Empathy has been on my mind for quite a few years now, and as more and more tragedy surfaces throughout the world, the idea of empathy only weighs heavier and heavier on my mind. The world needs more empathy, desperately. More empathy equals less hatred. Less hatred equals more love. More love equals less war. It seems like such a simple concept to me, and yet so far out of reach. So how do we increase empathy in the world? I believe it starts with the individual, and for those of us who have children, that change within the individual impresses upon them as well.
As I sit here going through some pictures from my recent trip back to Thailand and seeing the faces of all my friends who came from all over the world to train at Phuket Top Team as well, the solution to increasing empathy in our communities on a worldwide level seems to be right in front of my face. Travel. Travel to as many places as you can and do so in such a way that you can experience the culture, instead of only seeing the side of the country that was specifically designed and altered to attract tourism.
My experiences training at Phuket Top Team have been invaluable in exposing me to a variety of cultures because of how many different people come from all over the world to train there. On any given day numerous cultures are represented on the training floor. At every team gathering, a myriad of culture is brought to the occasion. Over the course of my travels I have made wonderful friends with people not just from Thailand, but from Australia, Scotland, England, Singapore, Sweden, Canada, Ireland and more, and what I love about that is the amount of culture I have been exposed to as a result while simply speaking and laughing with them. Even something as simple as differences in slang serve as a reminder of empathy, for one definition of empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other being's frame of reference.
I remember sitting around with some friends after training one night on my first trip to Thailand, and the Australians were talking about their excessive use of a certain four letter word that Americans simply do not use (hint hint.. it begins with a "c" and most American women would tear your head off for referring to them as such). They were laughing at my reaction every time they used the word (apparently my eyes involuntarily widened a little bit with each use). I explained how taboo and insulting that word is in America, and they went on to explain that while there is a certain use of the word that is the highest insult in Australia as well, there are also two other uses of the word that are instead the highest compliment. I know this might sound strange to link a mini-lesson on the various uses of this particular word with empathy, but it was interesting to witness my shock over the word compared to their ease, as it was caused by a simple difference in paradigms.
Even by simply acknowledging the existence of differing paradigms throughout the world, even within our own neighborhoods, we are practicing and increasing empathy. Now, imagine traveling somewhere and witnessing the way families interact, how children are raised, how diets differ or even how meal time rituals differ. When you immerse yourself in the culture of a place and pay attention to the little details throughout the day, your eyes are opened to an entire different way of living and experiencing the world around you in such a way you might never have thought of for the simple reason that it was outside your paradigm.
I remember sitting down to lunch with my friend on my most recent trip. He is Thai so I began having him order my food for me when we went out, not because I'm one of those women who can't make decisions for herself, but because I wanted to experience the country, including the food, through a Thai's eyes. I knew if I ordered for myself, I would naturally gravitate toward what looked familiar. So we were each sitting there eating our matching dishes, which included shrimp, and I watched him spoon the shrimp up and place the whole thing in his mouth -- including the tail! He smiled at me and nodded at my spoon which also had a shrimp waiting on it. "You try." He said. I looked at the shrimp and realized my hesitation wasn't because it sounded gross or anything, but simply because I never knew you could even eat the tail! It was completely outside of my paradigm! So, I shrugged my shoulders, opened my mouth and ate the entire shrimp, tail and all, and while I had to chew it a little longer than I am used to, I haven't removed the tail from shrimp before eating them since.
I know these are small and possibly silly sounding things to stick out in my mind when considering empathy, but they really did have a big impact on me in terms of opening my eyes and making me reflect on how much of the world we view through the closed in tunnel of our paradigms. I've always wanted to travel with my children, but that desire is even stronger now that I have begun having these reflections. My youngest son and I will be going to Thailand together next summer and it is all we can talk about lately. He is fascinated by the stories I bring home, including the small stories about eating the tail off the shrimp. Hearing about how other people do things excites and fascinates him and watching that fascination in his eyes causes me to reflect on empathy and the relevance of travel in connection to empathy even more. It is not always easy to travel, but in my experience traveling to certain countries (such as Thailand) is cheaper than an extended weekend vacation in most U.S. cities. It takes some planning, sure, but it can absolutely be done. Just imagine the gift you'll be giving yourself, your children (if you have them), and as a result the world if you begin insisting on seeing more of this beautiful, culture rich world we live in.
