Dancing on the Bleeding Edge

I spent this evening with 5 other men in a smallish wood-floored room, moving about each other with knives – sometimes bendy rubber ones, sometimes blunt metal ones, and sometimes sharp kitchen knives. That’s a surreal activity.

There were moments in that room of connecting with something else. When all 5 were approaching me and I had to identify the one with the knife, I couldn’t do so logically or by assessing each one in turn – I had to trust the corners of my eyes, my instinct, and my body. When one was slashing slowly towards me, I had to learn the rhythm of his dance and join him wholeheartedly in it, no matter what his intention.

And I learned several things – that there are many many other places to be, and paying attention to them rather than to the knife opens up a myriad possibilities for movement; that trying to control any such situation is like squeezing a toothpaste tube – eventually, the paste will splurge out somewhere unexpected and make a mess; that being around real knives is a real physical workout even without moving, because of the arousal they provoke; that dancing, trusting your instincts, and staying curious in the moment of greatest fear is the surest antidote.

I’ve been training for years in martial disciplines and am about as used to knives and other weapons as I want to be, which means I can enter a room where everyone has a knife with the understanding that we want to deepen our skill. But what about other rooms where the knives – although invisible and metaphorical – can actually cut more deeply with longer lasting effects?

What about fraught meetings where your colleagues seem to turn on each other? What about those moments at home where something you say is taken out of context and detonates an explosion of fury that leaves you breathless for ages afterwards?

I bow to my training because it has deepened my capacity to be with irritation, anger and upset without getting dragged into the abyss.

And I bow to my life as it repeatedly shows up my limits and encourages me to study further.

What practice helps you to increase your capacity to be with high emotions (both yours and others)? What invites you to dance a little bit more into the threatening moment, trusting your instincts? What provokes the curiosity that enables you to look your fear or anger in the eye with compassion? And what do you see there?

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