Back to You: Knowing How to Take the Bounce
by Jennifer Paros
‘What will they think of me?’ must be put aside for bliss.
~ Joseph Campbell
In my art school days, I decided to take a sculpture class. I had no desire to take it, but had heard that students should be exposed to all media. So, I signed up. It started out and ended up a bad fit, which included a strained relationship with my professor. My clarity and confidence went out the window. When I finally completed something, his critique was fair enough, but also brutally unconstructive. Towards the end of the class, my marbles had pretty much rolled away. I wasn’t pleasing the teacher and I wasn’t pleasing me. I had gotten so outside myself, lost in what I should do and in the thought that I didn’t know anything, that I had to retreat. So I went back to me. I backed off on my judgment of the class, the teacher, and myself, and made a final project (with only my own consent) that was fun and easy. I managed to salvage my grade and my sanity – but it had taken months of looking outside myself and feeling awful before I finally returned home.
Though it seems that life is a game of doing, more significantly, life is a game of thinking. More than actions, situations, or people, our thinking is what torments or saves us, misleads, or guides us perfectly. There is little as un-grounding as focusing on what others think of us; and the longer we persist in this outside-in view, the worse we feel. Even the positive review (if you’re a writer/artist/creator type) can become grounds for mental instability. Though it is desired validation, it can insidiously link our good feeling about ourselves to external response. So, if we buy in to the idea of causation, the praise can instigate a cycle of self-doubt once the glow of approval has worn off (give it a day).
Whatever mental habit we practice develops momentum. So whether we look outward and find “good” that tells us how wonderful we are or “bad” that tells us we’re not up to speed – we’re still looking outward. And that habit of focus ultimately creates instability and a sense of vulnerability that are unnecessary.
We are not inherently vulnerable, nor do we have to embrace the notion of vulnerability to be authentic. Vulnerability is a quality of self-image based on the assumption of inherent fragility rather than inherent resilience. It is a thought about ourselves, not indicative of what or who we really are.
In many ways, the insult is a greater gift than the compliment. When receiving criticism, if we don’t want to be hurt, we are forced to turn inward and find love and approval there rather than looking outside ourselves. Inside us is where stability and resilience actually lie; these are the grounds that grow authentic confidence. And when we return to ourselves, we’re now in a position to take the bounce off of what once felt difficult, and move forward.
The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffering.
~ Ben Okri
In the nature series, Life, I recently learned about the pebble toad. The pebbly textured amphibian makes his way up some steep rocks. His predator – a pebble-toad-eating tarantula – approaches. Near the top of the cliff, suddenly aware of the danger, the pebble toad tightens his muscles and turns himself into a “rubber ball”, bouncing the long way down to safety. The narrator explains that the toad is so light that the bouncing doesn’t hurt at all.
Being light is an art worth cultivating and part of knowing how to take a bounce.
Unlike the pebble toad, our ability to take the bounce doesn’t come from tightening our position, but from loosening it. When we go light on judgment, we release ourselves from bondage to the subject. For us, contracting is what causes the pain; it is our rigidity that makes us feel as if we’re breaking or breakable – nothing more. We are changing, resilient creatures made to take the bounce; we’re made for challenge, built for change. When we don’t believe in our resilience, we feel vulnerable.
Taking the bounce is a big part of how we move forward. And like the pebble toad, we can use circumstances to bring out our bounce. We don’t have to suffer before returning to our inherent resilience and ourselves; we can go light on judging the outside to free ourselves on the inside.
That is the best mess.
Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle. Please visit her website at www.jenniferparos.com.