This is a common saying heard in the inspirational/motivational industry. I have been guilty of saying it myself as well; recently, in fact. However, the truth is, we need our fear. Fear keeps us safe. Not safe in the sense that we stay comfortable and stagnant, although that is a risk of indulging too much in irrational fear, but safe in the literal sense of the word. Fear is what tells us yeah, jumping off that cliff might not actually be a good idea, or something about that person makes me uncomfortable, maybe I shouldn't go with him into that dark alley like he wants. So in that sense, being fearless would be reckless and dumb. In the unfortunate situation where we cannot avoid the danger, fear is what primes us to be able to fight if necessary, so again, being fearless would actually put us in danger.
I've been thinking a lot about the idea of being fearless this week. There was a pretty big fight offer in the works (alas it did not work out though) and a word that was in my mind as I thought about the potential fight was "fearless". However, the more I thought about this, the more I realized I'm not fearless, I'm just in control of my fear. I know how to decipher when fear is doing its job responsibly, and when it's just being an overprotective, nagging inner-mother. I'm definitely not fearless; I've just chosen to rule my fear instead of being ruled by it.
Fear tends to be an emotion faced by many in any entrepreneurial venture. It's that voice that whispers I don't know, maybe we shouldn't head off on our own; it feels awfully nice to be able to depend on this bi-weekly paycheck. Fear, I believe, is the main culprit when people choose not to pursue their dreams. Turning dreams into reality can be scary as hell! It takes an unbelievable amount of faith and self-confidence, but it also requires we become the king or queen of our own fear.
Any good ruler earns the respect of their people by proving they are capable of protecting them and their best interests. Irrational fear comes into play when our subconscious does not believe in our ability to make sound decisions for ourselves. Irrational fear tells us that paycheck is nice because it doesn't believe we are capable of creating that income on our own without the foundation of our employer. Committing ourselves to the repetitive actions that will prove otherwise will earn the trust of that fear we are trying to rule.
A good king or queen is wise and decisive. He or she gathers information through formal education and from trusted advisors. We have to show fear that we are making informed decisions before acting, and when we do so, fear will not feel so alarmed. If we do not make uneducated decisions, fear will not feel it is necessary to hover over every decision we make on the path toward achieving our goals.
A good ruler enforces law and order justly. When fear is doing its job appropriately we have to honor it and thank it for a job well done. However, when fear is being irrational, we have to enforce law and order by putting it in its place.
We have to rule our fear, or be ruled by it. The choice is always ours. I always ask the question: What's YOUR Possible? The question serves as a reminder that the only person that can dictate what is possible and impossible in your life is YOU. No one else can tell you something is impossible, so make sure you don't allow your irrational fear to tell you it is impossible either. Once upon a time electricity was impossible, as was space travel. All things are impossible until proven otherwise.
On August 23rd when I left Colorado to go to Thailand, I did not know what to expect from my trip. I had a strong suspicion that I was not ready to walk away from the sport after all, but I tried to leave with no expectations other than just finding my passion again. When I retired on the first of the year I THOUGHT it was a sound decision, but I realized a few months later that it was simply an emotionally charged decision based on the unique high stress situation I found myself in at the time. As the months crawled on I found myself missing the fight more and more, but I was still struggling with untangling the strings of some previous negative experiences from the strings that were tied to my passion for my career. The sole purpose for my trip was to make peace with some of those past experiences while reconnecting with my passion for the martial arts.
I have to admit, during my first week back training at Phuket Top Team I remember going through the motions of my bag work thinking how absolutely miserable I was. It was so much harder than I remembered with none of the passion that used to get me through it present in my heart to keep me pushing forward. The thought, "yeah, forget this" temporarily crossed my mind, and I left training that day thinking my trip was in fact my farewell to the sport and not my reintroduction to it. I gave no consideration for the fact that I had spent the previous nine months barely training as I was submersed in alternating states of depression and anxiety; I only compared my current state of physical fitness and mental passion with what I remembered it being the last time I was in Thailand... which happened to be immediately following a fight camp when I was in peak physical condition and very hungry to compete as soon as possible.
Fortunately, muscle memory kicked in to save me from myself, and my body began to remember what I was expecting of it and complied, albeit a little begrudgingly at first. I began smiling and laughing in training again and remembering why I loved it so much to begin with. However, I was still unsure of whether or not I would end up fighting again and made the decision in my second week to not chase it or force any decision one way or the other. I decided I would just focus on training and smiling and if one of my krus felt I was ready to fight, the offer would be made.
It was at the beginning of my third week that the fight offer was made, and I was almost surprised at how quickly I said yes. There was no excitement in my response per say, only a very natural feeling in my heart that said of course, why wouldn't I? It was then that I knew I was back. However, I did not announce anything about the upcoming fight to anyone other than my children and two of my closest friends. While the fight was officially renouncing my retirement, it did not feel like a fight that was a part of my professional career to be shared with the world, but rather an event that was occurring in my personal journey and one I needed to experience privately.
