Skate Fast and Jump High

rollerderby-112223_640Photo by Greyerbaby

Last night at practice we practiced jumping the apex, which looks like this:

For every cut track, we had to do 5 pushups. I did a lot of pushups.

This is the first time in my life I’ve been so very bad at something yet loved it so much. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been terrible at a lot of things including but not limited to baking, housekeeping, dating, trigonometry, paying bills on time, scheduling, hyphenating, activism, and pretending to like people. But for most of my life, the things I’ve been bad at are the things I’ve avoided. Why is derby different?

Last night, as I watched the other skaters jump the apex (some successfully, some not), I pondered how we all ended up here, and how this sport is not at all what I expected. I knew the league would be a bunch of incredible, strong, driven women. I also thought there would be more fishnets, but what we lack in fishnets and tutus we make up for in dedication and tattoos. But what I really wasn’t prepared for is how the challenge of derby makes me want to be stronger. The funny names and crazy outfits are fun, but the real reason we stick around is that the challenge is intoxicating. I have never pushed myself this way before, and I love it.

You know why I can’t jump the apex yet? Because I’m scared of jumping with wheels on my feet. This seems like a reasonable thing to be afraid of, yet I want to not be afraid of it. I have hope because I saw people do it last night, people who couldn’t always do it, people who were afraid before and overcame their fear.

When I set this “letting go of fear” goal for myself this year, I had no idea what I was getting into. But for some reason, the gods of roller derby smiled on me and gave me the chance of a lifetime. Just go fast and jump, right?

love humans

Where_is_the_love by Tatoli ba Kultura -- CC-BY-SA

I want to tell you to love yourself, but I also want to tell you to love other people. And I don’t mean like putting others first in all things because that becomes painful very quickly.
But practice seeing the good in other people. And beyond that, see that they are vulnerable. See that their anger comes from fear, and love them. See that their bad behavior comes from ignorance, and teach them.

Don’t make yourself their victim. Be prepared to walk away. And yes, you’re allowed to walk away from people you love. It doesn’t mean you love them any less. It just means you can’t save them. But if you can stand to give some compassion without killing yourself, do it. Look another human being in the eyes and accept them for who they are. Don’t try to be better than them; everyone else is already doing that. Realize that they are as good and worthy as you are and that the most important gifts you’ve been given — food, shelter, education — were largely granted to you based on no merit of your own. Realize that if you deserve that kind of goodness in your life (and you do), then they deserve goodness, too. Now treat them that way.

However, if you can’t believe that you deserve goodness in your life, you’re going to find it very difficult to extend that generosity to others. When you catch yourself judging others, ask what it says about you that you are so irritated by someone else’s imperfections. Are you bothered being around people who don’t meet your specific standards for beauty, intelligence, morality, or social status? If they aren’t hurting you, there’s a good chance your feelings about them stem from your own anxiety and insecurity. But if you start to say, “Ok, it’s fine for that person to be the way they are, even if it’s not what I would want for myself. They still deserve to be happy,” that starts to change the way you view yourself. Eventually, you’ll realize that because you’re a human just like the other guy, you probably deserve to be happy, too.

In other words: Loving other people teaches you to love yourself, and loving yourself makes it easier to love other people.

I have this crazy fantasy in which everyone in the world learns to do yoga or meditate or practice seva. Everyone in the world decides, “I’m not perfect, but I really want to live in a more peaceful world, so I’m going to try really hard to love other people and to accept them and myself as we are.” And things get a lot better. It starts out small. Grocery stores are less stressful. Traffic jams still happen, but people honk less. Gradually, gridlock eases thanks to increased carpooling. There are environmental and financial benefits all around. People stop buying products whose advertising tells them they’re not good enough, and as a result, we spend more money on things that actually make us happy. There is a major economic shift toward positive industries — scientific research, environmental repair, health and wellness — and organizations such as nonprofits to alleviate homelessness experience a surge in funding as people realize it really sucks to let some people live in poverty while others have all the fun.

And in this fantasy, we’re still not perfect. We still fuck up. But when we do, we say we’re sorry, and we do our best to make it better, because that’s what you do when you love somebody.

To be Fresh Meat

Nosker's Country Fresh MeatPhoto by timlewisnm on Flickr
You think you wanna play roller derby. You’ve heard about it for years. Your friends have said you’d be great at it. They don’t know anything about it, but they think you’re the type of person who should play roller derby, and you think they’re right. You watch Whip It with your best friend and decide to try out together. You spend $150 on skates and it feels like a big deal because you would never spend that kind of money on a pair of shoes. You spend $80 on pads. You learn to shape a mouthguard. You think about buying fancy leggings. You go to a few open skates and feel self-conscious about everything, and you make an embarrassing noise every time you fall. The avoidance of making this noise will become your first motivator for becoming a better skater.

