Life as a Trapeze
I have come to appreciate the metaphor that human life is very much like being on a trapeze. We begin standing on a very small platform which is there chiefly as a stable place from which to jump into the unknown. We leap to grasp a swinging bar heading toward us. Usually we grasp this bar with both hands, legs, arms and anything with which we can hold on. After a while we jump again hoping that the oncoming bar is well timed, at an easy angle and meant for us. Sometimes we sit on a particular bar during a long phase of our lives like childhood or the equally lengthy phase of being a parent. But eventually every bar has to be released. Fortunately, there is always an oncoming one.
Every phase of life, all identities, ideas, situation, vocations, family constellations and opinions are just another bar on the trapeze. Each and every one is grasped and eventually released. No bar, no matter how comfortable, is everlasting.
This is essentially what the Buddhist teaching of impermanence means. Nothing lasts forever. Even times of joy and happiness are simply another bar in the process. Fortunately, so are the times of sorrow. Everything will change and usually before we want it to. Childhood ends, parenting ends, there are layoffs and firings from beloved careers. And if we escape those there is often the transition to retirement. Anything and everything can go up in smoke. Marriages change and far too often dissolve. Healthy coping is learning to jump into the unknown of the next phase, stage, or circus bar until the new one too runs its course. And at some point life itself runs its course as we leap into the ultimate unknown.
In life, just as with the circus trapeze, there is a small platform from which to leap. The platform is quite stable and solid. Our soul and inner spirit make up the platform from which we plunge. Jumping is a letting go of some way in which we have known ourselves. The soul permits us to ascend from what we have been into what we may become. There is an internal urge driving us to keep transcending the rung we are on. This urge is older than any individual psyche. The urge to keep evolving is part of the essence of being human. The core of spiritual practice is learning to stay open to the leaping, grasping and leaping again throughout our entire lives. I used to think that the ideal was to stay on the platform and luxuriate in the beauty of the Soul and soak in the presence of Spirit. And that is certainly very renewing and soothing but even that platform is limited and constricting. The real goal is to learn to be totally present to every phase whether we are clinging, holding on, grasping or leaping into the unknown.
In my experience the most difficult rungs to let go of are the “bars” of our various identities and especially our numerous opinions, our cherished likes and dislikes, our definitions of good and bad or moral or immoral. We leap into them and then cling to them as though they are unchanging ultimates. People often feel cheated when there is need to evolve over time. For example, in our culture there is huge effort to cling to outdated views of the role of men and women and the definitions of marriage.
Sometimes I am tired of all the leaping, plunging and diving. I just want to sit where I am. I wrap my arms, hands and legs tightly around any bar upon which I am riding. In those times I just want to rest. Actually, I’ve really liked the bar I’ve been on for the past several years so I really don’t want to let go of it. Quite simply, I am happier than I’ve ever been. This is a pretty good place. Staying here seems like a darn good idea. But what I’ve noticed in the past is that sooner or later every bar loses energy and slows down, the view gets stale the energy stagnates and the flow gets blocked. It means I’ve stayed in one place or at one level too long and I have to put a great deal of energy into generating movement in the swing until there is enough momentum to leap again.
As I age I don’t look to try the youthful triple backward summersaults common to younger people. I pulled a couple of those in my time and frankly two is enough. I’m satisfied with a straight leap to another bar nothing too complex as long as it involves growth. And it is clear there are a couple of bars headed my way I’m not particularly happy about: a surgery in December, continued aging and evolving professional complexity. And there are bars I like: increased free time, a sense of lasting happiness and deepening connection with my Soul. So more leaping is unavoidable.
The next blog posting will focus on the coveting the ability to fall off the trapeze and the safety net below.
(If you are interested in more discussion of trapeze and its relationship to the rest of life see Sam Keen’s book Learning to Fly.)