Transitions and Transience

That space between NOW and NEXT is my least favorite. All the possibilities hanging in the balance just make me feel like the ground is disappearing beneath my feet. Like a trapeze artist taking a deep breath and counting on practice and skill to make it to the next safe grip, except that there are all those times BEFORE the skill is honed to get through. All the hard falls before what can finally appear to the audience as ease.

The Ashtanga practice is obsessed with transitions. It is not the final Instagram-worthy position that we care about, but the VERY specific steps that get you into and out of that sideways-legs over arms-half upside down-arm balance. THAT is where the real practice happens. To be able to navigate that transition with any degree of grace and skill is the true measure of any kind of mastery. To maintain an even breath, while moving in a decisive and purposeful direction to a clear end-point, often while faced with a degree of risk and uncertainty. The yoga is in the details.

One of my favorite definitions of yoga is “skill in action.” This remains true even if the end point isn’t exactly picture perfect. Skill doesn’t have to mean perfection. To act skillfully means to be fully aware of the present moment exactly as it is, limitations included. To act with an accurate understanding of what is efficient and intelligent according to the present circumstances. That same skill in action must be applied even when you know you will fall short of the mark. To act with care and commitment in the attempt matters arguably even more under those circumstances. If it were easy, skill wouldn’t really matter.

I was in a show last weekend. Singing, dancing, acting, all thrown together in less than three weeks. During the rehearsal period my thoughts were consumed with “step ball change, step, turn,” “what is my cue,” type thoughts. Learning the steps themselves wasn’t that difficult, but remembering the transitions between sections was not easy at all. I could do all the component parts. Stringing them together in a skillful and concise manner was another story entirely. Practice, practice, practice. Planning and thinking and imagining the transitions, the focus needed to jump from one scene/task/step to the next with absolutely no unaccounted for moment. I was totally consumed with the details, some part of my brain always turning to refine the approach. And then just like that, it all became irrelevant. The show was over. On to the next thing. Focus, focus, focus. Refine. Hone. ACT. And then, LET GO.

I am not much of a dancer. Years of yoga practice hasn’t helped that. But it sure has taught me a lot about navigating transitions. What I wasn’t expecting was how the experience reflected the transient nature of everything we do. You work at the thing, the scene, the dance, the show, the practice, the posture, the series, with everything you have. If you don’t commit fully, it just doesn’t work. But none of it is made to last. All that focus and practice and effort for something that is rendered utterly meaningless in the passage of time. So, then, all the work and practice and skill, THAT is what matters. That is where the meaning lies. That is what sustains in that breathless moment of letting go with the swing of the trapeze.

 

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