When I was six, my good friend Demi, also six, could do the splits, just as casually as she could walk. In fact, she could walk and make a big step and fall into the splits, with maybe only a slight adjustment needed for her clothes. We liked to run fast on the blacktop playground and flip upside down on the bars. We also liked dresses, so we wore shorts underneath. I always thought of Demi as flexible, in the literal sense, but looking back, I see how our six-year-old practicality and openness was also flexibility. Anyone who wanted to, could play with us. We were open and ready to make friends and have fun. Demi was open and wild and free and I joined her.
I haven’t seen or played with Demi since the summer after first grade when my family and I moved away, but all along I have valued flexibility, even when I didn’t necessarily practice it.
Now, years away from the first grade playground, I am prioritizing flexibility in all aspects of my life. Once longed for, I find it everywhere. I also find it has many meanings.
My long talked about, yet rarely done, yoga practice is sprouting. I have found beauty in the twinges of my muscles (different from running or swimming or hiking) and a new flexibility in this middle-of-life body that I have never possessed. I find beginner classes and practice at home with the help of a book and a DVD. I enjoy the routine of the poses and asanas, and yet each time it is different.
A few months after the abrupt close of the massage school I was attending when I was almost ready to finish, with no notice and no transcript given to me, I now have a new version of flexibility. I am past the anger and resentment, and now I take up what cannot be taken away: the passion for a new practice, the knowledge that I am good at massage, and the fact that all that I learned at that lovely school is still there, in my brain, heart, and hands. For awhile, I struggled and tried to force myself into a different school, although it was a school I had avoided in the first place. Then, I found another school and tried to force the situation, distance, and my finances to make it work. Finally, I quit forcing it. I may enroll in massage school a year from now, but right now it doesn’t fit. For now, I practice on a couple of friends when the time allows and I dream of a massage business that will come in the future. Even dreams need flexibility at times. And I keep the flexibility to fight and make it my first priority again.
All of a sudden, I am pondering a career teaching abroad, starting maybe next spring. I am looking at a surprising possibility of a program at the local community college, something that I thought was out of bounds due to age and time and finances but always a dream in my head. These things that all of a sudden seem like realistic ideas have to do with my flexibility.
Flexibility is a new way of looking at things. It’s as much about being in the moment, yet still planning and dreaming. Flexibility is resiliency, realizing that when one dream comes crashing down, it may sow seeds for a new dream, or it may go dormant for a while, only to blossom in a new way. Flexibility is being okay with what is, and seeing the bright and dark spots for what they are.
A few years ago, I sat with a friend in a back yard, late at night. We talked animatedly, somewhat fueled by red wine, and at excitement at the chance to speak to each other in person after years of long distance texts. We talked about dreams and fears and spirituality. I still remember the friend, leaning back in the turquoise Adirondack chair, looking up at the dark bluish black night sky describing life’s ups and downs and the ability to be even-keeled and loving no matter what, to be the calm in the storm. At the time, I loved the idea, but had no way to figure out how to go about it. Years have passed and there has been much struggle, but also much healing.
Now, I finally understand what that friend was describing years ago. Today, I am calling it flexibility. It’s resiliency, it’s steadfastness. It’s healing. It’s curiosity, it’s meditation. It’s healing, it’s love. It’s forgiveness, it’s gratitude. It’s love, it’s love, it’s love.
It’s in this flexibility that I go about the practicalities of the day-to-day, paying a bill, calling the landlord to fix the broken screen on the sliding door, showing up for an eight-hour shift and staying for an unexpected extra three hours because a co-worker is sick. It’s in this flexibility that I text a friend and cancel a practice massage because I have worked nine days in a row and I am tired and need a day alone. It’s with this flexibility that I figure out odd times for an interview for an online job. It’s with flexibility that I take up a side job that I would have been too snobbish to do even a couple of years ago, because I realize it will help me out of my financial mess. It’s with flexibility that I make a pot of soup, using slightly different ingredients than what the recipe calls for, because this is what I have right now.
Flexibility is more than just a reaction to a change in plans. It’s a whole new way of living, for me, one that I have slowly been moving to, over time. I am less rigid, more open. I am more excited, because I realize that my old structures were a limited way of looking at things. I am realizing that this flexibility is the sweet spot between making plans and being spontaneous. It’s also about resiliency and not seeing things like a broken in car window as a bad thing, just as a thing. If we’re not so wrapped up in the “poor me” of the situation, it’s easier to find a solution. If we are clear-headed, due to a meditation practice, it’s much more simple to respond to tragedy. If we know our triggers, it’s easier not to react to those and be able to remain calm in an argument.
My sisters and I were texting the other day. My older sister is in England right now, living and working, almost twenty years after she lived there the first time. She was asking about suggestions for places to go while she’s in Europe. My younger sister piped in with her ideas, since she lived and worked in Germany about 10 years ago. I responded with a quick short list of places I would love to visit. My younger sister then described a couple she knew while she was in Germany. The couple had researched and created trip “plans” for several scenarios: day trips, weekend trips, long weekend trips, week-long trips, afternoon trips, etc. While they had rough plans for each of these trips, they used their flexibility to pounce on them, depending upon opportunities such as extra vacation time or plane ticket sale or friends that might want to go on the trip and share expenses.
Flexibility is about the doing, just jumping right in, not just talking about something.
Flexibility doens’t just have to be for travel plans, and fun, though. It can be about everything from standing in line to waiting for a late friend for coffee. It can be about setting an intention in the car before driving to work. Flexibility can be about not responding to a stranger’s anger, and letting their words hang in the air. Flexibility can be about carving out time in the early, early morning to work on a dream project or running after a long day at work to train for a marathon when all you want to do is curl up with a book.
Flexibility is about keeping on even when things are tough. Flexibility is about finding bravery when things turn dark. Flexibility is about speaking up when you feel unsafe. Flexibility is about reporting a co-worker’s actions when you’ve waited too many months and now things are in a scary place.
Flexibility is the ability to breathe. Flexibility is the ability to stretch when scared. Flexibility is about responding in crisis. Flexibility is about seeing things or a person in a different way. Flexibility is about letting go of one’s version of the story, realizing there are so many more versions.
Flexibility is about gratitude and forgiveness. Flexibility is about love. Flexibility is about saying no and saying yes. Flexibility is about being open and setting boundaries.
Flexibility is about being the calm in the storm. Flexibility is about healing.
Flexibility is about resiliency. Flexibility is love. Flexibility is about finding love for oneself and finding love for others. Flexibility is love.