Monday, August 10, 2009

Magic carpet ride

Balance is what I have the most difficulty with while practicing yoga. For nearly the first year of my practice, I could hold a balance pose for only a few seconds before my mind panicked and demanded the stabilizing force of my other foot on the ground. I don't like flying, either.

While the intervals during which I could remain poised on one leg gradually lengthened, the mental effort it took to achieve this was far from graceful. Drishti did not help, because I was not distracted by what was around and about me on the outside. Or, rather, I could not mesh my outer and my inner gaze, so focus on a fixed point had no levitational effect.

At first, I imagined balance like the circus elephant drawing four legs to a single point on the giant blue and red ball with the white star on the side--that is, balance was a matter of conquering and making still what was underneath my foot. So all of me hunched uneasily on top of a single point.

Or balance was a matter of distributing weight evenly, of leveling the two sides of a see-saw. That seems to be what women mean when we talk about work-life balance. But I am not a fulcrum.

Balance, it turns out, isn't really about weight at all, but about escaping weight. Where the weight goes when it is done well, I haven't any idea. Eventually, after deciding that one of my missions in this life was going to be to balance on one leg while my arms did all kinds of fancy things, I realized that--or I heard more clearly in a way that really registered, what the instructor was trying to say--or, perhaps, I was finally ready to receive this idea--if I pulled away from the earth at the same time my foot sought gravitational pull, or if my arms pulled away from my core in opposite directions, this achieved the same mysterious lift that physics cannot quite account for when a plane pulls from the ground and stays lifted.

But that wasn't really enough. Because when I fly I'm afraid. The problem, you see, is fear. And fear is at the very center of my life: when life changes in the course of a few days, as mine did with Robert, this is like stepping on what looked very much like a solid surface only to have that stable surface collapse inward and downward. The next step is air.

Next thing you know, you're under that glass-topped table looking at everyone else walking on nothing at all because they don't know any better.

Fear can be a kind of surge of wild-eyed energy in which the body is all movement and motion. Or it can be a withdrawal, a freezing and stopping and waiting because the world around you is not safe. Mine is the latter.

How Robert inhabits his body, I'm not sure. One of the areas of his basal ganglia that went first, or went noticeably first, was his balance. He was sitting up, a normal kid balanced on his bottom with his feet tucked into each other to form a stable base, and he fell over. That was the first thing.

When his illness manifested itself, he was thirteen months old, and, thereafter, he couldn't stand without support, and when he was supported, his whole body leaned like a silo destabilized by soft earth at one end. For a year, I was dogged about taking him places--I put him in the child seat in the shopping cart and put my hands over his hands while I pushed the cart to keep him upright. He thought this was funny. And he'd lean over and laugh.

In part, he laughed because I had been worried that if he was afraid he'd lose his balance, he'd never recover from whatever this was. Little did I know. I just didn't want him to be afraid, so, when he leaned or started to fall, I made it into a game and we would laugh. See, it's not scary to fall.

As a result, Robert is not at all afraid of falling, but I am. At this point, he really should be, but, no, he's not afraid to hurl his body into space as he gains a little more trunk control.

Not long ago at yoga class, I found myself balancing because I forgot to be afraid. And when I remembered to be afraid, I felt the psychic energy of a foot pressing down on a pedal in the center of my mind, a pedal that released the fear. And it wasn't a brake pedal, it was an accelerator.


1 comment:

Sara said...

Yes, this is exactly fear, the withdrawl inside. You've described it beautifully, and more importantly, in a way I've never seen it, and can't help but understand it now.