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  • Writer's pictureMatt Powell

Life imitates art ….. Accepting Limbo

The first Lockdown happened at a good time for me. I have written before that I was dealing with grief and personal loss. The consequence was that I embraced a break in the norm and found a sense of calm in the reflection the slower pace of life offered.

I gradually rebooted. Started training and teaching online and dared to reinvent my persona as a Professional Karate teacher in the modern world. After a few months I felt fresh and ready to chart my new trajectory.

Lockdown 2 happened in November, but I was still buzzing and the switch to online teaching did not derail my enthusiasm.

It has long been a dream of mine to have a full-time dojo in the town where I teach. I have a home dojo and it is a fantastic and valuable space. But I have wanted a base for myself and my students to call home. Somewhere they would learn to value as a place of creativity, study, support and inspiration. A place much more than a training hall. A studio, an Academy, a unique collaborative space for Martial Arts that I could direct.

During November I had found the place and over the next few weeks trialled the space as a venue from which to teach my Zoom classes. I was buzzing!

I had various discussions with the current lease holder, and we had agreed a plan for a flexible tenancy to start on the 1st of January 2021.

It all felt like perfect timing. I had built momentum and was really-excited about starting the new year in a base for teaching and producing online content. I had designed logos, signage and even decorated the office between Christmas and New Year so that I could work from a fresh and positive environment.

This direction had broken my routine and I had stopped publishing Blogs and producing video content as I prioritised our Venue and planned the future. A couple of my students had messaged me to check in as they had noticed the lack of online activity and they advised that I should resume as soon as possible. (Thanks Robin and Wayne, it was the nudge I needed).

I have a digital folder full of half-written blogs and articles. Since mid-November I just could not seem to finish any. After 6 months of writing at least one Blog a week I suddenly felt unable to complete them. I wondered if I was experiencing writer’s block.

Ironically, I decided that I would remedy this by writing about my thoughts on ‘Why’ I was experiencing the block. I could not even finish that! 600 words in and the text was forced and dire and lacked the arc I naturally find in most of my articles.

I wondered whether my focus towards the venue and the work involved had consumed me.

I pondered whether my latest discovery (5 years later than most) of Instagram had expended too much of my creativity and even (in the darkest moment) considered that I may not be a blogger after all and that my efforts in the summer were fuelled by my grief and my need to get my thoughts out of my head.

I wondered if my thoughts had dried up.

I would say that to the needs of others I am reasonably sensitive to emotions. Ironically, I have realised that to myself I am often ignorant of how I feel. Stress, upset and even anger are often emotions that I fail to recognise and therefore respond to in myself. This has been a failing of mine and as a consequence I have put myself under incredible pressure in the past.

After failing once again to write a blog I sat down (frustrated) and resorted to Disney plus for some consumption.

For any of you that subscribe to Disney’s subscription service I urge you to did deeper than the movies and explore the documentaries, making-of, and the extras provided with most features. I find these an amazing source of inspiration. Most recently I have watched the on-Pointe 6-part series on the American School of Ballet. The passion and dedication of the dancers is incredible. As is their athleticism and grace. If you want to encourage yourself to stretch, train and improve I would encourage you to watch this documentary.

On this occasion however I was having one of those days where you just cannot seem to find anything that you want to watch. Then I spotted the ‘extras’ option on the latest Pixar movie Soul. I had watched the film over Christmas with the kids and they now watch it at least once a week.

The movie is Pixar’s latest glimpse of genius and is extremely profound. It questions ‘What is the meaning of life’ but manages to do so in a non-religious, pompous, or condescending way. It is wonderful story telling and really does encourage the viewer to think, appreciate and reflect. There are a few episodes attached to the making of the movie but two really resonated for me.

One focusses on how the team at Pixar responded to the Pandemic and moved movie production to their homes. The other discussed production design and the lead characters journey through ‘Limbo’ the space between life and death.

Bang it hit me!

After enjoying the episode on creating during the pandemic and relating my Zoom journey of discovery to that of the movie makers, I suddenly realised that like Joe in the movie I was in Limbo! I had been on the ascendancy. My life was about to begin its new chapter! But then Lockdown 3 had stolen it from me. Quite simply after the deluge of work that had consumed me and stifled my blogging, I was now unable to move forward with the dream!

Lockdown 3.0 = Matt Powell Karate Limbo

I was not unable to Blog for the reasons I had mentioned before. I had simply failed to accept, understand or realise that I was quite simply frustrated and annoyed by this Lockdown. I had enjoyed elements of the last one, but this time it did not fit with my plans.

Wow……. I can be selfish (I did not realise that either – I should probably apologise to my wife). I suddenly felt very ashamed. In failing to recognise my own frustrations I had not dealt with the emotions I was experiencing. Disney Plus was the last place I was expecting to find the answer to my inability to finish a blog.

I ran out to Karyn and said;

‘that’s it. Limbo. I am in limbo and that is why I cannot get anything done. I am waiting to move forward again’.

Karyn simply smiled and acknowledged me as she carried on multi-tasking in that awesome way she can, and I ran back to the lounge to make notes to help me write this Blog.

As soon as I accepted that I was in a state of Limbo enforced by the latest government restrictions I felt a renewed sense of calm. By understanding and accepting my circumstance I could create a strategy to cope as best I can.

I have sensed in many people that this latest lockdown has hit them harder than the first. We are all desperate for the ‘normal’ and are fed up with the disruptions. We miss family, friends, and the freedoms we were used to. Least of all the ability to make plans and execute them.

So, I have decided that I am going to accept this Limbo and reframe it such that it is more akin to a ‘Holding-Pattern’ a plane will fly in whilst it waits to land.

I choose to believe that eventually this will all come to an end, but like a passenger on the plane we cannot control when that will be. Instead, we must trust those in control and Hope it does not take too long.

I used to travel internationally frequently for work and when I was stuck in a holding pattern it always seemed to be on the return leg, when I was desperate to get home, see those I love, get re-acquainted with the normal and relax. Perhaps the holding pattern is a useful analogy?

I am proud to say that the more I travelled with work the better I became at coping with the hold-ups of travel. I would accept the situation, read a book to pass the time or simply sleep!

So, for now I have a new strategy to cope with this current lockdown and it is based on this practice.

I choose to accept that we are in a Pandemic Holding Pattern.

I am not in control of when we will be able to move on so for now, I will pass the time effectively by investing time in my own training and study with the hope that this will provide inspiration for Blogs and online content. I will then work through these until the time comes when we can get back into the dojo and start once more on the trajectory I have dreamt of since 2009 when I started the dojo in Petersfield.

By accepting our current situation and recognising how it makes me feel I am better placed to cope and hopefully flourish. It also provides me with a useful reference, a rule of sorts that that I can reference and return to for guidance until this is over. I hope it may offer similar value to some of you.

Like another of my Disney favourites might say:

‘This is the way!’

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