In addition to being a writer and aspiring professor, I am a "yogi," doing yoga for approximately twelve years, and five of those with a continuous practice. Yesterday, I went to a class which focused on going upside down. Though I have extensive yoga experience and the strength to do a headstand, fight-or-flight terror kicks in the moment I even visualize putting my whole body in the air above my head.
Usually the flight instinct wins.
Yesterday, as I was getting ready to kick my feet above my head and rest them against the wall behind me (a wall-assisted handstand), I made the mistake of talking to myself:
"Don't freak out," I whispered. "Don't freak out, don't freak out."
The instructor heard me. "You can do it! Come on."
With me kicking feebly at the air, the instructor took hold of my flailing legs and guided my feet to the wall. I was entirely upside down, all of my weight pressing into my hands and the wall a suddenly wobbly force against my heels. The instructor's hands making a bar across my shins were the only things keeping me up there.
"Look at you! You can do it; you're strong!" she cried as I breathed like a locomotive.
My arm muscles were working, blood was perhaps rushing to my head, and I was more terrified than I had any right to be. If the instructor's hands were not keeping me from falling back to the sweet Earth, I would have broken out of the pose as quickly as possible. But, in the wonderful way of yoga, I was forced instead to make peace with the pose, and this is the realization that I had:
Yoda is an absolute jerk!
I grew up on Star Wars; my mother introduced me to the series at such a young age that I don't remember the first time I saw A New Hope. Her favorite movie is Empire Strikes Back, and it's my boyfriend's too, and much of the world's. I am not keen on it, and part of the reason for that, as I realized with my pulse rushing through my reptilian brain, is because of this terrible line right here:
This guy is quoted left and right, but this line has always niggled at something in me that turned away and went "blech". While upside down, fearing for the speed at which my lungs were processing air, I realized exactly why I had such a problem with this bit of Jedi "wisdom".
Where in the WORLD did he get off saying there is no try???
Maybe that's alright if you're an all-powerful Jedi who can manipulate the world with a thought and your own beliefs, but for the rest of us humans who quote Yoda and print his words on shirts and pillows, it's downright silly, if not awful to say there is no "try". For the most part, we have absolutely NO CONTROL over the world around us, how people perceive us, what others believe, or how they will react to us. For creative types, this Yodic advice is even more dangerous. As artists, we have to put ourselves forward every day to be evaluated, critiqued, told we're not good enough, and then WE NEED TO GO BACK and do it all over again!
In the world of Yoda, to have put ourselves forward for that artist grant, submitted our short story to that prestigious literary magazine, or spoken to that busy agent at a convention and failed miserably is the SAME as having NEVER TRIED AT ALL. "Do or do not," Jerk-Yoda says. You are either successful or unsuccessful, and whether you tried hard to be successful and failed or never tried at all, it doesn't matter. The result is still the same: "Do not".
This is simply not true. In the world of art and artists, every little thing you do, no matter how much you fail, no matter how many times your work is rejected, that failure is another knot tied on your climbing rope to success. Each failure will help you reach the next one, teach you new things, and lead you to eventually succeed (hopefully sooner, rather than later, but it is ALWAYS eventually and NEVER right now!). The poetic words of novelist and poet, Samuel Becket, explain the artist's life:
"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter.
Try Again. Fail again. Fail better."
This is the mantra we need. Each failure must be bigger and better than the last, but most importantly, YOU MUST NOT BE AFRAID to fail! Every time I try to do upside down pose in a yoga class, I immediately want to drop to the ground and curl into a ball where everything is okay. But I still do the pose. Putting your body upside down is about seeing the world from a new angle. As I stared around the yoga room with my instructor's hands against my shins, I thought about why I hated this pose so much. I was staying in it just fine; I had even gotten into it myself on good days, with a wall and everything to support me. It wasn't a difficult pose, but rather it removed all control I thought I had over my life.
We are not Jedi, my friends, as much as we may wish to be. We cannot control people's thoughts about us or the art we make. We can control what we do, and how well we do it, but not how we are ultimately perceived or liked. Trying to control these things in our lives can cause crippling anxiety that can keep us from ever pursuing our dreams. So remember this, my friends: Yoda is a jerk, and TRYING is the most important thing we must do every day on the road to success.
Try to fail more, try to do better, try to put yourself forward for success, and while you're at it, try to see the world from a different angle.
[UPDATE: On March 19th, I did my first intentional, unassisted headstand!! It was invigorating and empowering, but you know what? I still fell over backwards in the end, when I was trying to come out of the headstand gracefully. I tumbled right into the girl next to me and felt so embarrassed. YET at the end of the yoga practice, when I apologized to the girl again (she was totally fine with all of it), we got talking about how to build strength and confidence to do a headstand. When I had fallen into her, she said "Oh, I could never do that!" but then we got talking about how she could do it sometime in the future! So, you see? Trying is the most important part of any enterprise simply because it opens more doors: for yourself and those around you. Try on!]