What Is Courage?

Out of all of the characters in the Wizard of Oz, my absolute favorite is the Cowardly Lion. Except for Toto, of course. Okay, that makes Lion my absolute second favorite. But, it’s funny how the big, strong Lion was always running away from danger and little Toto was always running towards it. So, which one had courage? In my ninja-driven way of thinking, I have the perfect answer. They both did.

How is that possible? Because, what is the definition of courage? Most people would say it is the absence of fear. But, in reality, it is action in the presence of fear.

We’ve all experienced fear. There are several ways we can respond to it. We can run (flight) like the Lion did by removing himself from the threat to keep himself safe. It’s actually a really smart choice, even though it hardly seems appropriate fro the King of the Forest. Or, we can fight like the fierce warrior Toto did, to defeat his opponents and bring them to their knees. It’s an option for those who truly embody the spirit of a warrior. But when you consider that your chances of being the victor are about 50-50 (at best), it might not be the best choice unless you are cornered.

There is a third option. You can freeze like a deer in the headlights. Absolutely THE worst possible choice you can make. But, it’s not your fault, because it really isn’t a conscious choice. Our brain automatically shifts into our sympathetic nervous system when we are threatened, which is part of our built-in survival mechanism. Unfortunately, when we freeze we haven’t got even a slim chance of surviving an attack.

Taking some self-defense classes, sharpening our awareness and observation skills, practicing avoiding and evading a threatening situation is a great start to prevent against freezing, and learning how to take action in the presence of fear. And that, my friends, is the definition of courage.

Roses in November

I love November. I love the entire fall season, with the weather changing, the leaves turning, the incredible bright blue skies of October. But I have always loved November, and I especially love Thanksgiving.

I grew up in Western Pennsylvania where the winters are brutal, and can sometimes start as early as October. But, 8 years ago, the weather was a completely different story. I ought to know, because I was there.

Both my parents were ill with leukemia. I know. What are the chances? My 2 older sisters and I spent 2010 taking turns “visiting” them for a week to 10 days at a time. They would never accept help if it was offered and would NEVER ask for it, but they were happy to have us “visit.” If we just happened to take them to their treatments, the hospital, the doctors appointments, etc., that was just a pleasant coincidence. (Sigh).

My mom and dad were playing a bizarre game of End-Stage Leukemia poker during that year. You know–I’ll match you an infection and raise you a reaction. Okay, I’ll match that reaction and raise you and ER visit. On and on it went. You get the picture.

In early October, I came home for a “visit.” My dad came out of the house to greet me and to show me my mother’s rose bush. He was so excited, because the bush had started blooming again. In October! My dad was delighted, and told me that my mom was as well. I looked and sure enough, there were a few buds beginning to open. I was thrilled. And then it hit me.

Somewhere deep inside of me, I realized the truth, and what the roses represented. This was it. The end had come. For both of them. We were in the final stretch. Fighting back tears so my father wouldn’t see (thank God for those Maui Jim sunglasses), and keeping my voice neutral, I ooh’d and ahh’d over the roses. But, in reality felt like I was falling off a cliff.

The incredible weather held up all during October and through the first week of November, and her roses bloomed the entire time. She died on November 8th. Her roses bloomed until the snow came and gently covered them, 19 days later, the day my father died. It was 2  days after Thanksgiving.

You might think that I get sad or depressed during November and around Thanksgiving. Nah, I don’t. My parents wouldn’t want that. Besides, I have a lot to be grateful for, and I don’t want to be sad. I’m especially glad that my mom got one last chance to see her roses, which she loved. And grateful that my dad got to see how happy it made her. And I’m really glad that they are together forever, where every day is a day of wine. And roses.

Sharing ninja secrets: Shhhhhh……

As a card carrying ninja, I sure know a lot of ninja secrets. I spent many long, hard hours of training for 14 years in a smelly martial arts dojo with a lot of sweaty men to learn these secrets. I also spent a tremendous amount of time, money, and effort along the way as well. But, every minute and every penny was well worth it and well spent.

It is my heartfelt desire to share some of these secrets with you without violating the code of the Super Secret Society of Ninjas, so here are just a few simple tips that will help you stand, walk, and move like a ninja to help keep you safe every time you step out into the world.

After all, our body language communicates to the world what kind of day we’re having, and even how we feel about ourselves. And people pay attention to it more than you think they do. It makes an immediate (and lasting) first impression. So, we want to make a great impression each and every time we meet someone. Whether it is at a party, a business event, a networking group, or a stranger on the street.

Especially a stranger on the street. Because we don’t want to look like an easy target if he happens to be one of the bad guys. Here are a few simple tips:

1). Stand up straight with your head up. Yes, this means putting your cell phone away.

2). Look people in the eye, including strangers. Especially strangers! No, it’s not rude.

3). Have your hands free at all times, just in case you need them to sweep a flying object or an unwanted and uninvited hand out of the way. Yes, it does happen.

4). Stand with your knees slightly relaxed and one foot slightly in front of the other, just in case you need to make a fast exit.

5). Speaking of exits, always know where the closest exits are every single time you enter a building or enclosed area. Exits aren’t just important in airplanes.

Most of all, stand, walk, and move with confidence. Because that is the way of the ninja!

Flexibility….For Life!

Do you ever feel like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz? Like you are so stiff and inflexible that you were left out in the cold, damp forest for so long that you can’t move your joints and you’re screaming for your oil can? Or, have you ever tried stretching your tight muscles only to feel even worse afterwards? It’s not just you. There is a physiological reason for it, and it is basically quite simple.

Before I get all geeky about physiology, let me assure you that losing flexibility is NOT a “normal” part of the “aging process.” Who came up with that idea, anyway? If you find out, let me know. I’d like to smack ’em upside the head for spreading stuff like that! The truth is, that we do not have to lose flexibility as we get older. Even more good news is that we have our own internal oil can, which lubricates and nourishes our joints to keep them healthy and mobile during the entire course of our lifetime.

So, how do we access this internal oil can? By gently moving and mobilizing our joints in the full range of motion that they were made to do to help us perform at our best. I’ll use the hip joint as an example. It is a lovely joint that is made to move in a circular manner called circumduction. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to use it as a hinge joint, moving only forward and backward. Sitting, walking, climbing stairs are an example. As a result, the soft tissue that supports that magnificent joint gets tighter and tighter. Oww. So, we stretch.

One of the functions of the soft tissue is to protect the joint. It is rich with nerve endings that talk to the brain and let it know how things are going. When we try and stretch, those nerve endings send signals to the brain that say STOP!! You’re going to damage the joint. The brain replies by saying OK, and tightens up the soft tissue even more to protect the joint. Ooops.

Instead of stretching, try gently mobilizing your hip joint in its socket with gentle, circular movements. Do not force it, just let it relax into the movement. Remember that less is more. really listen to your body and the signals it is sending you. It does take some extra time, and you do have to slow yourself down. But, in the end, it sure is worth it.

For more ideas, check out my podcast    “If  you can’t bend your knees, you can’t do squat.”