The woman with bushy hair was staring at me.
We were sitting on opposite sides of the room, and while she was sizing up my bloody lip, I was scrutinizing the general state of her hair. It was severely overgrown, wooly, and I’m positive she had shards of an age-old butterfly clip entangled in the dark heap. If it wasn’t a butterfly clip, then it was most definitely a tree branch or stick.
In my mind, she wasn’t young enough to have this level of unkempt hair. She also wasn’t young enough to wear such achingly bright shorts. But here she was, a woman of about forty sitting in front of me, an unrecognizable curl pattern to her mane and glaring red shorts that were screaming, “Look at me!”
“So I suppose you want to ask me what happened to my lip.”
“Yes, dear. Were you punched?”
(Oh, she has a British accent! I was not expecting this. British people are usually a bit more … tidier … no?)
I was about to say ‘yes and give her a grand story about a bloody and ruthless fistfight. Maybe a vengeance mission that includes swollen faces and the taste of blood. Or a grudge match that ends with spectators shouting, “SHE’S ALIVE!” (Floating a tall tale comes easy to me.)
Instead, I gave her the truth.
“I jumped off a table.”
At age 53, a change is clearly taking place.
Let’s be honest, most people don’t envision 53-year old women jumping off picnic tables or vaulting over common obstacles in the park. They don’t picture these ‘aged’ women hurdling structures by running, vaulting, jumping, climbing, and rolling. Or moving along ledges, scaling buildings without ladders, or leaping between rooftops. Getting down on all fours to pass over, under, through, and around the environment — urban or natural — for sport or otherwise? Probably not.
Young men on YouTube, however, with incredible acrobatic athleticism, yes. Safely and efficiently, I might add. But I think the general perception is that 53-year old women count daily steps and apply ice packs to flaring tendonitis. Maybe they hold Downward Dog or Tree Pose for 10 breaths. And they might suit up for weekly aqua aerobics (to nail that breaststroke).
But 53-year old me is wholly embracing “park play” and jumping off picnic tables, hanging from monkey bars, practicing cartwheels in the grass – bloodying my own lip in the process – and bragging about it to the first urgent care technician that looks my way.
“I got this at the park. Yeah, you see, I was jumping off this table… It’s part of my parkour training. Do you know what parkour is? Helloooo? Cindy? That’s what your name tag says, right, Cindy? So I bloodied my lip doing parkour…”
My parkour training is less impressive and less splashy than those splendidly dangerous, flying seventeen-year-olds on YouTube.
A cat hang that tears open the calluses on my hands; a quadrupedal walk (also known as a beast crawl) performed forward and backward that scares the beans out of me when done on a ledge, and a walking climb-up that bruises my shins, over and over and over again is as intense as it gets. I also hop rocks and bushes. And don’t forget picnic tables. I leap off picnic tables.
It’s all primer. My goal? This, minus most of the tricking because.
By parkour’s very nature, it encourages adaptability, exploration, self-reliance, health, creativity, and mental fortitude. All attributes any 53-year old woman strives for, no? Taking your body through full ranges of motion, matching strength + flexibility + stability, and connecting your breath + rhythm. Talk about feeling free to be as strong, joyful, peaceful, warrior-like, secure, sexy, silly, playful as you desire. Achieving strength at every angle. (Bloody lip, optional.)
I think I can say with a fair degree of certainty that my journey, as accidental as it is, is just starting to pick up steam.
More and more, I believe the Buddha had it right: pretty much all of our struggles, from frustrations to anxiety, from anger to sadness, from grief to worry, all stem from the same thing — being too tightly attached to something.
When we’re worried or upset, it’s because we are tightly attached to how we want things to be. When we’re frustrated with someone, it’s because we’re attached to how we want them to be. And when we hesitate or delay, we are attached to things being easy. And so on.
OK, if you agree being too attached, clinging too tightly, is the cause of our struggles … then the answer is simple, right? Drop the attachments. Reconcile attachment. Let that B—go.
Easier said than done.
Fact: I was attached to a specific gym routine. Every Monday, I lifted shoulders. Tuesday was back. Wednesday was chest. Thursday was legs. This four-day split ran on repeat for several years. Eventually, I realized I was only expressing one of my physical abilities, or bio-motor abilities if you will.
(Before I get too deep into this story, I need to tell you that I’m really terrible at parkour. But instead of being discouraged, I’m like, wow, I’ve spent the better part of my adult life working on my body. Yet, I have very little ability to use my body. So even though I’m sucking at parkour, I’m enjoying it. The skill acquisition really inspires me. I love the concept of training-to-last. I also love that I’m experiencing all these different kinds of sensations (and even bruises)).
Weight training is quite linear. It’s “these are my very almost completely sagittal plane movements or isometrics, and I’m not moving at a lot of joint-variation angles.” On the other hand, parkour is really about flow and the transference of energy and creating direction – or momentum.
I’ve been attached to static, linear, push/pull, feet hip-width apart and planted on the floor.
Parkour is a scary 180.
So what makes me think I can do parkour – or any sort of freerunning – without killing myself (or breaking bones or shedding more blood)?
The concept of Dharma – Buddhist doctrine – teaches us that everything is a manifestation of our own mind. We think there is an objective world outside, and there is a subjective world inside. And we believe the so-called objective reality of the world is something distinct from our consciousness. Still, it is only the object of our consciousness. It is our consciousness. That’s the hardest thing to understand and a primary obstacle for us and for science. So if I’m “attached” to weight training being what “exercise” looks like, if this is the perception I’ve created, why can’t I create a new perception? One that involves me sprinting over pony walls and sailing through crawl spaces?
Buddhism offers the example of a river. We see a river and call it one name, but the water is not the same water; it’s constantly changing. You cannot swim twice in the same river, and it is not the same person who goes into the river. Tomorrow it will not be “you” who goes into that river. You will have changed, just like the river constantly changes. How mind-blowing is this?
If things are things because I perceive them to be, then I will perceive jumping off tables as something 53-year old women do.
And also… bushy-haired Brits can wear red shorts.
P.S. Once you realize perception underpins everything you think, do, believe, know, or love, then you just found a new way of seeing. Congratulations!