Balance

October 13, 2011 § 16 Comments

Coasting

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.

Locked Out

December 7, 2010 § 3 Comments

It’s been a month since I last posted and it is good to be back. I left because for a change, I had people paying me to write. And then I paid people to teach me how to write better.  I had deadlines!! (Such a glamorous word to me, because I have always wanted to be a writer. And deadlines is such a writer’s word.) This fall I took 3 writing classes through UCLA Extension Writing Program and was paid to write two articles on local food and farmers. I knew the articles would be work, but I thought the classes would be easy. I mean, it’s extension, right?

Wrong.

All 3 classes were outstanding and I learned a great deal about the craft of writing. Additionally, I was able to workshop the first 40 pages of a novel I am finally putting on paper. This was probably the first time I have been out in the world like this (even though it was all online) since my oldest son was born 5 years ago. It felt good to do something for me, to learn something a little more tangible than how to mother, how to care, and how to love well.

It’s also been the first time in as many years that I had to do a bit of balancing, or maybe juggling? The first three weeks of class, I tried to do it all, and then stopped going to yoga in order to spend more time writing. The result was not so good. For the remaining six weeks, I tried to balance a bit better. I drank more tea and more green smoothies. I kept going to yoga but decided to stop my blog for a while. I stayed up really, really late most Monday nights. The result was better but not perfect.

I used to think that balance was about doing everything perfectly and just not letting anyone know how hard it was. Now I see that balance is sometimes about doing a little bit of everything, and sometimes it’s about making choices.  And sometimes it’s just about trying to laugh as you fall down yet again.

My last post was about locking myself out of the house. For some reason – maybe the $236 price tag to get back in – that day has stuck with me. I have thought a lot about being locked out. Locked out of opportunities, locked out of youth, locked out of my own heart. That last one is a place familiar to me, or at least it used to be. I used to live there, a good distance away from myself, too busy trying to get everything right and make everyone happy.

It’s really my children who have let me back in. They gave me the keys home. In the last five years I have lived closer to the ground. Instead of circling around myself and running away from anything I didn’t want to face or acknowledge, I have had to sit still through the murky bogs of discomfort. With two babies in the house, where is there to go? And yet, when I don’t go – when I can finally stop running and just stay – the world cracks open. Who I thought I was cracked open. A few years ago when I was just starting out, when I was just realizing that I could listen to my own small tune instead of the steady thrum of the world, my yoga teacher stopped me outside of class. “I just want you to know,” he told me, “that I see who you really are.” And then he gave me a huge smile. I was stunned by this comment, and then I burst into tears.

I still don’t know who I really am. I am still learning. And there is usually a point every day when I look for an escape route. Each day I am reminded of what Pema Chodron says: “Never underestimate the inclination to bolt.” I am still learning how to be still, how to be brave, how to mold my own life into what I want it to be. But now, I can say that I am here, somewhere under my skin, swimming slowly towards the center of myself. So I have missed this blog, because it’s all part of the navigation system. And it feels as indulgent as a box of truffles. What is it about telling the story of ourselves that gives us permission to live the story out loud?

A few days ago I picked up Mary Karr’s memoir, “Lit.” The first part of the book is a letter to her son, and the first line of the letter is, “Any way I tell this story is a lie.” I loved that. That my life is not the only one with more than a little fiction in it. But I love more how she ends the letter: “Maybe by telling you my story, you can better tell yours, which is the only way to get home.”

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