Well, that’s just freaky! My ponderings over the last few days have been recollecting a piece I wrote before my website went up over 2 years ago. I think I had originally intended it to be my first post, but by the time I got the website up and running I had more interesting things to write about. So this piece sat… and apparently stewed in the back of my brain. All I remembered was something about Spiderman, and cursing out Renoir, and trying to figure out why you’d ever take on more than you can chew. A space, 2 years later I’m clearly in again. And like the post opening my current retreat, clearly thinking about that little tantra.
Anyway here’s a post that should have been dated June 5th 2009. For all that’s changed for me, I couldn’t change a word of what I wrote then:
* * *
“As a bee seeks nectar
from all kinds of flowers
seek teachings everywhere
Like a deer that finds
a quiet place to graze
seek seclusion to digest
all that you have gathered
Like a mad one beyond all limits
go where you please
and live like a lion
completely free of all fear”
I love these Buddhist verses; I’ve been wondering about the metaphor of the last stanza though. It’s easy to live without fear if you are at the top of the food chain – perhaps this line makes sense to the enlightened who don’t fear any harm when they know they really don’t exist anyway, but for me at least, I’d like to amend the line to read:
Live without fear
Like a drunken monkey
Willing to fall out of the tree
I was watching the Spiderman movie the other day and was captivated by the scene where Peter Parker is up on the rooftops, testing out his new abilities. Watching him leap from building to building I got to thinking about courage and pushing beyond your limitations- something I could really relate to as I’d spent the last 6 months taking risks and hurling myself up against my limitations just to see which ones would still stand. The only problem is, somewhere in my own rooftop leaping, I snagged my lucky Spidey underpants on a guardrail, halted my acceleration mid-leap, and came crashing down 5 stories. Ouch.
So, while still in the peeling my face off the pavement, picking my teeth up with broken fingers phase of this experience, I came across an inspirational quote from a rack of bookmarks. It’s from Renoir: “One must from time to time attempt things that are beyond one’s capacity.” This inspired a quote from me: “Fuck you Renoir.” What the hell kind of advice is that!?! I can see the value in taking risks, doing something you’ve never done before, but that’s not what he’s saying. What the quote says is, here’s this thing you know you can’t do, do it anyway. Why?
The best I could come up with was perhaps it was all about the humour. America’s Funniest Home Videos has certainly made a long-running series on watching people attempt things that are beyond their capacity. “I’m sure you can jump over that muddy ditch in your dress shoes.” “Why wouldn’t you be able to ride down those stairs on a tricycle?” I’m not sure what part of our primate brains evolved to get wired this way but it is universal. That kind of spectacular catastrophe is hilarious!
Then I started thinking there might be more to it than that. I went and bought the bookmark.
Doing something you are practically guaranteed to fail at clearly isn’t about what you will achieve, but perhaps has value in what you learn from failing. I remember this George Clooney action movie from ages ago. In it he gives a pep talk to the rookie, who is grey-faced with fear, saying something like, “Okay kid, here’s how it works, first you do the scary thing, THEN you get the courage.” That seems more along the point. Courage isn’t about not being afraid, it’s about knowing you are afraid and carrying on anyway. Fearlessness training comes with a tough curriculum.
And I think falling flat on your face acting out a superpower you don’t have reveals superpowers you didn’t even know you had. Highlander didn’t know he was immortal until he was run through with a broadsword. “Mr McLeod, your swordsmanship still needs some work, but your ability to heal from flesh wounds is outstanding.”
I’ve certainly learned a lot about my own superpowers with this crash. One is my enormous capacity for self pity. No really, this is awesome! Think of it like trying to run up the downward side of a water wheel. You’re working really hard to avoid going down but not really getting anywhere, trapped in a futile kind of fleeing. But if you just grab hold and let the wheel carry you down, you’ll get soaked, but you’ll also come flying up the other side in no time. It’s all about going with the flow by being honest with yourself about the situation. Having fallen off a 5 story building, it would be absurd to say, “No, it’s cool. I’m fine.” On the other hand, “Okay… ouch, that really sucked.” would be totally appropriate commentary. It doesn’t mean you won’t get over it, it just means right now you’re willing to admit you are hurtin’ a little.
I’ve certainly become much more secure in my own resiliency, and the only way I got there was from discovering no matter what seemed to knock me down, eventually I managed to right myself, like those inflatable punching clowns weighted at the bottom. I can’t say as I’ve always done it gracefully or heroically, but I’ve done it all the same, and for the most part I’ve done it with a sense of humour. Perhaps my greatest superpower is that of self mockery. I simply can’t take my own suffering seriously for any length of time. How I came about this superpower would be another tale (see Florence Frickin’ Nightingale); but my ability to step outside of myself a bit, see things more from that America’s Funniest Home Videos point of view: “Har! Har! – that was BRUTAL!” changes everything. Laughter really is good medicine – and all the more potent when self administered.
Maybe that line about the lion is fitting after all. Completely free of all fear because you know you can handle anything. It just takes being that drunken monkey falling out of the tree over and over again to figure that out.
So go on, JUMP! Take that leap.* You are very likely going to fall flat on your face, but that’s the whole point. How else are you going to discover your own superpowers? And maybe, just maybe, every once in a while you might actually succeed, finding yourself somewhere you never imagined you would be. That would be pretty cool.
It’s worth a shot.
*Caveat for the utterly stupid: This is a metaphor! Do not, repeat do not, take on something that will cause you bodily injury. Or at least if you do, wear a helmet, and get a friend to record it – it might just win you $10K.