As a child, I remember being so angry almost all the time. I had this ball of fire in my gut that wouldn’t go away. Naively, I believed that anger was far better than being afraid. My anger defined me from the time I was about 6 years old through middle age. Growing up at home, I was mostly afraid of Dad. I held my anger in order to be stronger because I wasn’t strong enough when I was the little boy at home.
I passionately pursued martial arts and weight training, striving to become stronger. When I was in my 40’s, I was Aikido 3rd degree black belt and could bench press 250 pounds. No one was going to fuck with me. No one. Yet, stronger will never be strong enough.
Fortunately, I discovered my best friend John, who granted me permission to make him my big brother. I discovered Sensei Dan, who granted me permission to make him my father. Both men inspired me to define the possibility of the man I wanted to become. I work with my therapist Lance to reveal my fear from the past and practice the more appropriate response to my fear. I meditate for 20 minutes every morning when I awake. This is just some of what I continually do to heal me on my path.
I watched the TEDTalk by actor Dolph Lundgren, “On healing and forgiveness.” [Watch it at the bottom of this post.] I’m a big fan. Outwardly, we are the billboard of contrast. Dolph is the 6’ 5”, ripped, handsome movie star. 160 IQ. Fulbright Scholar. Speaks 5 languages. Master’s degree in chemical engineering, 4th-degree black belt in Kyokushin Karate. Former World Heavyweight Kickboxing Champion. Among other accomplishments.
At the beginning of his TED Talk, Dolph described his childhood growing up in Stockholm, Sweden in the 1960’s and 70’s. His father was the good-looking Army officer and his mother was the educated linguist. He had a younger brother and sister. His father possessed great anger. He would take out his anger on Dolph and his mother, leaving his brother and sister be.
Dolph recalled the first time his father hit him, kicking him into the TV set. He was about 3 or 4 years old. He experienced abuse until he was about 11 or 12 years old. When you experience abuse, you normally have two options: fight or flight. Young Dolph discovered the third option: “You freeze… Go dead. All your emotions bottled up inside.”
So when being beaten, he would go “frozen” in order to survive, to weather the bad. His dad was as big as Dolph is now. He was powerless to do anything. He buried his great rage within.
I didn’t experience nearly that scale of his abuse. But that feeling of fear and anger inside: I know that all too well. When I was about 6 through 14 years-old, I would go “quiet” when my Dad raged at me. I’d look away. I knew I had to endure for however long. If I said anything back, that would go very bad for me. Like Dolph, I’d “freeze”.
Dolph moved in with his grandparents in a small town far north of Stockholm. His grandparents were kind and nurturing. He studied hard in school. He took up karate and weight training. He later won the Fulbright Scholarship. In a roundabout way, he became the big movie star starring with Sylvester Stallone in “Rocky IV” as Ivan Drago.
Dolph attained wealth and celebrity. Yet, he found himself on the self-destructive path: Very angry, doing drugs, having illicit affairs. Then his girlfriend at the time suggested that he get help, get therapy. He said that therapy was for “sissies.” I had thought precisely the same.
Following her advice, Dolph got into therapy. He practiced meditation. He started to heal and forgive himself. So I guess Dolph and I are kind of twin brothers. We participate in therapy and do daily meditation. We’re both 4th-degree black belt martial artists who continue to train, and both studied engineering. Although he’s got length on me in height and IQ, we’re brothers in humanity: healing and forgiveness.
Dolph’s life altered. Sly Stallone called him up. He made The Expendables, which was a box office hit. Sequels followed.
Dolph discovered his cause in stopping human trafficking throughout the world. He even makes movies addressing his cause. He is involved with the international foundation that seeks to end human trafficking all over the world.
I discover my purpose in teaching Aikido to kids and adults, and writing books. Like Dolph, really you have to heal yourself so that you can make difference for others.
On his journey, Dolph said that he learned forgiveness for his parents and himself. Ironically, I’ve learned the same lesson on our less traveled paths. It’s kind of funny. We’re twins in purpose, in spirit.
Dolph says, “You have to love yourself.” Yes, you do. I practice that every day. Fortunately, I have friends like Cheryl, who remind me to be kind to myself.
Anger is the other side of fear, especially when you’re the powerless child feeling not enough. Being older now, I get that I have to continually let my anger go. I practice and teach Aikido. I practice meditation. I write to inspire others that even in their darkest nights to endure, and know that tomorrow the sun will arise anew, much like them.
I still experience the vestiges of my fear. At least I’m present to what’s going on inside. I forgive Dad. I forgive others. I also forgive me. We’re all human, after all.
I can’t change what happened in the past. Lady Macbeth said, “What’s done cannot be undone.” My childhood could have been better. At least I discover some freedom when I let my anger go when I forgive myself. Then life occurs as what’s possible.
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Photo credit: screenshot from TedX video