Reaching for Freedom

My first catch on the Flying Trapeze... reaching for freedom

Today was a bucket list day.    For many years I have harbored a not-so-hidden secret desire to fly on the high trapeze.   Knowing it was not-so-hidden, my husband John gave me a gift certificate to the New York Trapeze school for Christmas…  and gulp, the not-so-hidden desire was plucked right into the realm of reality.    I knew that it was important to do this — and to do it now.  Not just because I have been intrigued to do it for a long time, and not just for the rush that I knew would come from it.  Some other yearning has been gnawing away at me wanting, but not quite able, to come into clearer view…   So, over the past few weeks I have been pondering what this flying thing is really all about.

Why now?   Well, this has been a time of struggle for me, these last six months or so.   It is hard to say it, so I want to lay it right on the table… I have been sad and isolated and feeling lost… grappling and battling with something illusive but deep inside.   I am getting older, and frankly not liking it very much.   I have lost my dear companions Revel and Puck.   I have lost my father and very recently my brother.  Life has seemed, well, hard.  In times when I get stuck in an almost despair-like sense of struggle and futility, I grapple between taking good care of myself and not treating myself well.  I notice that I am drawn to indulgences that are damaging to my heart and body and probably spirit, too.   This is not good for anyone, and especially for someone with heart disease.

All the while, the wiser observer inside watches…. “do you see yourself doing that?   Why is it that for someone who stands for life and realizing dreams and possibilities….  you are actually engaged in hurting yourself…. hmm.. why is that?”   The observer is often present — I notice that he doesn’t seem to intervene much… but rarely does he allow me the pleasure of indulging myself unconsciously.  That would be the downside of doing too much self-development.

Could it be that I don’t want to live?

Now, that is a strong question to pose.  It is an uncomfortable question to pose.  It is not palatable or even acceptable to say such a thing — especially if you are a ”be all you can be“ champion for human development.

It was confronting some months ago when I summoned more courage to ask myself this question more directly…. do I want to live or do I want to die?   The answer to that question was uncomfortably clear.  I want to live.  And, I want to die.  Wow….part of me wants to die…. wants to exit this life.   I notice that it is very hard to admit that truth.   I define myself as a champion for living… it is central to my work… it is how I usually strive to show up for others…. it is a process that is primary for me.   Wanting to die, however, is not — it is a part that feels dark, and shameful, and unacceptable…. not at all part of who I am.   Well, time to take a further look.

As I got more curious about that part, and summoned a bit more courage and a bit less pride… I needed to take a dive beneath the surface on my own well of grief.

(“Well of Grief”, David Whyte from ”Many Rivers Crossing“)

Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief

turning down to its black water
to the place that we can not breathe

will never know
the source from which we drink
the secret water cold and clear

nor find in the darkness
the small gold coins
thrown by those who wished for something else

And, in this exploration, sinking beneath the pressures of life’s entanglements, the black grief of loss of those I have loved, rage at the unfairness of so much around me, I let myself imagine how it might be to just let go… to let go and die.   Ahhh…. breath.   Breathing free…. In that death I discovered an ultimate sense of freedom.  That freedom that has no limits, where one becomes all, where there is no me and you or even an us.   I imagine death to be a returning back into whatever free and universal spirit is… boundless, timeless, just being.  To me, it is bliss.  It is like lying in the grass and becoming the sun and the trees and the sky.  It is the moment sitting on the lifeguard chair on the beach at night when I become the moon and the rippled water.   This is what I am after.

Varrooommm…. back to life, here and now.  What an insight — my deep desire is not for death, per se, but rather it is for freedom.   I have longed for a greater sense of freedom all my life.  Gratefully, I have many moments and periods of life when I experience freedom, and certainly growth over the years has brought me more degrees of freedom.  And yet, in recent times, that freedom has been illusive and the more prevalent experience has been suffering.

