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Love or Fear: Playing on the Edge

At first, I silently wondered, "How is this related to Tai-chi? And seriously, how do you embrace the parts of life that are hard, sad or just plain suck?"
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"Love embraces what is... fear pushes it away."

These words were the premise of a workshop I recently attended at New York City's Open Center titled: "Love or Fear: Toward a Love-Based Martial Art." Led by longtime martial artist and teacher Rick Barrett, I embarked on a fascinating journey, learning how integrating my body and mind could immediately change how I experience and respond to any situation that life presents.

At first, I silently wondered, "How is this related to Tai-chi? And seriously, how do you embrace the parts of life that are hard, sad or just plain suck?"

In a nutshell, some experiences cause us to contract and others to expand. To watch a beautiful sunset from a scenic mountaintop is a typical expansive experience. In that moment one feels exhilarated, filled with the majesty of the universe and peaceful as their energy expands to receive the beauty of the occasion. On the other hand, to have a client or boss throw a temper tantrum would normally cause a contraction of energy. One would naturally want to defend, explain, argue or move away from the explosive anger, thus shutting down their receptive capacity in an effort to ward off the unpleasant energy.

The culmination of decades of martial arts training, Rick created a symbolic exercise called "The Edge," which he uses to help students tap into feelings of their personal energy's expansion and contraction, resulting in them becoming aware of and managing their energetic responses to the world. In this powerful yet gentle martial arts exercise we first discovered our capacity to receive energy and then practiced expanding our internal space beyond our preconceived limits. It was exhilarating!

We all have an "edge" -- that defining point where we go from feeling comfortable and safe to uncomfortable or "on edge" when interacting with people, places or things. When we feel unsafe our reptilian brain is activated, engaging its habitual and typical defense routine of freeze, fight or flight. This training offered a love-based alternative: to use our power of awareness to relax and receive the incoming energy calmly and thus access a wider array of response choices.

I became aware of the subtleties of how incoming energy registers on my personal-space-comfort-meter. Sure, I am aware of my response to aggression and overt threats; however, Rick's exercise enabled me to see how my conditioned response mechanism plays out and dictates my behavior in more understated energetic challenges, such as passive-aggressive manipulation or encroachment into my personal space.

This awareness presented me with a choice: Do I keep my preconditioned boundaries of comfort/safety? Or do I choose to expand them despite the fact that I sometimes feel challenged by my automatic, internal "fear" response.

Rick challenged us to expand our "edge." Of great importance to the success of increasing our ability to receive energy was to see the "other" as "our self." Waxing poetic about unity consciousness (which I love but often wonder how to apply to everyday life), he explained how separation creates weakness while unity creates strength. This applies to both our self and others. When our body, mind and spirit are in one accord, we are stronger. When we unite with another, we are stronger.

Rick breathed life into the words "we are one." Practicing "The Edge" exercise was to experience the principle of "Namaste" in action. Happily, I was finally able to experience "oneness" through an intense eye-to-eye exercise with a practice partner. Most useful of all, he offered simple tools for creating energetic coherence, which I am defining as a way of aligning my personal power of body, mind and spirit in order to access increased life force in any given moment.

As life would have it, that very evening I was met with a barrage of hostile energy from someone close to me. Everything in me wanted to fight and push the "threat" away. Upon realizing I had reached my edge, I began working to expand it using the tools I learned from Rick. It was truly an amazing feat to access my center in the midst of this emotional firestorm.

I proactively met this energetic challenge with a new level of calmness. Rather than reacting from a place of "fear," I took action grounded in the clear awareness of my personal power and conscious choice to operate from a spirit of oneness. The result was amazing as the volatility of the situation immediately and dramatically decreased.

While it was extremely challenging (oh yes, my ego did NOT take this lying down), I was determined to push past my previous energetic limitations to reestablish peace in my life. The techniques I learned gave me access to more of myself for the purpose of resolving a problem that had great potential to grow exponentially worse.

Find out more about Rick Barrett at

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