Facing Our Demons

By Elana Rosenbaum "Stay present! Keep your feet on the ground. Face your opponent...move towards the assailant...breathe!" These instructions come from a course in self-defense I recently took in Boston with fifteen other women. The training consisted of five sessions in which we were attacked by men with padded suits and helmets looking like tough giants. The training was to help us learn to protect ourselves from muggers or rapists, but what we also learned was to face our own demons, fears, and anxiety, and to breathe through these debilitating, painful feelings. It was a challenge to transform the garbage of past conditioning into the flowers of action and release.

We learned that being present in the moment is crucial. In order to transform rage, pain, and fear, one had to be fully present to confront the attacker. We had to be fully aware in our bodies, or it would be too late, and we could be hurt. After each of us had her turn, we'd rejoin the line, put our arms around each other, and cheer the next person on. The instructor would ask, "How are you?"

My personal breakthrough came after I admitted out loud that I didn't feel very good. I realized that I used my breath to disassociate from my fear. Rather than embrace, acknowledge, and use my negative energy, I would breathe and freeze. Numbing the feeling would take me away from what was happening and delay my reaction, which was dangerous. What I wanted to avoid was nausea and revulsion; that terrified little girl inside me, here again. And I felt so stupid, ugly, and powerless. "Breathe." How often have I said that to myself and to others. Now it was, "Breathe and feel, breathe and face the feelings, breathe and be present, breathe and act, breathe and forgive." Love that scared little girl and feel the love all around.

The course ended and we all graduated. I knocked out my attacker without any hesitation, staying focused in my body, using my voice, heart, and mind. Success? Yes. But it doesn't end. I still must care for my garden and tend to the seeds, work the soil and nourish the flowers with proper care and attention.

Elana Rosenbaum, True Dharma Taste, lives in Worchester, Massachusetts, where she practices as a psychotherapist and is a senior instructor in the University of Massachusetts Medical Center Stress Reduction and Relaxation Program.

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