From the Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield:

Pain is physical, suffering is mental.  Suffering is due entirely to clinging or resisting.  It is a sign of our unwillingness to move, to flow with life. Although all life has pain, a wise life is free of suffering. A wise person is friendly with the inevitable and does not suffer. Pain they know but it does not break them. If they can, they do what is possible to restore balance.  If not, they let things take their course.  –Nisargadatta

What does all of this have to do with the Flying Trapeze and my fervent desire to join Cirque du Soleil?

After mentioning my upcoming trapeze lesson and nervous excitement to a dear teacher recently, she asked me to tell her about my earliest childhood dreams.   That was easy…  as a kid, I dreamt of many things but the one single-most common, vivid, and visceral dream was always, always, of flying.  There was a period of time when on some level I was convinced that I knew how to fly….not just knew about flying, or imagined vividly what it must be like — no, I KNEW how it felt to fly.   I remember clearly the effort it took to take off into flight… the subtle maneuvering that was necessary with the wind and pressure of the air on my skin… the more uncertain it felt if I flew at a too-high height…. the feeling of looking down on our house and farm, and of being able to steer my direction while in flight.   And at the heart of those dreams was a sense of being free and unencumbered.

As I thought about it, memories came back of the many ways that this theme has always been present.

  • I recalled the summer of 1968 when I was about 9 years old… and the giant oak tree at the end of the lane.   I had bugged my Dad to create a trapeze for me in that specific tree, and finally he agreed to do it.   This was not a swing like one you could sit on…. I wanted a TRAPEZE.   I spent hours practicing my swinging, hanging from my knees, then dropping dramatically to swing from my ankles… and launching into a somersault dismount.
  • After joining the swimming team a year or two later, I immediately knew that I was not supposed to be swimming, but rather diving…  and that became the next pursuit.   What I loved about springboard diving was the sense of flying through the air, either with outstretched arms like wings or curled into a spinning ball… but flying.
  • Sheepish though I may feel to reveal it… there was also the time that I jumped from the roof of our house, much to the horror of my Mother who was doing dishes below, as Mary Poppins… with full get-up of dress, shoes, carpet-bag, and umbrella with a carefully crafted parrot-handle.   I reached that umbrella up to the sky, leaned out, and flung myself from the roof of the house.  Although I mainly got very skinned knees, I suspect I may have been leaping once again for freedom.
  • To this day, my single-most visceral reference point for the feeling of freedom is figure skating on ice, which became my next pursuit as a teenager and young adult.   The most full spiritual expression of freedom that I know is that moment, gliding fast over clean ice in a darkened arena — the light reflecting off the ice… and of leaping from the ice in a long spinning jump…. or just reaching out and and feeling the air rush by me.

As I had this conversation and shared these memories with my teacher, the connection which seems so obvious came into deeper clarity for me.   I have often said that my purpose in life is to create more freedom — for myself and for others.  But as many times as I have said that, in a workshop or to students of mine — it has always felt a bit, well, cerebral.  A bit too rational.  A bit too-well-worded.   What I realized is that my desire for freedom, my own and yours, has always been at the center of my being.  I have strived to find freedom from the inside-out… with my body…. always,  in some way or another.

Realizing this, my Flying Trapeze lesson became much more meaningful.  As I drove today to the New York Trapeze School, I thought about what really this meant for me.   I thought about the suffering that I have been entangled in, and my desire to be free of it.  I thought about how meaning in life, and a sense of being free, is not dependent on the absence of pain, or loss, or strife.  Those are all a part of life.   The quest is for greater degrees of meaning and freedom in the midst of all that life offer to us, good or bad,  each and every day…. in fact in every moment.   I am not solid yet in my capacity to be in that experience much of the time, but I am becoming more clear that it is the quest that I am on — to build or reveal or discover or uncover that capacity.

