“My ex-wife chose the paint colors,” Trebb explains as we set food and silverware on the dining table.
He must have seen me eyeing the odd pastel yellow, blue, and green. Although the yellow leans too close to chalk and not close enough to daffodil, the overall color scheme is as charming as Easter candy or baby’s clothes. Definitely not a bachelor’s portion of the color wheel.
“She ran a daycare here in the house,” he adds.
“Oh! I see,” I say and fetch the taco shells from the kitchen.
Once we’re seated, we nosh spicy grilled shrimp tacos. Between bites, Trebb relates tales of daycare daring-do. Enough time has elapsed since the divorce that he can laugh at the memories. Still, I notice a particular droop in his shoulders and that tilt in his eyebrows.
After a lengthy inner debate wherein I tell myself it’s none of my beeswax, I nonetheless ask, “Does it make you happy to see these walls when you get up in the morning or come home from work?”
Trebb sets down his taco. He leans back in his chair, wiping his hands on a napkin. For a moment, I am convinced he will leave the table and tell me to leave his house. He rests his arms crossed over his torso and studies the walls.
He looks at me when he responds, “No. No, I do not.”
I use the last nub of a taco shell to bulldoze fallen toppings across the plate because internally I have launched into a one-way dialogue where I suggest that he repaint the walls. I determine appropriate and stylish new color options. I plot out the work schedule, accounting for taping, setting drop cloths, and acquiring the paint and rollers.
I am trundling on an old hamster wheel, running down an old, unhealthy habit I presumed was dead and gone. I am transported back to the first third of my life when I played the role of the miracle worker. The giver. The fixer. For friends, family, and partners, I was the dazzling strategist who could arrange and procure whatever was needed.
However, that same magician tipped an empty top hat when it came to her own needs.
Memories of those old patterns and habits had been much on my mind lately. They first emerged in aikido class as Sensei tasked us with bringing awareness to our feet when being attacked.
Safe to say, I don’t generally give my feet the time of day when someone lunges at me, intent on bashing my skull. The challenge is, therefore, daunting. When I did get my awareness locked on my feet, I noticed how both felt an equal pressure on the mats. As the attacker swung his arm to strike at me, that pressure shifted as my body shifted, either forwards or backwards. Due to fight or flight instincts, my bodyweight loaded onto one foot more than the other.
Sensei demonstrated the inherent problem with this tendency. A gentle nudge from him sends me stumbling of balance.
“Keep your weight equally distributed,” he instructs. “Fifty percent on one foot, fifty on the other.”
As we work towards this goal, we notice a radical shift in how the technique we use to diffuse the attack becomes effortless as we remain balanced on both feet. Just when we think we have mastered a cosmic martial secret, Sensei gives the attackers instructions to randomly juke. Begin to attack with full force, then stop short. It’s the equivalent of a jokester’s “made ya look” move.
When the juke strike happens, I and so many others teeter forward on tip-toes, arms flailing.
Although we were balanced with weight equally distributed on both feet, we shifted that weight forward at the last second to do a technique. Sensei reminded us there is no need to “do” anything. Be centered. Be balanced. And if you move, do so fully centered and balanced, bodyweight centered between the feet.
I struggled with the concept. My response bounced between two extremes: not moving at all and literally falling for the juke. In that stooped position, with toes talon-gripping the mats to prevent a total face-plant, I am reminded of my early life always helping, fixing, and giving. My mentality and my spirit perpetually felt bent forward. Because I was always reaching out, extending aid, I was never able to stand upright.
Sensei offered a final fix. “Stand on one foot,” he said. He perched like a crane. An attacker surged at him and struck for his head. Sensei raised his arm to deflect the attack and then lowered his hovering foot to the ground to step forward and apply the subsequent technique to resolve the conflict and pin the attacker to the ground.
We gaped. He didn’t wobble or careen in the slightest.
Our initial attempts were not as poised, but with repetition our bodies adjust and our minds begin to believe the method is possible. After I successfully replicate the experiment several times, my attacker unexpectedly juked. To my amazement, my arms swung up, but I stayed balanced on one foot. I did not “fall” for it that time. For the next attacks, I stand on both feet and retain that sense of being centered in the body, simultaneously solid and fluid. Whether attacked in earnest or juked, I remained centered and in balance. I moved through the technique in that condition.
Back at the dinner table with Trebb, I notice my feet. Yes, they are flat on the floor and technically under me where I sit. My upper body, though, is leaning forward. The momentum of that hamster wheel has bent me into that stooped posture.
I am not “under attack” like I was at the dojo, but I am off balance. I am weighted forward. I am primed and ready to “do” something. In the dojo, it was a technique I learned. Here, it’s also a kind of technique — a collection of old habits. Old sins.
I scoot back from the seat’s edge. I fully inhabit the chair and feel my body centered and balanced. That same sense seeps into my mind. The hamster wheel and all its rabid plotting dissipate. From this place I respond to his disarming honesty, “You looked a little sad. That’s why I wondered how the paint colors made you feel.”
Trebb smiles. “I’m so glad you noticed. I wasn’t aware those feelings were there.” Now, he hesitates to say more and pushes a taco shell shard around his plate. Then, “Would you like to help me paint these walls with new colors?”
Smiling, I consent. Also smiling, Trebb launches into an enthusiastic project schedule. He bandies about color schemes. I realize he already possesses an excellent aesthetic taste and organizational intelligence. There’s nothing to do but remain centered and balanced. All he’s asked me to contribute is…me.
I also realize had I not centered and balanced fully on myself, I might have missed the chance to connect effortlessly and do what matters most.
Image credits: “Tacos,” “Foot,” and “White Cockatoo Close-up,” PD. Featured image, “Old Key West Anhinga stretching,” CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.