This I Believe, or Why I Box

What I believe don’t mean shit. That is to say there is “what I believe” and “what is so”. They aren’t the same, and don’t even have to have a relationship.

[A few years ago, at High Holiday services, a member of our congregation read a piece from the prompt “This I Believe”. It was apparently based on an NPR program in which famous people read essays from that prompt. I decided to go home and write something, pretending that they might ask me to speak some day. This is the result…]

So let’s talk about something else.  What does have to have a relationship is you and anyone else. Two people have to be in relationship and we can talk about that.  We’ll get to that in a minute.

If we are looking at belief and reality, we might want to meditate. What does it mean to meditate (or “pray” in another vernacular)? Usually, when we meditate, we sit quietly and try to quiet the mind. Maybe we hold a question, or maybe we try to empty the mind. What really happens? We have some thoughts. Maybe we notice we’re having some thoughts and we try to suppress that because we’re supposed to be meditating.  Maybe we notice that isn’t working out so well. Maybe we notice that we’re having thoughts and think about that. Now we’re thinking about thinking. Where does that get us?  Maybe we think that’s not such a good idea and we try to stop it. Now we’re back to suppressing our thoughts, which didn’t work out so well the first time. 

So now we decide to really get down to business and we get quiet and something else happens. Then we notice that something else is happening and we think, “Yay! I’m meditating!” Then we notice that celebrating that we are meditating is not meditating and we start again.

This process may go on for a long time. Eventually we may get beyond it for a while. Or maybe we just fool ourselves for a while. Ever notice that the easiest person to fool is yourself?  Other people often have your number – the things that you think you’re hiding from others are not only visible, but so is the fact that you are trying to hide. Damn!

So that brings us to relationship. It is my experience that the only time I grow is when I am vulnerable, and I spend most of my time and energy trying to hide from that fact. I try to hide my vulnerability and I try to look competent in the world. Sometimes I do a pretty good job of it, if I do say so myself. But I’m still hiding.

There is one time that I can’t hide and that’s when I am boxing. Boxing is the ultimate feedback system. It’s a hard place to hide. I hear people talk about “the now”, as though that is a thing and not just what is.  We only have one place and time and that is here and now. 

Have you ever looked at fear? When you are afraid you are not here and now. Notice that fear requires a concept of the future.  You are never afraid of what is here and now, you are afraid of what might happen in the future – that future may be pretty soon, but it is not now. Fear also requires a sense of incompetence or incapacity – I’m afraid that something is going to happen and I won’t have the capacity to deal with it. If I am concerned with now, or I feel capable, I won’t feel fear. Try that.

Now, to get back to boxing. When I am boxing, I am trying to hit someone, but especially trying not to let that person hit me. The only way to not get hit is to be in relationship with that partner. I have to be with him or her.  If I am in relationship with that partner, I can see, feel, and know what s/he is doing. Then s/he won’t hit me. If I get hit, what do I do? First, I notice that I was not with my partner in that moment. I missed something. Then, maybe I beat myself up about that, which means I’m not with my partner and I get hit again. Maybe I then try to analyze what I did wrong to get hit, and I get hit again. It is only when I let that go and return to being present with my partner that s/he stops hitting me because I start getting out of the way.  

There is no way to fool myself in boxing. When I “meditate”, I can fool myself into thinking I’m meditating, when I’m really just thinking and getting caught up in my thoughts. When I’m boxing, if I’m caught up in my thoughts, someone hits me. Most of us learn faster that way. Or we go back to fear. 

At the same time that my partner is providing that service to me, I am providing that service to him/her. If s/he is somewhere else, I feel invited to hit him/her. I know that sounds stupid, but stay with me for a moment. If I hit that person, it serves them better than if I say, “Let’s stop and talk about this for a minute”.  That conversation takes us back into abstraction. 

Years ago, I was working with my trainer on a two person choreographed set of movements. There were 92 movements in this “dance”. First one person moved in an attacking way, then the other neutralized that attack and counter-attacked. We continued that way for several minutes. One day I forgot the reality of the attack and was just hanging out with the choreography – he does this, then I do this. The next thing I knew, I was sliding down a wall about 10 feet away and catching the vase of flowers I had dislodged from its niche, before it hit the floor.  While I ran to get a rag to mop up the water I spilled, I had a moment to reflect. My teacher had just taught me something that was much more real than if he had stopped and said, “Did you notice that you were a step ahead of me just there? That you were starting your counterattack without having neutralized my attack? That you were not in relationship with me, but instead only with the choreography?”

He didn’t say any of that. Sending me 10 feet across the room and into a wall said all of that and more, and much more eloquently. I remember that moment 30 years later. Would I have remembered the conversation? Would the intellectual analysis have served me the way the discomfort of hitting the wall did? I don’t think so. So I don’t care what you believe. Heck, I don’t even care what I believe. I do care about your experience and the truth to be found there. I care about my experience and how I can grow through that.  Belief and a few bucks will buy you a cup of coffee. The truth in your experience may do much more.