You try out. You join the league. You feel like this means something, but you still don’t call yourself a derby girl because you’re aware of a vast gap in ability between yourself and the people who tell you what to do at practice. You keep doing your best. You watch them closely. You try to pick the best skaters and mimic them. You learn to look where you want to go instead of at your feet. You fall a little less often.

You take your assessment, which you mostly expect to fail, so you’re not too disappointed when you do indeed fail. For a month, you obsessively work on plow stops and endurance. You retake your assessment and fail. This time it’s disappointing. You try to pick yourself up right away and get back to practice. You’ve spent four months on this, and you really thought you’d be better at it by now. You try to push yourself harder, but it’s hot outside, and you feel tired all the time. For a week or so, you obsess about whether you’re eating correctly. You never seem able to drink enough water. You take a couple days off, but when you go back to practice, people are really nice to you, and everyone has something helpful to say.

The drills start to make sense. You start to apply the things you’ve been practicing. You read your assessment feedback again and again. You think hard about core strength. You put the next assessment on your calendar. You set your financial goals for the coming month based on the cost of new skates. You would still never spend more than $100 on shoes, but now you want a $350 pair of skates. You believe you have a sincere, justifiable need for shiny booty shorts, and you discover a new purpose for those torn up stockings haunting your sock drawer.

There are days when you go to practice because you want to get better, and there are days when you go because you’ve become an exercise addict and you need the endorphin rush. Still, there are days when you go because nothing else seems to be going right. You put on your skates, and nothing else in the world matters. No one on the track knows about the dishes you left in the sink or the bullshit you left at work, and they don’t care. You don’t know if you’ll pass your next assessment, so you try to let go of any expectations about it and just practice.

And you practice and you practice and you practice and you practice.

Sappho Takes a Selfie

Sappho_and_Erinna_in_a_Garden_at_Mytilene

Sappho takes a selfie.
She is studying her face.
She wants to know how she looks
when she wants you to kiss her.
Can you read it?
Will you like it?
She takes a casual pose,
props her elbow on the window,
golden sunset behind her,
practices the look of surprise —
her camera has your eyes.

My Path of Seva: How may I help you?

butler-159811_640

There is a yogic practice called seva, which just means service. It’s the simplest thing in the world, but it can be life-changing. All you do is serve others. Make it your job to help people wherever you can, however you can. Think about how you can help your coworkers. How can you be a beneficial presence in your loved one’s lives? How can you be the most use in the world? In my opinion, the ideal seva practice is one in which you are able to give much yet feel fulfilled and joyful about giving.

I was doing my yoga teacher training while working as a project manager, and that’s when I started to seriously apply seva to my life. I did not particularly love my work (although my coworkers were all wonderful people), but I needed to keep that job. I wasn’t the best PM ever, but viewing my job through the lens of seva made me pretty decent at it. I felt the most satisfied when I could help my team complete a project quickly and do the job well, but I still wasn’t helping enough. I was not making the world a better place by being there. Nothing happened at that company that couldn’t happen without me. My service was not essential, and I knew I could accomplish more elsewhere.

Since becoming a yoga teacher, I’ve spent most of my time looking for the ways I could do the most good for other people. In my relationships, in my yoga classes, and in derby, I look for the ways that I can be of the most service. The other night, I was getting ahead of myself thinking about which roller derby team I would like to be on. They all have different strengths and weaknesses, and they’re all made up of incredible athletes. The truth is, I would love to be on any of those teams, and if there’s a team that could use someone like me, I want to be on it. To me, that’s part of seva: send me where I’m needed, and I’ll find joy in the work.

The strangest part about seva is that while it opens up all kinds of opportunities for me, I never feel like I’m giving nearly as much as I’m receiving. If I do volunteer work, I feel humbled by the chance to serve other people. I learn more from my yoga students than I could ever teach them. And though I strive to hold up my end of the deal with my husband, I owe him more gratitude than I have words for. In other words, the more I focus on giving, the more I seem to receive.

That’s not to say I don’t look out for myself. It’s become more and more important in the past year for me to take care of my own health and monitor my own stress levels because serving all the time is exhausting. I require time for myself. I have to take long baths, lounge in the sun, eat good food, do my yoga practice and meditate — all those things that help me be happy and function in the world. And through the lens of seva, even those things become more joyful because I know that when I am well and happy, I can help spread wellness and happiness. Seva is becoming a positive cycle in my life.

It’s said that you can reach enlightenment through total dedication to any form of yoga, including seva. Let me be clear: I don’t know what enlightenment is and I’m not all that interested in reaching it. I’m more interested in learning to be a happy human being here and now, not some kind of radiant embodied deity (which is how I imagine enlightened folks). But I can testify that the pursuit of seva has changed my life. When I worked as a PM, I felt like my life had been hijacked. Now, the more I serve others, the more confirmation I get that I am on my right path. I think being on my right path and finding peace in the here and now is far more valuable than the endless pursuit of gloriously useless enlightenment.