Monday, October 29, 2012

Sticking the Landing.

"At which point, at long last, there was the actual doing it, quickly followed by the grim realization of what it meant to do it, followed by the decision to quit doing it because doing it was absurd and pointless and ridiculously difficult and far more than I expected doing it would be and I was profoundly unprepared to do it.
And then there was the real live truly doing it.
The staying and doing it, in spite of everything." -Cheryl Strayed from Wild

She coached me patiently, explaining many different ways to approach the pose. When I gave up, she responded by telling me that I would struggle and practice and struggle and maybe fall over but keep practicing. She promised that one day, seemingly out of no where, I would arrive in the pose as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Later I would see that the moment could only be reached after a journey of an undetermined length that would involve a lot of work, learning though failure, celebration of small successes and deep strengthening. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Getting my feet up over my head has always been a challenge for me. That sounds wrong. Let me clarify: cartwheels, flips, handstands...all things that have seemed incredibly difficult or impossible, as if my center of gravity was simply too low to accomplish the trick. Perhaps it's indicative of my fear of falling or an underestimation of my body's power, but whatever the reason this became problematic a few years ago when I started practicing yoga again in a serious way. I was taking classes that featured fun inversions I wanted to be able to do. I would make feeble attempts but always ended up giggling nervously, palms sweaty, shying away.

"You have to give it all up," she said, "Empty your lungs, give it all away, and go for it." I ran her instructions through my head with each attempt and searched my belly for the courage to commit. Eyes fixed in between palms pressed firmly into the floor, wringing the breathe out of my body with each exhale, inching my toes up closer to my hands, my God the anticipation! Then! Springing up as lightly as possible, willing my feet to occupy head space. One foot still on the ground! Feet three feet off the ground! One foot on the wall for a second!

My body and I had been doing this clumsy dance for a while, creeping towards an inverted vertical way of being. One magic night something different happened, though. The whole time I had been working on the arguably more difficult handstand when I hadn't even really bothered to try a headstand. Having my head that close to the ground with all my weight right above it scared me terribly. But I'd found courage in my belly, so I set up for the pose. After some miss starts and a few exhilarating near successes, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, both my feet suddenly sprung all the way up the wall for the first time. In that place, I was met by a wonderful discovery; not only could I do the pose, but my body had become so strong that I could stay there, palms still sweaty, but giggling with glee. I had done the impossible. I had arrived.

This anecdote is teaching me a lot about any challenge that we choose to undertake.

1. "We don’t reach the mountaintop from the mountaintop. We start at the bottom and climb up. Blood is involved." -CS
There is a natural progression to all things. There are steps. Some steps can be rearranged or skipped altogether, or have to be repeated, but that's the work that needs to be done in order to get where we want to go. It's important to surrender to this truth right away and simply begin. One foot in front of the other (or up the wall) at a time.

2. Maybe blood isn't always involved.
Not all steps taken and work done will be grueling. In fact, you should take every opportunity along the way to laugh at yourself and the work and your struggles. Feet of lead cannot possibly rise above the head. When swimming in heavy, be as light as possible. There is humor and joy in there somewhere. Find it and let it keep you afloat.

3. Be humble.
If the step you're attempting to take is too far a reach at this time, just take a smaller one. The size of the step doesn't matter, only that you are taking it. All our efforts will eventually come together and it will be clear why nothing could've happened before it did. Don't allow pride to control your progress by attempting to force things at an unnatural pace. This leads to all manner of set backs, such as injury, or loss of time and money. Sometimes a step back is the only way forward.

4. Change it inevitable, patience advisable.
We are acutely aware of the end of things that feel good, but seem to forget that uncomfortable things end, too. It's only a matter of time. How much time? That remains to be seen. Put on your patient pants and breathe. This part of your story will finish eventually, I promise.

5. Celebrate every accomplishment, big or small.
No need to wait! Take pride in what you've done so far. Thank yourself for your efforts.

6. Comparison is a soul draining vortex.
Some people will appear to arrive at their goal with little to no effort. The reality is much more likely that they worked very hard and you are just seeing the polished, final product. Comparison distracts from the work to be done. If anything, ask them about the steps they took to achieve their success. You still have to live your own life, but they may give you some much needed inspiration.

7. "Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts." -Winston Chuchill
Do your best. It may not seem like enough, but it is. It will take you where you need to be.

8. Surprise!
Be prepared to have the outcome of your efforts look nothing like you expected. Just because you didn't arrive where you thought you would doesn't mean you failed, only that you achieved something different. Enjoy the moment, but don't become complacent. We are never finished. There are new things to learn and new ways to grow. You can always do better than settling.