Well, let’s just say that they don’t waste much time at the Trapeze School.   It is pretty much, ”OK, everyone ready?  Let’s go….“   At various moments, I noticed my fear and my trembling and my doubt… my concern that my arms would not have enough strength, or that I would fall the wrong way.  And in each of those moments I remembered why I was doing this.  I thought of the phrase ”reach out for freedom….“ and I connected with the yearning in my heart for that freedom.   I need to remember those moments, because I know that I am always choosing which way to lean…. toward freedom, or toward suffering.  I am always choosing which voice to listen to… the one who says things like ”you can’t…. you shouldn’t… there is no use….“ or the one who says “just do it…. lean in…. trust yourself…. trust others…. follow your desire….”

And so I flew….  from the bar… from my knees… and ultimately letting go of the bar and catching hold of the catcher and flying.   I left giddy with excitement and a great sense of YES.  More importantly, it gave me a boost to get unstuck and actually write this — I feel a greater sense of purpose and direction.  A new quest is emerging in me around this theme of freedom, and of what it means to be free and choose to live at the same time.

~ by Art on January 11, 2012.

5 Responses to “Reaching for Freedom”

  1. I’m a bit late to the party! Although knowing you were “flying” around the first of the year, your inspiring, intimate account disclosed here was unknown to me until now.

    What a stirring account of stepping out. So many, including myself, can see themselves in the step by step noticing of the conversations in our heads as we encounter our greatest difficulties. So what is the “holding back” in our lives all about, really? Your experience points to Freedom for us all if we just knew ourselves, today and again tomorrow and again the day after so that those conversations we have with ourselves, on the platform of life, were pertinent, immediate and honest.

    Bravo, Art. You found that Freedom. You can do that over and over and over again, experiencing your Freedom every time. Sharing it here made it all so accessible, to me, and my guess to so many others.

    YOU are a Shinning Star. My life is blessed being in your sphere.
    Becky Scott CPCC, ACC

    PS I used to fly in my dreams all the time…so fun. Think I will start doing that again!

  2. Dear Art,

    Within your courage and vulnerability of sharing this immensely personal experience, there lies a deep sense of freedom, not only for yourself but for those who read it and beyond.. So you truly are living your Life Purpose, Big Time. Thank you for that.

    I felt a deep sense of connection with your story of the flying dreams. I, too, have had experiences of what I call “flying consciously in dreams”, meaning knowing full well that I am in a dream with total control of my flying experience. Isn’t that the most delightful feeling? If you have found a way to initiate those dreams more frequently, I would like to know… It has been a while since my last flight and I miss it :).

    And finally, the impact of noticing that it had been a year since you last wrote and the fact that I did not catch this before… For some reason, ever since the CTI weekend you asked our group to keep you accountable for writing this blog, I had this sense of responsibility to do that. So I am sorry about not keeping this up in 2011. If this is something that is still important to you, I promise to do better in 2012.

    Here is to your quest of Reaching For Freedom, Art. It is a pleasure to witness you soar!

    With Love,

    • Hello Dear Sibel —

      You are my blog champion! You did an amazing job supporting me when I was doing that triathlon — and really, I completed that process and had not intended to keep writing afterwards.

      And now, I am embarking on a new journey, and I do intend to write regularly – not sure yet how often, but regularly — certainly at least once each quarter if not more. Know that when I read each and every comment it has a huge impact on me. When I write, it is self-reflection and I forget that it might have an impact “out there” — and then I see comments or people send me notes, sometimes people that I do not know — and I am deeply humble that it has had some impact. So, thank you and I send a big hug to you. Yes — I too miss those dreams — I have not had them in the same way for many years, but I remember them so vividly…. Arnold Mindell has written a lot on lucid dreaming – he is a very wise guy. If I learn something I will send ityour way!

      Love —
      Art

  3. Dear Art, please, please, please continue to create freedom for yourself so that you can continue to create freedom for the rest of us – it’s working! I am profoundly grateful that you are willing to share the way you do and what you choose to… much love – Rachel

  4. Art, I’m blown away by your honesty, vulnerability, courage — you are one amazing human being my friend! Thank you for sharing your wisdom. Fly on, beautiful Arrow!
    Love,
    Karen

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