“it was when I stopped searching for home within others 

and lifted the foundations of home within myself 

I found there were no roots more intimate 

than those between a mind and body 

that have decided to be whole.”

~ Rupi Kaur

Where do I begin this, my personal story of powerful embodiment and transformation?  The road back to self is not linear, there’s no true beginning point and certainly never an end to a transformative process.

As Elizabeth Gilbert says, sometimes the best thing to do is start the story in the middle and go in both directions.

Without a doubt, my pulmonary embolism in 2014 was a catalyst for necessary change in my life – a push over the edge that screamed for me to find a better way.  A calling out from the inner depths of my being to connect back to herself.  No, not even to connect – not yet.  Nor to understand.  But simply to look.

Please.  Look.  Here.  Just look.

And I did.  I began to look.

However, after decades of ignoring the deepest depths of myself, the bulk of this journey, or maybe the acceleration of a slow process sparked from that trauma, really takes off somewhere around the time where I begin the story here – in 2016 when I was turning 40 years old.  Now that’s a solid year to begin a story like this.  Forty is that kind of half way marker, that portal you walk through, and into something more resembling adulthood, though I’d be the first to say that the definition of an adult is rather up for debate!

Nevertheless, I remember thinking around this time that I had possibly lived half of my life already, and had lived that half in a dysfunctional, arhythmic fashion.  It was about time that I took steps in a new direction.  Time to take more seriously the heeding of my lungs’ not so subtle hint a couple of years prior, and come off the cliff of constant cycles of anxiety, depression and panic attacks.

Step by feeble step, I found that the path back to myself was about reinhabiting my body and consequently discovering myself to be more whole.  More wholly me.

It was guaranteed that this journey would take me in both directions.

In April 2016, I had started practicing Kuk Sool, a Korean martial art, a couple months before the big 40th birthday.  For many years I had dreamt of learning some form of martial arts.  Self-defense techniques could always come in handy for a single woman who often travelled on her own, and I was drawn to the practice as a step in self-awareness, knowing that these ancient arts were more than the defense and attack techniques which first meet the eye.  I was hoping the practice would bring me a spiritual and emotional awakening.  Some powerful epiphany that would lead to a more balanced me, able to keep my cool in all situations of life, and handle problems like a champ.  Flow like water and all of that.

What did come up right away were my blockage points.  Oh yes.  That’s what you get first.  Not beautiful rainbow-like epiphanies and enlightenment.  No, the struggle was real.  In particular, during breathing exercises and meditations, I often cried for no logical reason whatsoever.  This was something I hadn’t counted on.  I knew this was the path.

My practice of Kuk Sool had actually begun a few years before in Porto, somewhere around 2007 or 2008.  Curiously, the teacher was in the beginning process of introducing this ancient Korean art into Portugal at the exact same time I was introducing swing dances in the country.  We met through mutual friends and both experimented with the other’s newly arrived art form.

However, my first taste of martial arts didn’t last more than a month or so.  Severe hip pain at the time acted up and prevented me from pursuing it more seriously.  I do remember, however, my teacher one day left me on my own with two heavy rocks – one in each hand – telling me to hold them up with my arms straight out to each side until he came back.  The explanation was that I needed to tire myself out so my brain would stop its machinations for a while, because it was running constant marathons like a little hamster in the proverbial wheel.  Well, years later now returning to Kuk Sool as it arrived to Lisbon, and things hadn’t changed much since then!  As I realized later, I didn’t stop practicing that first time just because of the hip pain.  I simply wasn’t emotionally ready at that point for the inner work that martial arts required.

This time around I had no doubt I needed exactly everything about the practice, and I hungered for it, but every class seemed to bring up all this emotional turbulence.  Each morning, there was something new to smack me in the face asking for attention.  The fact that I was the only student for months on end, day after day, just intensified the practice because there was nowhere to escape, nowhere to bury myself and hide.  All the focus was on me and my struggles were laid bare.  I felt an uncomfortable vulnerability and emotional nakedness, and a constant lesson about allowing emotions and sensitivity, not separating that part of me from the physical practice, because this was about a bigger process.

Mistakes and failure are par for the course when you’re learning something for the first time.  Yet, in my core a rigid perfectionism had been most perfectly trained to a point that was paralyzing.  I absolutely loved learning new movements and sequences, but allowed little room for error, demanding of myself that I get it correct from the get go.  Deep down, I sensed how much I needed to permit myself to experiment and try and risk and mess up and learn from that, and yet my default mode was to guard against anything that could point to an Abeth that was less than ideal.

I knew in my heart of hearts that I was on the right path – a rocky and rugged uphill road that would slowly take me to a place where my energy could flow more freely.   As hard as it was to show up every day to practice, I did it because I knew I couldn’t not do it.  I’d wake up each day wondering what would come up for me in class that day, and if I’d cry yet again.

André, my ever so patient teacher, would talk about how training physically meant that you were training emotionally and mentally and vice versa.  He would say that there’s no way to explore and strengthen one part of us without simultaneously shaping and strengthening the other parts – mind, body, spirit are all intertwined.  I listened attentively, but truly had no inkling what he was on about.  My mind was my mind.  My body was my body.  And my emotions, well they were their own explosive entity that it was better to try to pretend didn’t exist.  Didn’t you need different exercises and techniques to work on each of those aspects?  I listened and nodded and wondered if one day it would make sense, oblivious to how much the practice was already working its way through each of those parts of me.