The Parable of the Trapeze

I often reference the metaphor of trapezing when navigating through a major life transition. I’ve made it a living metaphor, having personal experience with what it’s like to leap from a platform 30 feet up in the air and feel my body hurtling toward another set of hands that I’m told are going to catch me.

“Legs off!” The instructor yells. What a terrifying and thrilling invitation.

Trapeze is quite an apt metaphor for transition, don’t you think? We are between “what was” and “what is yet to be.” It is a time in life when we feel the need to apprehend a future, but transition invites us to pause and hang out for awhile in the not knowing. The invitation calls us to discern – to “distinguish between things” – learning, I believe, what it means to live courageously whole and undivided lives. But that takes some time. It’s a natural process in life that doesn’t do well under demanding and rushed conditions.

Each of us gets to decide what to do in that space; it is a choice to say ‘no’ to the invitation. It saddens me greatly when I see a person say no or “not now.” And it inspires me deeply to see a brave soul let go and reach for a new story of wholeness, especially in a world where the choice to do so isn’t easy. Parker Palmer writes, “We are cursed with the blessing of consciousness and choice, a two-edged sword that both divides us and can help us become whole. But choosing wholeness, which sounds like a good thing, turns out to be risky business, making us vulnerable in ways we would prefer to avoid.”

The choice to transition is risky business, for sure. But the riskier choice is to cling desperately to the old bar, afraid to let your legs slip off. We just weren’t meant to live in small ways. Below I share with you the Parable of the Trapeze by Danaan Parry. As you stare down the space of “in-between” in your life, may you accept it’s thrilling and terrifying invitation to pursue a more wholehearted life.

Turning the Fear Transformation into the Transformation of Fear

By Danaan Parry

Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings. I’m either hanging on to a trapeze bar swinging along or, for a few moments in my life, I’m hurtling across space in between trapeze bars.

Most of the time, I spend my life hanging on for dear life to my trapeze-bar-of-the-moment. It carries me along at a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I’m in control of my life.

I know most of the right questions and even some of the answers.

But every once in a while as I’m merrily (or even not-so-merrily) swinging along, I look out ahead of me into the distance and what do I see? I see another trapeze bar swinging toward me. It’s empty and I know, in that place in me that knows, that this new trapeze bar has my name on it. It is my next step, my growth, my aliveness coming to get me. In my heart of hearts I know that, for me to grow, I must release my grip on this present, well-known bar and move to the new one.

Each time it happens to me I hope (no, I pray) that I won’t have to let go of my old bar completely before I grab the new one. But in my knowing place, I know that I must totally release my grasp on my old bar and, for some moment in time, I must hurtle across space before I can grab onto the new bar.

Each time, I am filled with terror. It doesn’t matter that in all my previous hurtles across the void of unknowing I have always made it. I am each time afraid that I will miss, that I will be crushed on unseen rocks in the bottomless chasm between bars. I do it anyway. Perhaps this is the essence of what the mystics call the faith experience. No guarantees, no net, no insurance policy, but you do it anyway because somehow to keep hanging on to that old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives. So, for an eternity that can last a microsecond or a thousand lifetimes, I soar across the dark void of “the past is gone, the future is not yet here.”

It’s called “transition.” I have come to believe that this transition is the only place that real change occurs. I mean real change, not the pseudo-change that only lasts until the next time my old buttons get punched.

I have noticed that, in our culture, this transition zone is looked upon as a “no-thing,” a noplace between places. Sure, the old trapeze bar was real, and that new one coming toward me, I hope that’s real, too. But the void in between? Is that just a scary, confusing, disorienting nowhere that must be gotten through as fast and as unconsciously as possible?

NO! What a wasted opportunity that would be. I have a sneaking suspicion that the transition zone is the only real thing and the bars are illusions we dream up to avoid the void where the real change, the real growth, occurs for us. Whether or not my hunch is true, it remains that the transition zones in our lives are incredibly rich places. They should be honored, even savored. Yes, with all the pain and fear and feelings of being out of control that can (but not necessarily) accompany transitions, they are still the most alive, most growth-filled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives.article continues after advertisement

We cannot discover new oceans unless we have the courage to lose sight of the shore. – Anonymous     

So, transformation of fear may have nothing to do with making fear go away, but rather with giving ourselves permission to “hang out” in the transition between trapezes. Transforming our need to grab that new bar, any bar, is allowing ourselves to dwell in the only place where change really happens. It can be terrifying. It can also be enlightening in the true sense of the word. Hurtling through the void, we just may learn how to fly. 

From the book Warriors of the Heart by Danaan Parry. 

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