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Anywhere But Here

Semi-abstract image of young and old aikidokai bowing

I can’t remember the last time I really cried in front of someone. 

On my own? Oh, I have cried. Enough to fill an ocean, I think. But with others? No. I have not. And it begs the question . . . why? What is so ugly about my own feelings? About my own tenderness? 

What happens when I taste the blood at the root? 

A month ago, our Sensei said something that struck me during class. It was about one of our practices, misogi, involving a fear of being seen. I thought to myself, Fear? What fear? I liked misogi because it’s forty minutes of yelling. I’m an Aries. I’ll take any excuse I can to yell. 

As life would have it, I confronted the demon soon enough. Misogi was our arena.

The bell begins to ring . . . and we repeat our mantra. And then, suddenly, each utterance of sound is heavy with emotions I didn’t know I had. With every repetition I feel something deeper and stranger. Each syllable carries the weight of my burdens as it rises from within me and escapes into the frigid darkness. 

I understand the practice calls for a certain surrender. You must push everything out of you: purification. When I can, I push everything I have. 

But that Monday night, misogi wanted something I could not give it. I did not know the depths of my feelings, and it scared me. My spirit called for me to say more than the piece of the mantra we are responsible for. But I knew, should I speak it, I would break down. So I hid. And now I know another face of fear. 

I ponder the confusing, whirling things inside of me I call emotions. I can’t remember the last time I cried in front of someone. I’ve never felt such grace was available to me. Instead I have reserved my tears for quiet moments under the moonlight and the embrace of nature and spirits when I fall apart. Company in the face of such tenderness . . . I don’t know this. This is a face of fear. The fear of being seen. The fear of being held. 

But, when I taste the blood at the root . . . do I even see myself? 

Is that not the function of fear? Lightning in our veins telling us to run, run, run. Shrink, hide, ingest, cower, flinch, tense, freeze, fawn. Anything to escape ourselves. Anything to avoid looking at myself. When I taste the blood at the root, do I ask from whence it spilled? Do I guess the shade? Does my face scrunch at the smell of it?

Blood, sweat, tears, it’s all the same. All mine. All my mess. 

I almost quit misogi because of that fear. I’ve spent portions of my life cut off from feeling anything, and I’ve spent a very recent portion feeling everything. I wonder sometimes if the feeling will break me and whether in the brokenness I will look at myself. 

I thought to myself, Perhaps a break from misogi is what I need. When the time comes at practice, I will not raise my hand. Instead, I will tend to my wounds and figure out this writhing inside of me somewhere else. Anywhere but here. Not in the fire. 

Sensei did not coddle me when the moment came. I gave my story. He told me the fear would not leave. That it would return again, and again. This, I had heard before, and deep down . . . I knew it to be true. 

It does not have to be here. I affirmed to myself as I cleaned up. 

And then I went downstairs . . . and my eyes drifted to the black mats being prepared for misogi . . . and I felt angry. So very angry. And then incredibly clear. 

Why run? I’ve died so many times already. Seen so many faces of fear. Eventually, you grow sick with the stagnation. The funny thing about running is oftentimes you end up going nowhere. 

Reflecting on it later, I think I truly experienced resolve for one of the first times in my life. What did it feel like, you may ask? Here is my answer: the point of a blade, forged in the fire. There’s nothing to cloud or sway you. Resolve is clarity—will given form. 

You do not always meet your demons with a gentle hand. Sometimes you meet them with the edge of a blade. And that too is compassion. 

And sometimes, when you taste blood at the root, you lick your steel fingers clean and smile at the taste.

Joshua Afiriyie is a Ghanaian-Jamaican filmmaker, artist, and educator. He loves binging anime and taking care of his brand new cat, Dr. Dre. He has become enchanted by Aikido, humbled by Aikido, and maybe a little obsessed with it too.

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