On the Path, Off the Trail
Finding Meaning Through Movement
I grew up in a small town in Kansas, immersed in traditional sports and athletics. If it involved a ball and a team I loved playing.
My earliest and fondest memories are of playing sports with my dad and brother, friends and neighbors. It was a dream come true when I received a scholarship to play college football.
It turned out to be a very humbling experience. After two years and a couple of injuries, I decided to quit.
It turns out that I didn’t just quit playing football: I quit sports. I quit athleticism. I quit competition. I quit my relationships with men. I felt ashamed for how much time I invested in sports.
So, I tried on a new hat.
In college, I started practicing yoga and meditation. I dove deeply into organic agriculture and permaculture and shaped all of my studies in Sociology around environmental and racial justice.
My teammates and friends thought this transition was strange. I went from being a big fish in a small pond to being bullied for being different.
I wasn’t getting the celebration and support that I wanted and needed as I worked to embody my authentic self.
I decided to travel abroad as a way of creating space for this identity exploration and search for my right livelihood.
By the time I made Kansas my home again, I visited a number of communities and cultures in the United States and abroad. I worked as a Peace Corps Volunteer planting trees, an NGO researcher looking at social and economical relationships, and as a farm hand in rural Zambia.
Throughout this time I had a slow, gentle yoga practice and a strong commitment to meditation.
I felt fulfilled. I felt enlivened. I felt authentic.
Until I didn’t.
Recognizing the Trap
On the surface, my life looked free: I was exploring the world.
But when I looked at my movement practice - which I believe provides insight into the rest of my life - I realized that I created a "trap" of control.
I had a highly regimented practice that, if I didn't do, left me with unbearable anxiety, tension in my muscles, and stiffness in my joints. If I didn't do it, I didn't feel good.
I also realized that I was suppressing large parts of myself, and my interpretation of yoga encouraged this. I was hiding from my big emotions - the pain, the fear, the anger, the shame.
Rather than process and dialogue with these parts of myself, I let them float away like a cloud.
Turning Towards my Shadows
After my mom passed away and I became a father, these emotions grew and bypassing them no longer worked.
However, I was afraid of engaging in these big movements, feeling these big emotions, and reverting back to a self I felt ashamed of.
I needed more ways to experience, express, and contain these emotions.
During this time of feeling powerless, I started to integrate more "power" practices - heavy weight lifting, sprinting, and throwing.
During and after these sessions I had new and deeper insight into the way I was showing up in the world.
Reconciling the Duality
Cognitively, I was asking myself: How could I integrate these two ways of being - the "athlete" and the "spiritual guy" - in the world when large parts of me were exiled?
It took some time, but I realized the connections between these seemingly disparate passions - team sports, working on the land, and spiritual practice.
They all shared in common a deeply embodied experience of flow and companionship.
And, when I looked at the way that I was shaping my movement practice, I was integrating spiritual practice and athletic development.
Integrating the Whole
When I realized the ways that this was serving me, I made big changes in my life.
In my search and exploration for my right livelihood I put embodied flow and companionship in the center. Practicing Hellerwork with a collective of holistic manual therapists is a beautiful expression of the life I am working to create.
Hellerwork Strucutral Integration and other forms of holistic manual therapy has changed the way I relate to my body: as a former athlete and competitor I used to be hyper aware of how my body looked and how my body performed. I used and abused it and pushed myself to my limits. I have learned how to live an active lifestyle that nourishes my body and being beyond the physical.
By engaging in different movement practices, I have been able to access different parts of myself, experience a greater range of (e)motion, and deepen my engagement with my self, others, and the world around me.