October 13, 2011 § 16 Comments


You should see Gus on his bike. Damn. My words are useless against the beauty of his little body on his pedal-less, birchwood bike. Every time he rides it, he turns heads. People do double-takes. Some of that might be because he’s only two and a half and he’s flying down the bike path, his legs swinging like pendulums. But mostly, it’s because of his command of gravity, even as he’s poised between two spinning wheels. The best way to describe the way Gus rides his bike is to tell you to close your eyes and think of Haile Gebrselassie finishing the Berlin Marathon or to remember Jacinto Vasquez, coiled tightly on the back of Ruffian as he rode her to victory in the Acorn Stakes.

Oliver is equally talented on his bicycle, but in a different way. You watch Oliver and you see each muscle at work, the beauty of a body engaged. Perhaps this is because Oliver learned to ride on a bike with training wheels. What he learned first were the mechanics, the how, and then he learned balance. Gus learned balance first, and the mechanics were secondary, which I believe is an important distinction. I may think I have balance because I can make three meals a day, host a multi-kid playdate, get Oliver to school in clean clothes, and get myself to yoga, but these are merely the mechanics. It may feel like balance but the fact is, some days, my stomach hurts. Some Most days, I have tremendous momentum but zero stillness.

What I have noticed about all good athletes, is that no matter how great their velocity, there is always a still point somewhere near the heart. In the middle of all that motion, there is always a place that is motionless. Gus has that, even at two. I watch as he rides away from me, his back a tiny column of stillness, a fulcrum of quiet around which all else revolves.

Usually, autumn is a smooth season for me. For years, I reveled in cross-country season, in running through trails and fields scented with fermenting leaves and fallen apples. I met Scott in October and Oliver was born on Halloween. Normally, I cruise happily through October’s blue skies and red trees. This fall, though, has been a bit different. It would be accurate to say that I am struggling a little with the back-to-school routine, with the sudden playdates and calls to be a volunteer at silent auctions and bake sales. I am resentful that my solitary summer adventures with the boys have been exchanged for shorter days, endless rain and other people. This October doesn’t look like what October is supposed to look like and it bothers me. It is either 79 degrees and raining outside or 60 degrees and sunny. There are only these bold extremes and I feel yanked between the two.

Last night during another rainstorm, I hit a bunch of traffic on the way into DC (huge surprise there!!) for my yoga class. I turned on a podcast of Tami Simon interviewing Tessa Bielecki, Christian mystic, former monk and Mother Abess of the Spiritual Life Institute. Of course, she was talking about balance. “I don’t like the word balance,” she said, “as much as I like the word balancing.” She talked about that crazy tightrope walker, Philippe Petit,who did a tightrope wire stunt between the two World Trade Center towers in 1974. She said that we don’t so much find balance as we keep hovering between two fixed points.

For years, I have been trying to balance life as a stay-at-home mom with the fact that I grew up in the seventies when women’s lib was in its heyday. When I was little, I had books in my room with titles like “Herstory” and “Whatever Boys Can Do Girls Can Do Better.” At some point, I decided there were two kinds of women in the world: those who raised children and those who did Important Things. Even now, I find it challenging to balance my own beautiful life with the one I thought I was supposed to live.

On Monday, I went to yoga and we did a lot of handstands, which was fine with me. For almost two years now, I have been wrapped in a notion that if I can learn how to stand on my hands, I can handle anything  hurled my way. On Monday night, I kicked up a into a handstand, took my toes away from the wall, and stood on my hands for more than a few seconds. I have never been in a handstand for that long before and as my weight was shifting from the base of my palms to my fingertips, I was elated. But there was  a steadiness too, a sense of being reduced to only a pair of hands and a heart, hovering over the earth.

After I listened to the podcast with Tessa Bielecki, I watched the YouTube video of Philippe Petit on his tightrope. You know the craziest part of it all? At one point in his stunt, he lay down on his wire, 1300 feet above the ground with no net below. He lay down, his long stick balanced on his chest and his legs dangling over lower Manhattan. Afterwards, the police charged Petit with trespassing and decided he needed to be handcuffed to a chair for his own safety. While he was sitting there, someone asked why he did such an insane thing as to try to balance between two skyscrapers. Petit shook his head and said, “There is no why. When I see a place to put my tightrope wire, I cannot resist.”

I pretty much resist everything. I realize that this takes a lot of energy, but it feels safer than throwing caution to the wind and lying down, although I am not sure why. Lately though, the mechanics are beginning to wear me out and maybe this is a good thing. Perhaps this is a call to stop pedaling like a crazy person and coast for a while. Perhaps I will find balance only when I surrender to the imbalance, to the unbending truth that balance can only exist between polarity, between gravity and a tiny body, between the jagged earth and the infinite sky.


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§ 16 Responses to Balance

  • Christa says:

    Oh. This is the truest thing I’ve read lately.

    Yes, it’s about finding the stillness, or maybe about letting go and just letting the stillness find us.

    Your boys are awesome teachers. They are.

    And so are you.


