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  • Writer's picturechristaleigh

How Can I Fall

It started in yoga class on a beautiful morning in Costa Rica, with the sound of the waves crashing in front of us and the jungle behind us.

"Falling makes time stop," the yoga instructor said as she engaged with a student who asked about coming out of an inverted pose. She continued to explain that the body will always protect the brain, and that's the reason a fall always seems to happen slowly- as if time stands still while your body naturally figures out what to do to sustain the least amount of damage. It's why we brace ourselves, why we have reflexes, why we will tuck and roll when we lose our balance if we're upside down.

I took those thoughts with me to the surfing lesson I booked that afternoon. I have a healthy respect for any body of water that can shape coastlines and swallow ships and drag homes off their foundations; as a mere mortal I'm keenly aware of my status as the underdog when I step into the waves. I love the ocean, but I fear it's strength, and I hate being knocked down.

Because of this, I prefer to stay where I can plant my feet and let the waves push me around just so- but at this beach the waves would break in a pattern where there were two or three smaller waves and then one really big one. You know the one- it rises up behind you like a wall and you realize you either have to go through it or with it, but either way it's going sling you around. I hate that moment when I'm not in control and the ocean most definitely is- and it's like she's telling me to get back to the dry sand of the beach where I belong. Not only are you going to fall, she roars as she crashes over you... you're going under.

So I was both excited and terrified of taking a surfing lesson. Trying to connect my self-preservation with the idea that the power of wind and water can be tamed, I timidly told my surf instructor that I would happily stay in front of the breaks. If I concentrated on getting on the board on my belly, feeling my balance and steadying my arms, and she held me in place until the right wave came, I did okay. This was a metaphor for most of my life, I realized. I prefer not to see what's coming, to just go when it's time to go.

I got up on my feet, fully, only once. The ride lasted for those same eternal seconds we get when we fall and before I knew it, I was also falling... right on my ass. I swallowed a mouthful of saltwater as the next wave crashed over me, and I stubbed my toe on a rock... but I stood up laughing and couldn't wait to try stopping time again.

After half an hour or so of trying to get up and getting tossed around and falling down, I let my instructor know I was done and I happily watched my friend continue to try catching waves.

We talked about it later, under the stars in paradise... falling.

Falling is such an unknown potential for harm; falling is somehow synonymous with pain.

Falling down.

Falling in love.

Falling from grace.

When we're babies, just learning to walk, we fall all the time and it's no big deal. We're developing the skills we need to stay upright, to gain balance, to live inside these bodies that are always changing and growing.

At some point though, we learn to stand and we stop growing and changing so much physically, and falling becomes a perceived weakness. Something to be ashamed of. A mistake in performance. Sure, some percentage of people never get tired of the risk and build a life around climbing higher and doing more, with no f*cks to give about falling. But the rest of us, we temper our decisions and our ambitions based on the perceived pain of faltering. We fear a headstand or handstand, because we might fall. We fear a wave, because we might fall. We fear dreaming big, because we might fall.

The trip to Costa Rica was amazing for a lot of reasons, but this one about falling was the best. I love the idea of going back to intentionally approaching life like a toddler; of trying things and doing things, of getting better at things- without the fear of falling.

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