Yesterday my eleven-month-old began the arduous process of learning to stand upon his own two feet. I don’t mean hauling himself upright using whatever available leverage he can find (a couch, a bookshelf, my nipple), but rather gathering his legs beneath him and using their muscles to lift. It puts me in mind of yoga, of the tree pose in particular, where we reach from one foot, planted in the ground, through open hips and chest up toward our hands which point skyward. The smallest adjustment and attention can locate great power or make us aware of instability. The point is less to achieve balance than to return, again and again, to balancing. This repetition of action and intention is pretty close to magical. We learn to fall with grace, indeed to expect to fall. We try to see the falling as another chance to perfect the art of getting up again (or, let’s get real: it’s a chance to rehearse the reasons why, in that moment, yoga totally sucks). If you’re less than a year old, you don’t really get mired in the how and why of the fall; we are where we are, it seems, in any given moment of this little cycle, and that includes leaning, adjusting, straining, reaching out for support. In Malachi’s case, it involved ending abruptly on his cushiony bottom over and over again until something else became even more magical than standing. Oh, look! A bird stuffie!
I suspect that this is a parable for something else, that the resilience an infant shows in mastering the arts of daily life is something we must draw on more intentionally than we do. It means moving out beyond what’s comfortable; keeping laser focus on the task at hand; understanding that setbacks are less about you than about the forces of gravity and inertia in the world. It also means crawling back to a space of nurture when the nurture is needed.
I’m re-reading “Love Walked In” by Marisa de los Santos, a beautifully-written book of rather extraordinary depth, despite its “chick-lit” label. One of our heroines, eleven-year-old Clare, is struggling with her mother’s new and undiagnosed mental illness, and her coping strategies are developed through careful analysis of the experiences of orphans in literature. She concludes that orphans get listened to in one of two ways: through “pluck” or through being attractive and likable. These are indeed powerful forms of resilience — to speak boldly one’s own truth and/or to identify and appeal to the truth of the other. Our life’s balance, it would seem, hangs somewhere in between the two…and fortunately, we have endless opportunities to keep trying. What was that Evian ad a few years ago? Every day is a new chance to be healthy, or some such thing? Not just every day, every minute. For Chi, standing is the new challenge…for me, perhaps, getting my ass off this couch and into some healing yoga before the chaos of the day is full upon me.