  • Alana says:

    Once again your words paint the most beautiful pictures in my head and heart. Your vision and insight, your ability to really see into your life, always leave me both smiling and nodding my head in recognition.

    Here’s to loving imbalanced selves and trusting that if we can find the point of stillness in the constant balancing act, we will be okay.


  • Pam, breathtaking. I have been thinking about balance every day lately, and realizing: I have no idea, exactly, what it would feel like, or look like. It’s been just a word for something that I lack. And here you are, giving me pictures and ideas and a kind of truth that I can work with. Stillness. Of course. And as always, beautiful writing!

  • Lindsey says:

    I can only chime in to the chorus here, saying yes, yes, yes. As you know I’m struggling this fall too, or, at least, finding myself pulled away from the world. Actually maybe it’s not accurate to call it a struggle; in fact, it’s the first time that it’s NOT been a struggle to surrender to what it is my spirit wants. But the stillness, the mechanics vs. balance distinction … that all makes so much sense to me. I’m definitely still working hard on the mechanics and, as you say, they get very tiring, and they wear on me.

  • Jeremy says:

    “At some point, I decided there were two kinds of women in the world: those who raised children and those who did Important Things. Even now, I find it challenging to balance my own beautiful life with the one I thought I was supposed to live.” Perhaps raising children (with love and guidance…and balance) IS the Important Things, all the rest is just…dessert!

  • Kate says:

    Again, I’m just so pleased to have stopped to read here. pleasure too, part of the balancing… i have been thinking lately about how much action is required in the balancing… perhaps it is the mistake I make in thinking that balance=quietude. whopper of a mistake, maybe part of why balance then feels unsettling, or mechanical rather than centered. ? still figuring it out… constantly… 🙂

  • Jena says:

    “There is no why.” That, and “You must move forward,” are two lines from Man on Wire I carry with me.

    Lie down. What’s it like?


  • mb says:

    i sure do like you. at yoga last night i was able to do this one arm balance that for whatever reason, no one else in the room could do. and i had this feeling inside, they would not be so impressed if they knew how tight my stomach is and how NOT yoga i am feeling right now… and you have said it all so perfectly. the mechanics of it (i can make my body do that pose) vs the surrender (i might have looked still but my stomach knew better). yet again, a beautiful post, pamela. thank you.

  • Beautiful, as always.

    (Do I always start my comments here with those words? I think I must.)

    One of my favorite dance teachers used to say “Balance is stillness with ease.” And I would always think that I didn’t know the first thing about any of those words: balance, stillness, ease.

    Here’s to more balance, stillness and ease for both of us!

  • Claudia says:

    I smiled when I read about your son’s beauty on his bike, because I know exactly how that feels. I smiled when I read about balancing the life you thought you’d lead with the very one you’re living, because I know exactly how that feels. And I smiled when I read about that amazing feeling in full arm balance when the weight shifts forward from your wrists toward your fingers, because I know exactly how that feels, too! Thanks for letting your words help us all find ourselves in your journey, and also for letting your own journey lead us toward our own beautiful balancing acts.

  • Amanda says:

    I’ve never experienced feeling the rhythm of my pitch and sway so perfectly caught in the words of a stranger.

    This was exquisite. So glad Amy directed her light this way.

  • Oh, I am so glad I didn’t miss this. It’s glorious. Every word.

  • Perhaps we can do Shavasana the way Petit did tight-roping—seeing every opportunity as a place to lay down and let go.

    All the poses, and mental pretzel-work turns out to be preparation for the delicious presence to being without doing.

    Much like all of life is preparation for death, if we re-think death as the “resistance” that informs/makes possible “life” we might go beyond surviving into truly living.

    This is hard for me, that much I know. It’s connecting and finding courage in love that may allow us to let go while still being, technically, “alive.”

    Who’s to stop us from occupying a mental “wire” between two mental towers: a left/analyzing mind and a right/loving mind, our legs dangling, our fear evaporating, our desire released… our collective heart awakened.

    I keep trying to write myself to the end of words, to a Shivasana of language. When I finally truly do not have anything to say, have no idea what to say, perhaps class will end not with an Ommmm, but with and Uhmmm?

    It’s just nice to practice virtually along-side you.

  • Christine says:

    Do you know, I’ve spent almost every day since my first son was born living on “momentum” as you so eloquently describe. That is, until a fateful day last fall when that momentum bowled over me and left my flat and viritually unresponsive. You see, I am doing those thing that we are expected to do as women, I work, I parent, I am a partner a friend, all of it. But I assure there is no balance that comes from “having it all”. There are only varying degrees of loss. And so I read this piece and I am inspired and humbled by the wisdom of it. I read this piece and I’m reminded that we are all doing the best with what we’ve got. Truly. (I hope this convoluted comment makes sense).

  • “Between the jagged earth and the infinite sky”. These words cause a hitch in my lungs, the hitch that always come from beauty in its purest form.

    I find it difficult when my “usual happies” don’t deliver. I so understand the feelings and nuances you so gloriously unxfold here. Your ability to describe the underbelly of emotion and existence are nothing short of spectacular.


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