. Your body might give you a heart attack, just to wake you up!

What Happens When You Ignore Pain

Recently, I felt like an educated person in the midst of the Khmer Rouge, a tall poppy in the midst of an uprising of machetes. By ignoring the warning signs offered by pain, I made an error. Rather than acting, I acted deaf and dumb, hiding my face in my hands.

I hadnít wanted to be noticed as a thinker, as an adventurer, as someone who thought differently and played by different rules. Thus, I tried to hide from the blows of my opponents, instead of facing them head-on, offensively with my guard up, trying to move inside, Mike Tyson style to deliver a knockout, powerful uppercut.

Consequently, in an effort to shame me, I was pulled naked from my bed amid a flurry of scornful verbal abuse, all because I wanted to live my life, my way, and not by the rules of someone else.

From that experience and others, I learned that trundling around in the world, acting humbly and attempting to draw on othersí pity, is not for me.

Changed Responses

When forced to become involved in things that did not hold any appeal, I used to become sullen. That didnít work any better than hiding. Today, however, I prefer rapier sharp philosophical analyses. Why? Because there are too many sullen people in the world.

Sullen people have the expression of people who have been profoundly whipped. They have a recognizable hangdog expression, and seem to have little flow or ease about their lives. Their way of moving, their manner of conversing -- everything is compromised.

Sullen people have lost the simple art of being alive. They have no edge. In short, they are dull. Oddly, though, these sorts of people often perceive themselves as the most enlightened ones, and leaders of others. This is delusion.

Equally deluded are the people who put much emphasis on work, but very little emphasis on how the work is done. Whenever somebody does not work with the full gusto and engagement of her deepest soul, she gives birth to more ugliness in the world. So what if you produced a lot of fodder? So what if you contributed more work in 16 hours than your colleagues did? If you did not work with your heart and soul in it, then this world is homelier for your efforts. How much better, then, it is to contribute just a little by doing everything as well as you can!

Just Say No

Being able to say NO with conviction is often more important than nodding a yes. Know who you are, and what you stand for. Whenever you refuse and resist something that you are not, you create opportunities to become that which you really are. Donít fear the empty spaces: Empty spaces are there for you to grow into.

In addition, develop sensitivity to yourself, and learn which situations in life cause you to feel dead inside, and which cause you to feel more invigorated and alive. Give yourself space to create your own rules, too, as following rules made up by others can and often does create situations which make us feel dead inside.

Never let anyone force you into believing that any situation where you feel dead inside will improve you if only you endure. That never happens. You will only feel worse if you merely cover your head as your opponentís blows rain down on your head. In time, you will lose your physical and mental vitality, and youíll never know who or what has hit you, until itís too late. To paraphrase Caesar, the best defense is not capitulation.

Learn how to answer to yourself. An attractive person, man or woman, is not straight out of the box. Nor is it someone who displays overt gender characteristics in order to attract others. An attractive person is one who has internal rules of his own choice, and the power to stick to those rules.

Experimentation Is A Nice Way of Saying Freedom to Make Mistakes

What is beautifully human is this: You are free to choose your own rules, and to stand by those things or values that make you feel the most alive.

Of course, donít expect to receive any external rewards for learning how to be yourself: Others may and often do become jealous of free-souls. In addition, being yourself takes time and effort. It takes experimentation (a nice way of saying making mistakes). To keep going requires internally developed willpower. But persevere: Learn what makes you feel most alive, and what it is that diminishes your power.

Others will want you to forget these lessons, because they imagine that it must be unbearably painful for you to try to find your own way. Yes, unlearning bad habits that have come from obeying someone elseís way can be quite painful. Yet, it is pleasurable, too! The pleasure is in being your very self, and doing that which makes you fell most alive.

Do Not Confuse Pain with Pleasure

Do not confuse the pleasure with the pain, or the pain with any pleasurable sensations. Instead, remember that when you are in pain, it is a reminder that you have to fight for rewarding pleasure. Others might presume that you are out of control. No, youíve just chosen your own goals, and followed them. Give these people a verbal roundhouse of a NO! Itís part of being a mental fighter.

Finding Your Own Pleasures

Learn to find your pleasures where nobody else goes. This may be a vacated beach during a busy weekday, or an empty forest at night in the company of your lover. The crowded shopping malls will start to have a low appeal as the outline of their dull conforming grind become apparent to your senses. Although you might still want to go to noisy, daring places just to be yourself, you no longer have to.

Note, however, that I am not saying to go out and do bad things. You shouldnít hurt people or things just because you can. However, when you do what you want, you are no longer a runabout for some inflated schoolteacher or boss. You are the master. You control things, and soon you will do so better than most.

The key is that itís up to you. Civilization wants everybody to be flattened and predictable. Defy the rules of civilization. Do what you want because you create your own pain and your own pleasure. Learn to develop both sides of yourself, your yin and yang. Discover when it is time to relax, and when to give a situation everything you have!

Along the way, remember that pacing is important. When there is too much intensity, you burn up and never achieve anything. Conversely, if you spend too much time at ease, then you lose the will to forge your destiny and others will undermine your intentions to control yourself. So learn to relax wherever you can. Focus all your energies for that moment of intensity to come. Meanwhile, take some good luck. With that luck, in time, youíll find a partner, a daring free-spirited friend, and then, perhaps, more vitality and joy than ever you knew before.

InYo Nov 2002