Lemon & Salt
Healing from Life's Wounds
“What would you like me to change about myself?” I was in bed one morning, and I posed this question to my husband.
“Well,” he said without much hesitation, “Probably that you could be less hard on yourself.”
When I talk to my friends, my partner, and my therapist, they all say the same thing: I’m too hard with myself. In jiu jitsu, I’ve had training partners tell me that my perception of my performance is not what they see, and that perhaps I could give myself a break from my impossibly high standards. It’s a (fair) criticism wrapped in a confusing compliment cronut.
Over the past year and a half, I’ve been working really hard at being less harsh with myself. I didn’t understand what that meant, but I knew that things had to change, because I was extremely unhappy and unable to be present in a life that I was supposed to be living. Especially in jiu jitsu, I felt critical of my own technique, which only multiplied when I was in a toxic training environment where the coach sought to keep everyone in their place.
Self-compassion is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot, but it’s not an easy idea to explain. For people who are used to assuming that they’re always in the wrong, self-compassion sounds like deluded thinking at worst and justifications at best.
It took me a long time to understand that self-compassion is about giving yourself what you need in that moment to feel better. Self-compassion is about forgiveness. When you show yourself compassion, isn’t about resigning yourself to mediocrity nor does it breed complacency. Instead, compassion is the fertilizer that helps your nascent sense of self-confidence grow with time, until it can withstand harsher conditions through its own strength.
Nowhere has this transformation been more apparent than in my jiu jitsu practice. Earlier this year, when speaking to one of my jiu jitsu mentors, she mentioned that my jiu jitsu practice seemed particularly loaded in terms of emotional angst.
“It seems like jiu jitsu is that one part of your life,” she observed astutely, “That you seem to have the most drama. I don’t think you’re really experiencing that in, for example, your writing.”
Because jiu jitsu is the one activity that I have purely chosen for myself, it remains the purest place where I have to face myself. It’s a place where my faults and strengths run rampant and wild. For a long time, I wasn’t able to tame this chaotic landscape. Emotions and thoughts would run amok, and I would try to pretend that I had all of them corraled in one place with my calm exterior, but instead, I was living, as one movie says, everything everywhere, all at once.
Over the past few months, my jiu jitsu has felt more stable — more whole. It’s no longer something that I see as something separate from myself, but rather, an experience that seamlessly integrates with the growth that I’ve seen in other areas of my life.
This subtle, but significant, shift has led me down experiences that I look back on with great joy: learning to navigate the upside down (the berimbolo); focusing on the quantum realm (the smallest details, like an opponent’s heel coming off the ground before an ankle pick attempt); and even playing around with dream-walking (allowing my subconscious instincts to take over in sparring).
I’ve been told before that I look calm during sparring, but for the first time in my life, I feel calm. As I’ve shown myself more forgiveness, I’ve allowed the truest parts of myself to emerge. I spend less energy trying to hide from myself and from others to escape the blame that I would inevitably place on myself, and the judgment that I expected others to place on me. This has given me a new freedom in my jiu jitsu practice to use that extra energy elsewhere — to actually cultivate my curiosity and to engage in experimentation.
During jiu jitsu class, there is one song that has come up repeatedly during practice. When I first heard it, I felt an immediate, instinctive connection to it, even though I didn’t understand the language. The song had an instant calming effect on me. It made everything seem so simple.
After learning the lyrics, I understand why. When I listen to the song, I feel as if the singer is talking to herself. I feel as if…I am singing about myself. The person may disappoint her sometimes; may fail to express affection during moments that demand it; and may fall into strange phases with the changing of moons, but that she loves her nevertheless.
Yo te quiero con limón y sal (I love you with lemon and salt)
yo te quiero tal y como estás (I love you as you are)
no hace falta cambiarte nada (you don't need to change anything)
yo te quiero si vienes o si vas (I love you if you come or if you go)
si subes y bajas y no estás (if you go up and down)
seguro de lo que sientes (and you're not sure of what you feel)
At the end of the day, self-compassion is about keeping yourself close. To hold yourself dearly in your heart and to understand that lemon and salt create moments to savor.