For my Elements Study Group last weekend, I created a worksheet on “Fire and Pride.” The idea was to get us thinking about what we’re proud of, and what it is that feeds the fire within. In this context I mean authentic pride, the feeling of accomplishment that comes from within and needs no competition or comparison.
One of the questions was: “What physical aspect of myself do I most appreciate?” To my surprise, one of my answers was that I am proud of my physical flexibility and grace. The reason I’m surprised is that grace wasn’t something that came naturally to me. As a child, I was physically awkward and much preferred reading to playing ball. Gym class was a nightmare, as I was also shy and easily embarrassed at my lack of skill. I was chosen last for teams, or very close to last, many times. I stood there, red-faced, just wishing it would be over.
One of the most intense memories is when we were learning to play volleyball. Everyone had to take a turn to serve the ball. Do you think this short, shy, awkward girl could get that ball over the net? Not a chance. But I had to stand there and try repeatedly, everyone staring at me, until finally the gym teacher decided I was doing my best and took pity on me.
Yet in later life, I realized that I was capable of my own brand of gracefulness. I grew up near a lake, and I could swim well. When I first met Quester, one summer day we went swimming and I was surprised to find that he was tired way before I was. I also learned to dance that summer at a Grateful Dead concert. I mean really dance, flowing with the grooves and rhythms of the music. What a revelation! I also started hiking, and found the thrill of making it to the top of the mountain, seeing the view and knowing that I’d climbed all that way under my own power.
When I discovered yoga, it seemed like a natural extension of the new peace I’d made with my body. I began to frame things differently: I wasn’t the opposite of an athlete, I just preferred non-competitive, individual sports. I found it fun to get out and be active, and the balance helped improve my overall physical health.
I also see this discovery of my physical grace as a metaphor for the larger concept of gracefulness. I was a very sensitive child, and the world was often too much for me. I became easily stressed out, and often felt like I didn’t belong here. I am a classic “late bloomer.” Throughout my adult life, things have gotten easier as I become more fully myself. I now have many tools to rely on when things get challenging, and daily spiritual practice that keeps me centered. I am living, much of the time, with grace, something I once wouldn’t have believed possible. And I’m very thankful for it.