Be easier on yourself, on everyone, on everything.  Suspend your judgments of the way things should be, must be, ought to be… Approach life with acceptance, patience, flowing, giving, grace, effortlessness, simplicity, allowing, acquiescing, permitting, forgiving.  Take it easier.

~ Peter McWilliams

Flowing is about learning to take it easier – to not push, but to bend. It’s about FACES. There’s flexibility and adaptation, coherence, energy and stability. The thought of taking it easier and living with more acceptance and grace gave me the image of an oasis in the desert. I could close my eyes and taste the sweet waters of flow and effortlessness.

There always seemed to be a but.

I’m intense. And sensitive. Quite sensitive. And quite intense.

For this sensitively intense person, FACES in reality felt more like a mirage in the desert, far from my reach.

Sensitive and intense. These are not personality traits that are wrong with me, as I’ve now come to realize. They are simply aspects that need integration and acceptance. Yet, without that integration they are chaotic and frightening, to myself and others. Ah, but that integration would have to wait a couple of years.

However, I was awake enough at this point to recognize these aspects of myself – couldn’t ignore them because I was reminded regularly by people around me. One friend who had known me for some years told me that this sensitivity and intensity of mine are sometimes an explosive combination.

How I knew that and how I suffered from that! On the flip side of this was my capacity to see deeply, picking up on subtlety, and to create imaginatively. My work and capacity to inspire were fruit of my sensitive intensity, though at the time I lacked the wherewithal to understand the full spectrum of what these traits of mine meant. That would be a later discovery.

Instead, the thing staring me in my face was the monster of my fearful fragile self. The sense of fragility and weakness was overwhelming at times.

I remember a therapy session where I was complaining about how some people in my dance community who didn’t know me so closely would say these amazing things about me – how I was this energetic, independent, strong, creative force of nature. They saw me in the light of this American woman who had arrived in Portugal and started a whole new dance movement in the country, establishing a school in the two major cities, energetically teaching classes, organizing events big and small and dishing out motivation and inspiration left and right.

Then I would look inside myself and all I saw was a scared, fragile, weak woman, who struggled secretly, and maybe not so secretly, with depression and anxiety attacks. I felt alone and unseen in my fragile state – like nobody saw the “real” me. It was a dissonance I couldn’t handle. The strangling impostor syndrome.

My therapist, Maria João said something that would begin to revolutionize my perspective and has stayed with me to this day: “Well, you don’t see the Abeth that others see – you don’t see what others see in you. And that Abeth that they see is also part of who you are. You are also all those things.”

She gently but firmly suggested that I needed to create a complete image of myself which included what I knew about myself and my struggles, but also what others saw and admired about me, because only the two parts together were the whole package. Basically, It came back to integration.

And – get this – she said I needed to fall in love with myself.

Ok, well, hold on here. One thing at a time, ok? Those are some weighty words there. Fall in love? With me? Um, let’s just try to get a little acceptance going on, ok?

The truth is, my work in the Kuk Sool classroom sharing with André and in therapy sessions talking to Maria João, and my reading and pondering were leading me to a growing self-awareness that I had never before had. I was ever so slowly getting to know myself, beginning to recognize my patterns of thoughts and behaviours. There was a limited acknowledgement that maybe I was more than the emotional wreck I felt myself keenly to be.

I journaled:
So that belongs to me – that energy, wonder, joy. Other sadder parts are mine too – other struggles, disappointments, etc. But that energetic person reaching out and giving good vibes – that’s me.

When you grow up under the shadow of shame, self-awareness is nilch. It’s not even on the horizon. Any internal glance merely hints at emotional chaos. How do you find clarity when your life is lived in hypervigilance – just waiting for the next attack, on the defense? You never realize who you truly are, as you’re always trying to be something you imagine will please others. How much more difficult it is, then, to grow into and manifest your true self in peaceful coherence.

Maria João and André, psychologist and martial arts teacher, worked with me from different angles as the tightest of teams that had never even met, both serving as mirrors to help me see myself more completely – to gain awareness of my emotions, my triggers, my reactions, my feelings and why I felt as I did.

When you gain self-awareness, you gain other-awareness. It’s like your eyes start opening and you realize that there are more colours and contours to the world. You begin to see how you relate to others and how they relate to you. The fuzzy mess of confusion starts to shape itself into a sort of discernible outline of a reality that escaped your previous vision.

At this point was when the journey became one of digging into my past, into the Abeth I left behind in California, something I had up until then avoided like the proverbial plague.