It is not our abilities that show what we truly are.
It is our choices.
(from "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets)
A couple of weeks ago, Satish and I were playing a pretty complicated game of chess. In years past, it was fairly easy for my young friend to win the game…and often in four moves or less. These days, I give him a run for his money, although Satish will say that’s because he’s out of practice. Even though it’s true, I still like to think I’ve become a more worthy opponent.
“When Danta and I are playing, I have much easier time,” I explained to their mother, Nidhi. “I respond to what he does with a piece, then he responds to what I do. It’s a more interactive way of playing.” Glancing at the board, I noticed Satish made a wily move with his bishop. “With my pal here, it’s different. He’s always thinking five steps ahead, planning out how he wants the pieces to move around the board. And while I can often figure out what Danta’s thinking, I’ve yet to figure out how Satish’s mind works.”
“Yeah, but I still win sometimes,” Danta said, looking up from a book he was reading.
“Yep,” I admitted. “These days I think we’re 50/50, right?”
“I think so,” he replied, then stuck his nose back in the pages of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Soon enough Satish captured my king. As I shook his hand to congratulate him, I asked, “Want a rematch and this time let the queen move any way she wants?”
“Okay!” Satish beamed.
For years the boys and I have contemplated playing chess by bending the rules just a bit, allowing the queen to also move like a knight, yet we never gave it a test run. While Danta loves the castles and Satish can make the best of any piece, the knights are my favorite, for their stealth way of maneuvering around a chess board often allows me to capture a pivotal piece. So as Satish and I set up the game, I was more than eager to see how thinking outside the box might allow me a better chance of winning.
Which it did…immediately.
Within two moves, I had Satish’s king in check.
“You know Katie loves those knights!” Danta said, peeking around the pages of his novel. “Now it’s like she has three of them!”
“Oh, I wasn’t thinking about the queen moving like that,” Satish admitted. “I'm going to have to get used to it.”
Which he did…immediately.
Still, changing the rules made the game much more fun and sharpened my ability to anticipate the plans Satish was formulating. In the end, he still won, but not after I had captured nearly half of his pieces.
“That was fun!” he exclaimed.
“It was,” I agreed. “It’s fun to change the rules sometimes.”
Then again, I’m not one of often follow the rules of engagement. Sure, I obey traffic laws. I don’t double park. I pay my bills on time. I don’t dive into the pool at the gym…and wouldn’t, even if the sign clearly stating the regulations wasn’t clearly posted on the wall. Of course I know laws and guidelines are in place to provide healthy boundaries, but I don’t often do what I was taught by my family and the American culture.: I didn’t remain in a job because it had a salary and benefits. I didn’t marry Mr. Right and have children. I didn’t embody all the things a good girl should do as she grows into a woman. Now I can readily admit that everything I chose to do instead was deliberate, even though not much of it seemed so at the time.
I’ve always been able to go after what I really want. Whether it be a teaching position, a career as a writer, or anything else, if the object of my desire was able to be obtained by me alone, I was always able to manifest it. Even so, there were many times I needed to reframe my perception of a happy life. Many times I struggled to let go of the tug-of-war I had with my familial conditioning vs. my creative unconscious. Many times I marveled in my ability to get up every time I faltered. In every instance, I was eventually able to bring to light the object of my desire…sometimes to my detriment, but more often to my delight.
I suppose it comes naturally.
The other day I was working with a trainer at the gym to help move me beyond weightlifting workouts. After ten months, it became totally boring to do some version of the same routine over and over again. As in chess, I wanted my metaphorical exercise queen to move in unpredictable ways, so I asked Gordon to put me through my paces.
Which he did…immediately.
We started out with one-leg dead lifts, which weren’t so hard – until I added a kettlebell to the mix.
“Start with your dominant side,” Gordon suggested.
Automatically, I stepped my left foot forward.
“I’m left-handed, too,” he smiled.
“I should be,” I replied. “But I’m more ambidextrous.”
I went on to explain that a few years ago I took a survey for a local professor who studies hand dominance. “I imagine you’re mixed-handed,” his wife said. “Being a writer taps you into the right brain.” As it turns out, I tested left-hand dominant, even though I write, eat, and use my garden clippers with my right hand. But I vacuum, turn locks, open jars, and pull weeds and do most everything else with my left.
Every time Gordon asked me to practice an exercise leading with my dominant side, I made the conscious choice to step forward with the left. Sure, it felt more natural, but it was also more challenging, for leading with the left allowed me to learn the pattern of movement more efficiently. It gave me a better baseline from which to springboard. It allowed me to think outside the box of the years of weight training I’d accomplished and allowed my own body weight to be the best resistance…even when I fell on my behind.
At one point, Gordon threw some kettle bells in the middle of a huge, foam box, then attached some handles to a strap on the side. “I want you to push this and sprint as fast as you can across the gym. Then pull it backwards as fast as you can. Stay up on the balls of your feet and your toes, too.”
I did one round and while it was tough, when Gordon asked, “Is that heavy enough?” I replied, “Nope.”
He added more weight and again I pushed and pulled it across the floor.
“One more time!” Gordon cheered. “You can do it!”
Which I did…at least half way. Pulling the box backward, my fatigued legs gave out and felt myself falling fast to the floor. A split second later, I landed on my left sit bone and burst into laughter.
Offering me hand, Gordon asked, “Are you okay?”
“Sure!” I nodded. “I’m fine.”
“You did that well,” he smiled. “Falling I mean.”
“When my balance is challenged, I’ve learned how to fall gracefully out of yoga poses…and land as softly as I can,” I said, dusting off my backside. “I’ll feel that tomorrow though.”
Which I did…sooner rather than later.
Still, pushing outside the box challenged me to do more than I ever thought possible. A couple of days later I was back at the gym, working out by myself, putting myself through all the paces I had learned. It was hard, harder than anything I’ve done in a long time, but it felt amazing. Muscles I didn’t remember I had burst to life, allowing me to challenge myself in ways I couldn’t have imagined a year ago. Sweat poured down my face as I practiced using the TRX, then power-slammed a weighted ball, then worked with the heavyropes for good measure.
I know that by mixing things up, by going outside my comfort zone, by not only thinking, but working outside the box, I am creating a unique life experience, one that is genuinely, wholly my own…not only in the gym, but on my yoga mat, in the garden, when I write, and most often when I interact with others.
Yesterday I shared some of Dumbledore’s wisdom with my friend, Steve, saying, “What a wonderful thing to know that it’s not my abilities that show me who I truly am, but the choices I make in how I use them.”
Steve nodded. “Yes…and if I follow my code and do what’s good and right and true, then I know I’m doing just fine.”
These days the choices I make are based not only on stretching my muscles in new, fascinating ways, but also my perceptions of what I think and believe. Like Satish playing a game-winning session of chess, I strategically think five steps ahead as to how a choice might impact my life and the lives of others. Will it bring grace and peace and truth? Will it cause harm to myself or another person? Will it keep me in a revolving cycle of old behavior or open new doors of healing?
“There are not many people who think that far ahead,” Steve grinned. “But Snow White, I’m not surprised you do.”
Shifting on the front porch swing, I felt a twinge in my left sit bone and smiled, knowing that to live outside the box may bring a few bumps and bruises along the way, but it also reveals the incredible happiness in knowing I’m continuing to live an honest, authentic life.