New Lesson Learned on the Flying Trapeze

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Me catching Hans in Oakland

Me catching Hans in Oakland

In taking up flying trapeze as a hobby, the most humbling aspect for me is to be continually confronted with how slow a learner I am. It was nearly eight years in between my last trapeze class in Oakland and my first one in New York. Virtually everything about my life is different, and yet my mistakes as a flyer are essentially the same.

Last week, after catching my half-turn, my back pocket trick, for about the seven millionth time, my instructor Hal explained, for the seven millionth time, how my trick could have been better. He told me that instead of presenting my hands to the catcher so the catcher can catch me, I fling myself at the catcher, grasping for him. I grab the catcher before he has a chance to catch me.

I do this out of fear. I want so badly—too badly—to be caught. Catching is the funnest part of trapeze. Also, not catching is, in my mind, a failure. So driven by fear of failure, fear of not getting what I want (a catch), fear of leaving trapeze class without my trapeze high, I hurl myself at the catcher. The result is generally the same. Hans in Oakland and now Evan in New York will take my trick despite my bad habits. But the catch is never smooth, never beautiful, never lives up to its full potential.

As in trapeze, so in life—this is often the case for me. After class last week I realized that what I do with the catcher is what I do with life. I hurl myself here and there, grasping, desperate to get my way. And even when it seems to work—even when I wind up with whatever it was that I wanted by forcing the situation—it never feels quite right. Fear and panic do not make for joyous conditions.

Luckily, in trapeze I get do-overs every week. That’s not always true in life here on the ground. When I’m trapped by my own childishness I’m unable to appreciate the real gift of flying trapeze—a somatic therapy that helps me shine light on my shadow, a place to practice changing behaviors that do not serve. A chance, every week, to have a blast, but also to initiate real change that will lead to a freer, fuller life.


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