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Friday, March 21, 2014

I've Fallen..... (But I Always Got Up)

     "Catch me I'm falling. Catch me now I'm falling..." remember that song? Circa 1987, by Pretty Poison. We were all bopping around to bubble gum love songs with our neon yellow Madonna gloves and hot pink Cyndi Lauper lace. I know it's a love song, but like most things I read too deeply into, for me, it begs the question, why? Why do you need to be caught?  Why are we so afraid of falling? Not just in love? In general. What's at the bottom of the fall? Pain, I guess? Embarrassment? Shame? I remember one of my evolutionary biology teachers discussing once why humans have the impulse to laugh at someone else when he falls. (Cue 95 jokes about the old lady in the "I've fallen and I can't get up," Life Alert commercials, from the same year.)
"I've fallen, and I can't get up!"
From The Life Call commercials, 1990
He said that it was an instinct because we are social animals and depend on one another. The instinct is to shame the other person for falling because his fall was due to a mistake of some sort. That mistake could have made the group vulnerable, and by shaming the person, he is less likely to make that mistake again. When you look at it from that perspective, falling can be seen as a tool for learning. Of course we don't want to be embarrassed, shamed or hurt physically or mentally, but the fall is a result of a lesson of some sort that was not previously learned, is it not? Is that person likely to make that mistake again? Not if he can help it!
     Maybe it makes me seem like an insensitive mom to some, but I let my kids fall. It was hard at first to let this happen, but once they fell a couple of times and bounced back, I realized that it's not always a bad thing to let your kid hit the ground once in a while. I'll never forget, my Angel-baby at 2 1/2 climbing a playground at a friend's house. I watched in slow motion as she fell from the top and hit the ground. At first I panicked slightly. Did she break something? Does she have a concussion? Within minutes, she was up again, climbing to the top, but this time, she was way more careful.
Young children aren't afraid to fall. It's a natural part of their learning to move. Think about a baby taking her first steps. She falls all the time. And if no one notices, she gets back up and tries again. And again. And again. Until she gets it.
My munchkin toddling through the Bronx Zoo. 2010

     I remember teaching them each to ice skate, I'd say, "You are going to fall. It's okay. Everyone falls. That's how your body learns what not to do." And so each one fell. But she didn't cry over it. She picked herself up and tried again. And then she learned how to ice skate. Falling taught her balance. Falling taught her what NOT to do. We need to shift our perspective on falling. Falling is not failing. It's learning.
Angel Baby's first ice skating trip. 2009
     I think it's safe to say I have gotten over my own fear of falling.  One time that sticks out in my mind was when I was in my early 20's. Mr. Jones, my dad, and I went on pack trip in the Rocky Mountains. We had been riding our horses for several hours. The cold thin mountain air was getting to me. My skin was still stinging slightly from the hail that had recently fallen. My mind was wondering and I was just letting my horse follow the herd. we were both startled when I heard something suddenly jump out of the bushes. My horse jumped to the right, and because I was in "lala land," I went to the left. I felt my boot slip out of the stirrup, and then I felt the hard ground on my hip. I was in shock. What the heck just happened? Everyone in our group was now standing around me. We were still an hour or so away from camp. I had no choice but to mount back up, throbbing ass, throbbing ego and all, and ride back to camp. The next day, I was given the option to stay back at camp instead of ride. I couldn't see my bruises, but Mr. Jones had informed me that they spanned my hip and the back of my thigh. I'm not going to lie. I was nervous. I REALLY didn't want to fall again. I knew it wasn't the horse's fault. It was me. I wasn't paying attention. And the first rule of riding is to always maintain authority over your horse. Lesson learned. I was facing the not so proverbial moment of having to "get back on the horse." "Cowboy up, Melissa," my dad said. And I did. I literally got back on my horse, and never made that mistake again.
     Today, I spend a great deal of time working on my balance. You probably know by now, I devote several hours a week to my yoga practice. Yoga is really a way of life. It's way more than stretching. Actually, it's more about balance than stretching. In practicing asanas, you do indeed stretch your body. It's a continual process. You are never done. This helps a lot with ego. If you don't stay humble, you might get hurt. You have to realize that you are where you are today, and that you have to keep pushing yourself forward to get to the next level. During that process you will probably fall down, but just like with learning to walk or ice skate, this teaches your body what not to do.
    I have been working on my headstand practice for about 2 years now. I used to use the wall for support. So this way, I wouldn't fall. One day, one of my teachers suggested that we get off the wall. "If you fall, your matt will catch you. Your body is warm and relaxed, so don't worry about getting hurt." So I did. I began in the middle of my mat, and I put the crown of my head down, pushed my hips into the air and walked my feet in. Then I lifted up on leg, and then other, and then I fell. Oops! No one laughed at me. No one even noticed because they were focusing in their own practices. So I sat for a couple of breaths, and I got back into position. This time, I  got one leg up bent in the air. Then I started to feel the other go up. I started to fall forward, but suddenly I felt my core tighten and I wobbled back the other way. I was holding myself up with my legs sort of scissored out. Then I fell. Again. Couple of breaths, head down, hips up, leg up, other leg up, wobble, wobble one leg straight, other leg straight, keep those bundas tight, bellybutton to spine, holding it....holding it....down I go. I fall every time. But I also hold it a bit longer every time too. My body is learning balance. I am learning balance. And falling is a necessary part of it. I am not afraid of it anymore. I try not to fall, of course, but I don't get all worked up over it when I do. So I fell. I will try again tomorrow.


     I realize that these are quite literal examples of falling, but I think you can see how this applies in life metaphorically. In school, I would take a test. I would be so angry when I got a question wrong, that I would never forget that answer. When I have made mistakes in life, by saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing, or even just making a poor choice, I would get so angry with myself. The reality of own imperfection would throb as much as that bruise on my hip. But how long do I punish myself by sitting back at camp nursing my bruised ego? You gotta get over it. You made a mistake. You fell down. Get your ass up and get back to work. You are not a failure. You are a work in progress. Remember that. See yourself as that toddler taking her first steps. If you live in fear of falling, you will never get anywhere. You will just spin the same circles again and again, and you will not grow. And when you do fall (and you will!), show yourself the same love and understanding that you would that toddler learning to walk. You never had any doubt that she will eventually learn to walk, and you would never punish her for falling when she tries. So why punish yourself? Be brave. Be compassionate. And love yourself enough to never stop getting back up.



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