When I was seven, I hurried to the gym after school for ballet class. We giggled in the bathroom, wriggling into pink tights and black leotards, pulling on flat pink leather slippers and settling into our spots on the gym floor, as the record player music swelled with Tchaikovsky. Our warm-ups began with butterfly, knees bent and open wide, soles together as we held our ankles and flapped our leg ‘wings’.
One afternoon, after warm ups, the teacher spread her legs wide and turned into a full split, one straight leg in front, one behind, flat to the floor. I gasped. She held her arms high triumphantly, I decided, and as she turned and smiled, my adoration grew exponentially. I remember wanting to slide easily into splits like my teacher, but as it was, when I turned into a split, I was a full foot off the floor, hunchbacked, my back leg bent awkwardly. There was no way I could lift my arms up, they were planted along side me, keeping the whole shape from capsizing.
She encouraged all of us to practice each day, telling us to take pictures of our progress to encourage meeting our goals. That afternoon, I coaxed my mom to get out the Polaroid camera out and take a photo of me in my awkward shape, a hopeful grin on my face. More than 50 years later I remember pinning that photo to the cork board by the door of my bedroom. I can almost see the hope in my eyes, my long brown pig tails, pink tights, bent legs, curved back. I practiced every morning and by the weekend, my mother took another photo. I held it in my expectant hands, slowly watched the picture crystallize, and pinned it to the board to compare; yep, I was definitely a few inches closer to the floor. Now I was really excited.
Each day I practiced, and hounded my mother to take another photo for the board. Day by day, the space between my legs and the floor grew smaller, my back leg straighter. I don’t remember now when I finally felt the floor steady under me, when I lifted my arms into the exultant shape of a conquering hero, but I do remember how that felt. I stood a little taller all day. When it was my turn to share in ballet class, I slid into my splits and raised my arms gracefully, my classmates cheered and my heart pounded, every cell of my brain lit up with celebration.
We all have infinite potential for growth, realizing our highest selves, expanding into ease in body, mind and heart, living in a state of hope, faith, joy, grace, bliss, no matter what the world is like around us. While this potentiality for expansion is always present, our capacity in this moment is limited by our patterns, habits, relationships, loss, fears, past pain and suffering. There is no magic leap from constriction to achievement, no instant mantra to manifest miracles without the work.
The work, we all know, is the dedicated day-by-day-by-day practice, whether it is growing a garden, running a marathon, or doing the splits. We build our resilience, slow and steady, breathing into our fears and any other emotions that arise as we doggedly keep at it. That’s not very exciting, and won’t sell a 30 Day Challenge subscription. The less sexy truth is that the seed of change is kindness; not comparison, not wishing we were like someone else, even if that someone else is a past version of ourselves.
The body that I carry today is entirely different that that seven year-old body. Oh, there are similarities, but cell-by-cell, I am entirely a different being. This isn’t bad news, it is just the truth. Bones thinner, tendons tighter, patches of scar tissue, less dense muscle mass, more fat cells and inflammation. I have truly lived in this body, and I am infinitely grateful for every one of my hundred trillion or so cells.
My potential is not diminished, but my capacity is different. Can I still work toward the splits, taking photos with my phone and posting online to document my progress? Sure. Do I really want this?
If I check in kindly with my heart, the answer is—not really. I want a goal today that matches my potential and works honestly and kindly with my capacity, so I grow without injury, without pain. I can open to potential growth that fits my capacity, and create a pathway that will be achievable and joyful for me, that I can celebrate with family and community.
So here’s my path:
- Create a goal and sit quietly with it. Hands to heart, tune in, asking my heart—is this goal in alignment with my deepest heart’s desire? If not, what is?
- Create a plan, a backwards design. If my goal is to do a headstand, what is the step that comes just before I rise into a full headstand? Then what needs to happen just before this? And before that, working my way right to this very moment of today. This is a messy process that I will revise over and over, until I create a pathway that works well for me, my body, my capacity. Step by step.
- Every morning, and every night just before I fall asleep, I draw into my heart and mind the feeling of achievement, of sharing success with loved ones. I imagine that feeling flooding my whole body, let a smile arise, then dedicate myself to the practice I need to meet my goal.
- Document progress; take pictures, use sticky notes, document every little change, share that change with supporting family, friends.
- Every time there is a set back, and there will be, I bring my hand to my heart center, and tell my heart thank you for holding this dream. I adjust my goal planning, and re-dedicate myself.
- Celebrate every change, no matter how small. Find heroes to inspire.
- Drawing in love and appreciation inward, every day. No matter what happens with my goals and aspirations. Kindness breeds growth, no matter the goal.