The morning of the fight though, I realized how much fighting for my fans has always driven me. My entire career to date has been spent sharing my struggles and coinciding successes or failures with my followers and it did not feel right to not share my most personal struggle yet, and so I posted a video of the fight poster blowing in the wind with the following caption:
So, there's this thing I'm doing tonight..
It's been a year and a half since I've competed, and the ring has been calling to me for quite some time now. It's time I heed the call. Retirement will just have to wait. I'm back.
I had never experienced nerves before a fight in my entire career, but something about renouncing my retirement added some weight to my shoulders that I was not familiar with, not to mention it had been well over a year since I had last competed and this fight would be completely different from anything I was used to in the past which made it almost feel like my first fight all over again. In Thailand you do not warm up before a fight and instead simply receive a thai linament massage from the trainers. I was used to the mentality that you work up a good sweat and open up your lungs before your fight so when you enter the ring you are doing so with your second wind ready to go. I was also a little nervous about not ramping my punches and kicks up before entering the ring as well. The stadium I was fighting at was one where you do not know your opponent beforehand either. You just show up and fight whoever they tell you to fight. And then of course there was all the ritual and tradition entering the ring that I was not accustomed to in my previous experiences. All of these changes had me a bit in my own head and unable to really decipher how I felt about it all.
However, as soon as we arrived at the stadium, all questions left my mind as I entered into that calm and focused state of mind I love so much about the fight. I admit I had to look to Kru Athit more often for direction than I would have looked at my coaches in the past for the simple fact I needed to be guided through the specific rituals, but otherwise the second the gloves were on I felt home again. Stepping into the ring felt just as familiar and natural as any other fight, if not more so because I was finally returning to where I belonged. As soon as the ref signaled the start of the fight, it was all calm instinct.
Analyzing the fight myself, there was a lot I wish I would have done differently, one being I wish I would have played the muay thai "game" a bit more and drug the fight out into a few more rounds, but as soon as I started finding success in throwing my hands it triggered more of the MMA mentality of finishing the fight as soon as possible. However, I do not think there will ever be a single fight that I walk away from not wishing I would have done things differently. After all, we are our own worst critic and a person interested in improving in life will always be looking for those ways to improve on what they have accomplished so far. I won the fight forty seconds into round two via TKO though, and, more importantly, that night I won my own fight against depression and anxiety. That fight was like a rebirth into the life I knew and loved, and I am happy to announce that since coming home my passion has not dwindled in the slightest and I am actively seeking my next opportunity to get back in the ring.
My immense gratitude goes out to my entire team at Phuket Top Team for taking me from a couch ridden depression to a round two TKO in four weeks. I believe in their training, and I believe in their structure, but more importantly it is the atmosphere they have built that allowed me the space I needed to make such leaps and bounds in my personal journey at the same time as I made improvements in my professional journey.
When I woke this morning, I had every intention of working on my blog today as I have several articles I have been meaning to write, one being an update on my previous fight and officially coming out of retirement. However, before going to bed last night I learned of the failing health of Thailand's king, and the first thing I did this morning after shutting off my alarm was pick up my phone and look for a status update on his condition. Sadness consumed me when I read King Bhumibol Adulyadej had passed away before I had woken.
As the morning progressed I could not seem to shake the feeling. A friend of mine asked me why I was so saddened over the passing of a king who was not my own or a person I have never met, and I had to confess that the depth of my emotion surprised even me. However, my experience in life is when I love something or someone, their love becomes mine. Empathy at its finest I suppose. I have many friends in Thailand who are very dear to my heart and they loved their king deeply. As I sat here trying to write an article about my previous fight, all I could think about were the tears that are being shed by those I love in the country I grew to love just as much.
During my previous stay in Thailand last month I was touched by the depth of the love many of the Thai people had for King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and the grief I know they feel right now pierces my heart. When the king's failing health was announced yesterday, one close friend of mine posted a beautiful update on Facebook that best captured the sentiment I heard from many of the Thai people.
"I love my king. I don't know why. Never have someone say me to love him and I still love him because I saw him everyday working for us, for the Thai people. Never stopped working. Who can do this all their life? Everyone working for money or status, and my king, him working everyday and really hard for us. Never need something back for him because him love us. Love Thai people. That's why I love my king. From my heart." ~Kru Athit Praditphon
And so, the regular musings of my blog will wait while I send love and light to all those grieving in Thailand today. If you find you have a few moments in your day, perhaps you too could send love and light to a grieving country as well.
A lover of words, magic, and the idea of changing the world by encouraging the pursuit of one dream at a time. Living the dream myself as a professional boxer, kickboxer, and MMA fighter.