Katie Vessel uses the metaphor of falling to develop a philosophy of resilience.
I think we have all had those times in life where things are moving along rather swimmingly, but then all of a sudden we find ourselves practically lying on the ground, dumbstruck.
This happens both literally and figuratively, and for the most part, the differences between the two are practically irrelevant.
This happened to me this past week. I was really struggling with something over the course of the first few days, but somehow I fully lost my balance and by the time Friday night came along I was acting in ways that were downright shameful—mainly out of sheer frustration.
I fell and I fell hard.
It was one of those falls where, if you’re moving too quickly you practically land in a skid and rise up to look at both the heels of your hands and knees and are left brushing embedded gravel out of your skin. This may sound familiar to you.
Thinking back on how many times this has happened, despite the circumstances being seemingly different, I do see that there are similar themes and patterns in almost every one of my epic stumbles.
I also realize that while we all trip up on occasion, there if often more choice than we may realize in not only how we go down, how we respond while we are on the ground, and perhaps most importantly how we recover from one of these blunders.
So I have decided to dissect the typical “fall” into three separate parts, to determine not only how we can perhaps prevent certain stumbles, but also to learn how we can gain the most out of every one of these experiences.
Phase 1: We Trip
You’re walking along and you feel your foot catch on something.
In an instant your nervous system reacts and it seems as if seconds become minutes. It may feel as if you are stumbling in slow motion for an extraordinary amount of time.
But, during this time it can also feel as if we have a heightened sense of awareness. We may even think to ourselves, “I’m falling—am I really falling? Yes, I am falling.” or “Is there anything I can grab onto?”
During this phase, there is always a chance that we can recover fully without going down completely. If we have a certain level of awareness early, and if we can get our feet under ourselves quickly enough, we can possibly regain our balance.
If this does not happen though, we instinctively do whatever we need to do to get our hands to the ground or we do whatever we can to protect ourselves.
Phase 2: We are down
Sometimes the events of Phase 1 move so quickly that we don’t even know what hit us.
All of a sudden we are on some cold hard pavement with knees, hands or elbows that likely won’t feel the full physical effects of the impact until we have recovered from the shock, loss of pride and utter embarrassment.
We may even stay down for seconds, which still feel like minutes as time is still trudging along. The perception of time being longer in Phase 1 can be of benefit to us, but in Phase 2 we usually do not see this as being the case.
It is during Phase 2 that we realize what has happened.
We cannot escape the awareness of what has just occurred and it is also during this time that we plan, if even for the briefest of moments, how we proceed into the next phase without spending any more time than necessary in this position.
Phase 3: We Recover
If you are like me, we have likely had those falls where we quickly get up and pretend like absolutely nothing has happened. Bouncing back up as fast as humanly possible, we move forward without addressing it, trying to maintain as much composure as we can.
We don’t want to address it, and we certainly do not want anyone else addressing it either.
Of course, this is our choice.
After all, we are not necessarily obligated to do anything more than this.
But, it may be wiser and arguably even more responsible to choose to do things differently.
It may be a good idea to pause and even look back to see what it was that we tripped up on—to really look at it and try to determine what happened.
Was there a crack in the pavement? If so, a mental note would be helpful so that I don’t trip over the same thing again the next time around.
Was anyone else hurt? Did I maybe even reach out and take someone else down with me? If so, I need to be aware of this, so that I can either help them back up or apologize appropriately for doing so.
Also, by being careful to not assess blame, we can look back on what happened and be accountable for our own role. Was I texting?
Was I distracted to the degree that I was not watching closely enough where I was going at this particular moment?
If we are capable of swallowing a little bit—or maybe even a lot of pride, we can learn from every one of these experiences.
Even while we are on the ground, if we can get over the blatant hit to our ego, we have in what seem like the moments which drag on a crucial opportunity for both awareness, presence and clarity.
But again, it is our choice.
We may not fall down gracefully, but we can be full of grace for ourselves. This not only rings true for our own struggles, but we can also choose to have grace for others when we see them falling as well. After all, I believe that to see someone else fall and to not respond compassionately to them is just as bad if not worse than falling hard ourselves.
We can rise like a champ and after brushing that gravel from both our bruised body and ego, choose to nurture our wounds, possibly the wounds of others we hurt in the process, and even minimize both scarring and further falls of this nature.
We can walk away from these experiences changed—not ashamed of our wounds and maybe even scars, but rather seeing them as proof of what we have overcome.
Photo—Alyssa L. Miller/Flickr