Friday, January 1, 2016

Bon Courage

A reflection upon entering the new year...

A few years ago in yoga class, I did my first ever forearm handstand.  As I continue to practice this pose, I keep learning from it.  I noticed a while back that -- while I can do the pose in the center of a room with no supports, staying inverted and upright for maybe a minute -- if I do the pose near a wall, I can easily stay up at least twice as long.  Even though I'm not touching the wall, the promise of support in the event I would need it serves to remove the quiet fear I feel when I start to fatigue and allows me to resist preemptively coming out of the pose.  I'm willing to challenge myself a little longer, realizing that I'm capable and it's the fear holding me back.

Fear can be a real mindf*ck.

I'm in my third year of being a high school principal in the Bronx.  To put it mildly, the past three months have not been easy.  (The past three years have not been easy, but who's counting?)  To say that this job is the most difficult thing I've ever attempted to do is such a massive understatement, it makes me chuckle a little as I type it.  I figured the first couple years would sort of be like bootcamp and what else could I expect except to get a little pummeled.  But I was really hoping that I'd start to feel at least slightly more competent in my third year.  Turns out, nope.  Still getting pummeled.

The work is difficult, yes.  But at times what compounds the difficulty is my own fear.  I fear that I'll fail, that I won't be able to provide well enough for the kids or the staff.  I fear that I won't prevent terrible situations that could have been prevented.  I fear that people, inside my school and outside of it, will think I am not a good leader, that I don't have the ability to lead, that I have no business being there as principal.  And it's the fear that's paralyzing.  Not the work.  The work is incredibly challenging, but it's doable.  The fear is the beast.

And yet it's real.  This beast is tangible and palpable.  I can feel it pounce and hold me down.  I feel it crawling over my skin.  It seeps inside and courses through my veins at times.

I'm learning to identify the beast, to name it, to take away some of its power.  Because I'm learning that I cannot do the work well with it clinging to me.  It's so heavy and takes so much of my energy that would be better spent elsewhere.  On supporting the kids and developing the school.  This sort of courage is not simple, though.

Yoga instructors often set a theme for classes.  A while back I attended a class where the instructor focused on heart-opening poses.  These are poses that expose your chest and heart and demand a certain level of courage and vulnerability because you're open and vulnerable (wheel pose, for example).  The instructor began the class by discussing the word "courage," with its root word cœur, which is French for "heart."  He talked about how heart-opening poses make us vulnerable and require courage.  He encouraged us (gave us heart), to acknowledge the fear that would come up for us in these poses and to move through the fear by opening ourselves to the vulnerability by putting our hearts -- both physically and spiritually -- forward.

It seems to me that this is a good lesson, and one worth reconsidering as I move into 2016.  The fear will continue to be there, but as I continue to learn and grow, to push and breathe, I remind myself that I can't make it through if I'm curled in on top of myself in an effort of self-protection.  Instead, I can acknowledge the fear, without judgment, and face the work heart-first.  

With this in mind, I wish you (and me!) bon courage and a happy new year!