A Lesson from the Parable of the Trapeze

Two trapeze artists

I would like to highlight on transitions. We may have to make a change in one or more areas of our life as a result of our awakening of our self-understanding. This call pushes us to move towards the next stage, pillar, step or milestone. Moving from one stage to another is quite an arduous task and for some, an exhausting one. This inspiring piece by Danaan Perry has been a source of succor for me during the grueling ‘hang-in there’:

Turning the Fear of 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.

~ Danaan Parry

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.

The following link of a YouTube video (The Parable of The Trapeze) shows the trapeze artistes following their instincts during performance. The clip is from the movie Trapeze (1956), directed by Carol Reed, starring Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis and Gina Lollobrigida. Voice-over and music in the YT video: Fran McKendree. Excerpt: From the book: Warriors of the Heart by Danaan Parry.

Trapeze (1956)

Change is complex and challenging. Keeping the trapeze artiste as context, one has to let go of the first bar and take the leap of faith into a void in order to reach the second bar (hopefully). This liminal feeling of suspension in mid-air is both powerful and exacting.

It is alright not to know what lies next. Have the courage to be in the unknown, to be between trapeze bars. These are places where we grow.