My daughter is a wisp of a thing, absolutely perfect for her current chosen passion, ballet. And yet she lands with all of the force of an elephant when she practices her grand jete in our hallway. It’s a challenge for her to learn how to transfer her weight up as she is moving down to soften her landing. I try in a multiplicity of ways to explain to her how to do it, how to think about it, how to picture it. And each time she lands with thumps and thuds and crashes.
I know that she has convinced herself that this is impossible, that she will never land with anything but heaviness. She will stubbornly keep trying, however, getting increasingly discouraged as she tries to improve her form, but unable to do anything other than repeat the same motions. This happens frequently. I’m too used to the built-in authority that comes with being a university professor: my students tend to believe me when I tell them that what I am proposing we do is possible, and they are more open to my advice and interventions. My daughter distrusts me with the instinct that only comes from your own child when they hit a certain age, a certain cognitive milestone.
And so I do something that I never imagined I would be doing: I do my own grand jete down the hall. I don’t jump very high. My legs are nowhere near a split. But I do land softly, more softly than my size and weight might suggest I should. My daughter demands that I do it again, to make sure it wasn’t just some fluke, some accident. The second time, I really put myself into it and push my body to do the best grand jete that I can; push upward as hard as I can, legs straight and extended, and for a moment, I find an understanding of why my daughter loves ballet so much. I am floating in the air in what I can only think of as something approaching grace, so I stretch up to try and make it last a fraction of a second longer. I land even lighter than before.
And next time my daughter does it, she, too, lands with grace.
I have finally joined a yoga studio, after having been restricted to doing it at home with a DVD for so long. We are encouraged to be soft, to sink, to perform moves with grace. I huff and puff my way through the flows, but I feel myself getting stronger, sinking a little further, breathing deeper, holding stillness longer. Balance poses, however, still elude me.
I ground my weight into one foot, and lift the other with something that resembles grace. But as soon as my big toe leaves the ground, my ankle starts to swivel and shake. I can feel my weight involuntarily shifting from the outside to the inside of my very flat foot. The rest of me follows suit, and even though I have chosen a stable point to focus my gaze on, I quickly fall from the pose. My eyes burn with tears as I keep trying again and again: soften the knees, engage the core, relax the shoulders, shake, fall. I try to imagine myself rising up, rather than sinking down, to spare my weak ankle, and still fall. I am rooted: fall.
“If you topple out of the pose, try to do so with grace.”
I land heavier than my daughter did with her grand jete. I feel unstable instead of grounded, weak instead of strong. There is no softness, no compassion, no patience. Absolutely no grace in my movements or my behavior. Back in Downward-Facing Dog, I try to find my center again, focus on my breath, blink back the tears. The balls of my feet are burning, but I still manage to find stillness.
The grace period of my new job has ended. I am six months in, still employed, doing well. It can still be disorienting, getting used to the rhythm of a 9-5, particularly sitting at a desk for most of the time. It is also a shift not to think of my life in ten or fifteen week blocks, guided by the contours of the syllabus, the ebb and flow of the semester or quarter. It presented a reassuring structure to my time that often felt constricting, but now I find myself needing it, like a security blanket.
Sometimes I find myself overwhelmed by the language and politics of my new realm. Other times, there are things from before that can be applied, but I can’t find the right way to communicate that knowledge, that experience. When words fail me, it becomes disorienting; I topple and fall, my foundation weakened. But I am in a place where the landing is soft, thankfully, and where the people genuinely want me to succeed.
But other times, I soar. Moments of knowing, yes, this is where I belong, this is what I am supposed to be doing, this is a place where I can excel and thrive. Where I am imperfect but still strong and improving and growing. It makes me want to reach up further, and to keep landing with grace.
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