Geronimo and I sat at my dining room table. We were trying to make sense of what it means for him to be a trainer preparing me to wrestle spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places on 8 mile. We knew that his role was focused on preparing me mentally for the match, but as we scrolled through his artwork on his Facebook page, we weren’t sure of what that would look like in real life.
I initially asked Geronimo to be a trainer because of his capacity to make connections between the heart, the spirit, and art in ways that never cease to surprise me. Whereas I have been in the arts for 15 years, have gone to an art school, and have developed a thick aesthetic vocabulary, Geronimo doesn’t rush to identify himself as an artist, but nonetheless, has one of the most creative minds I know.
I wanted him to inspire me on an artistic level, to shake up my art-making, but instead, once he started to see what his role as a trainer was, he challenged me by sharing his experience with mental illness and spiritual warfare. He's a true wrestler who has made it out on the other side with a beautiful mind. He has seen it. He's been there. And now he says things like:
“I had been fighting, but I didn't know how to fight."
“If you're filled with pride no matter how many people are around you, you’ll be alone."
I wanted an art boost. I got a gut kick.
After a few more pointed, convicting truths, I began to realize that training wasn’t going to be quick and that I really did NOT have an answer. Mental and spiritual growth, like physical growth, isn't simply a concept that can be parroted, it is a process of transformation. In order to become a better wrestler I have to find some way of believing in my ignorance. It’s one thing for me to say “I don’t know about xy or z”, especially if that seems like the wise thing to say. You know, like Socrates. But it’s another thing entirely to feel that emptiness, way down deep in my guts, where I really, truly don’t know. That type of growth is a state of continual humility. Empty on one plane, expanding on another.
(Which seems exhausting)
As Geronimo and the conversation started to shift away from cool art projects about 8-mile and moved more toward his actual wrestling experience, deep and hidden weaknesses within my character began to resonate like untouched piano strings. His speech became one part sharing and one part conviction. I couldn't tell whether he was talking about his life or mine.
And in a tone completely devoid of judgment he talked about arrogance and pride. As he did, I began to slowly feel an invisible thumb pushing inside of my chest. I crossed my arms and slunk back into my chair; breathing became an endeavor. Somehow my slyest of inner thoughts felt exposed and I started to feel something in me begin to push back against the thumb, against the pressure. But as I did, I could feel my mind activate and little justifications begin to sprout. In that moment I made the difficult choice to suspend my push back against the thumb. And in the halting of my defensiveness, I felt a strange, heady mixture of humiliation, relief and hope. It felt like a victory.
It was nice to listen to my friend, to make space for his wisdom, to submit my attention. I hadn’t planned on submitting to my friend at my dining room table that night. I hadn’t, as has been my habit throughout my life, planned on submitting at all. But as I did, as we drank tea, I realized that this wrestling endeavor didn't have to be in vain, that beneath my words, in a place that we shared, there was room. There was power.