In a letter I recently wrote to a friend, I told her about my experience in an Acroyoga class I took with my sister when I visited her in Houston. If you don’t know what Acroyoga is, it’s a lot of lifts and turns and even flips… done on someone else. For example, watch this or this. Now, I do yoga every morning; I get a lot out of the practice, and I enjoy finding ways to expand it. Acroyoga certainly looked really cool, and because it was something new (and was reminiscent of my family’s attempts to re-enact So You Think You Can Dance routines in our living room), I agreed to try it when my sister asked. If nothing else, at least we’d have fun.
It may be important to note that I have a tendency to despise anything that a) requires a lot of physical effort, b) isn’t easy right off the bat, or c) hurts. My sister and I, arrogant as we are, walked into this Acroyoga class thinking, ‘We’ll show them.’ It didn’t take long to realize we actually knew nothing about any of what was going on. Turns out, Acroyoga fit a) and b) from above and could have fit c) if so many people weren’t standing around to catch us. Acroyoga was hard. It’s possible that it wouldn’t have been so hard and could have even been fun if we didn’t think we would be good at it. When you think you’ll suck, anything’s up from there. As it was, everything was down.
A basic rule of Acroyoga is that there are always three people present during training– the base, the flyer, and the spot (or spotter). Maybe they’re self-explanatory, but the base is the person on the bottom, doing the lifting; the flyer is the person on top doing the pretty part of the poses; and the spot is the person next to them with her arms out and legs bent, ready should one or both come crashing. Again, my sister and I went in with ideas of where we would be in that triangle. (Another possibly important piece of information is that we both have histories of cheerleading, as embarrassing as that is for me to admit. Caitlin did it for several years in high school. I only did it my seventh grade year and couldn’t continue because I spent the whole year debating whether I should tell someone about the ulcer I thought I was getting in my stomach from all the stress cheerleading caused; I didn’t want to go through any more years of that.) Similarly, cheerleading has the same roles of base, flyer, and spotter: Caitlin was a base; I was a flyer. Thus, we naturally assumed we would take to the same roles in Acroyoga.
This is where the tension began: I couldn’t get comfortable up there in the air, and Caitlin had trouble finding the right footing for balance. My fuse was getting shorter, and any pose I tried just seemed to have some problem that needed fixing. The other two girls in our group would try their poses, but I would even get impatient with them for just… not being good. Seriously, it was like the one girl stuffed her ears and didn’t hear the instructions at all! Pull yourself together, woman! (Undoubtedly, this thought should have been aimed at me rather than the innocent girl cheerfully trying this new, fun thing, but I wasn’t in the mood for self-reflection.) I was always there with my arms out, practically holding her up, not really noticing I was the spotter so much as simply trying to keep this girl from breaking her neck. She needed as much help as she could get. Not to be judgmental.
So we tried and suffered our way through the class, Caitlin finding more enjoyment than I did, until we all sat in a big, friendly, happy circle to debrief. The teacher man had us thank each other for the different roles we played and described how we all tend to gravitate toward certain roles. Some people are more comfortable as bases; others, flyers. Then he shared a story about a friend of his who also happens to be a Buddhist: she has found the role of spotter to be her niche because it allows her to put into practice compassion and intentional meditation; she doesn’t feel the need to be in the other roles because she has found the one that suits her. And it hit me: I gravitated toward that role; I was the one eager to catch the flyer and serve as support from the side.
It pains me a bit to say, but I was a little disappointed at this revelation. Goodness knows I wasn’t a good base. I knew that before we even started. But I wanted to be the flyer so bad. I wanted all the attention and to get the praise for looking pretty up there. After all, I had walked into the place thinking I would. But I guess it just wasn’t for me.
I learned that day– however stubbornly– that I should take a step back from striving for the spotlight and be ok with doing work behind the scenes. I need to practice contentment with the role I’m given or naturally inclined to do rather than envying the one I don’t have and shouldn’t even be doing at all. And what I really need to work on is finding fulfillment and meaning in what I know is fulfilling and meaningful without looking to the opinions of others to tell me so– and allowing others the same freedom. There are jobs or duties that are looked down upon or not thought about at all, and it’s easy as the person doing those jobs to want ‘something better’ or be discontented. There’s a place for that, for ambition and the kind of discontentment that spurs action. But sometimes we find roles that fit us and that we fit and that play an integral part in the overall cycle of things, despite how overlooked they are. And when that happens, it’s important to acknowledge that fit and that integrality.
A friend of mine works at a coffee shop and greets the same bouncy, chipper girl every week. When my friend was having an off day, this energetic girl looked at her and said, ‘I know what it’s like to have a down day.’ My friend asked her if she was a teacher, and the girl answered, ‘No! I clean bathrooms at the park!’ As if she had a job that no one would be ashamed of, that no one could possibly think ill of. Such a dirty job that few people ask for and even fewer enjoy, and here’s someone emitting nothing but joy.
I admire that. I want that. To be able to say: I’m here, now, for a specific purpose and also for reasons unknown, and I’m grateful and content with that. For us all to say that. That’d really be something, I think.
But I’m a bit hard-headed. I’m still working on that supportive role. I’ll always be working on contentment. And I just can’t seem to like things that are hard or that highlight my megalomania (*cough*Acroyoga). Acroyoga wasn’t a complete bust (unlike cheerleading), but I won’t be going back anytime soon (like cheerleading). I just hope I keep learning from that experience, learning to leave judgment behind and to take on a sense of satisfaction and peace more consistently.
For now, all I can say is, I’m working on it.
I’m working on it.
I’m working on it.