stepping back

I once attended a 2-day workshop on leadership, sponsored by one of our major funders.  Leadership, the expert consultants told us, is (largely) about helping people manage loss.  It felt rather deflating at first.  What about being inspirational, powerful, visionary, bold…? But by the end of the second day, I understood what they meant, and the lesson proved far more useful than if we’d been asked to articulate the challenges of getting others to understand our visions, or compare our motivational styles.  Loss is the necessary and inevitable part of change that we want to bypass.

Depending on our dispositions, and timing – that universal, unpredictable factor we can never fully plan for - we can find it equally as hard to dive into something new, different, unknown as to pull back from something familiar, fulfilling, stable.  Which seems scarier may depend on numerous factors, as well as on whether you gravitate towards caution and practicality or spontaneity and risk. 

The yoga studio I practiced at for about 5 years is closing Saturday.  I’d already “left” it by switching to another studio over a year ago. But knowing that Vira is closing brought me back there a couple times recently.  The first time I went in recently, it was like coming home.  The museum-like quiet of the big, high ceilinged studio, the creak of the polyuerthaned wooden floorboards under bare feet, the spacious cocoon.  Remnants of the physical risks I took, and didn’t take, through countless classes and workshops on inversions, arm balances and backbends lingered there, as if the space was holding them for me. 

After practicing for over a decade, at times really vigorously, I’m still terrified of falling – out of handstand, or any inversion that puts me upside down and at risk of falling backward.  I’ve practiced them thousands and thousands of times.  I have the strength, alignment and ability to balance that should allow me to nail it.  (to have nailed it years ago.)  But it still eludes me – largely because of my fear.  I’ve reached the point of being okay with this fear.  Maybe I’ll break past it someday, maybe not.  I think it’s more the awareness of what protects us, what inhibits us from breaking through to something we really ought to dive into, what expresses who we are at our core without succumbing to all the voices outside telling us who and what we “should” do or be, that’s what yoga is, really. 

Most of what we learn about ourselves and makes us grow comes through relationship(s) with others.  I’ve never had much of a self/home yoga practice.  I crave a space in which a teacher is directing me (and I don’t have to make any decisions at all), and in which I’m surrounded by others similarly exploring, pushing on, and retreating from self-imposed and other boundaries.  So while the relationships I made at Vira may have already organically morphed, drifted, some faded away completely, the closing of the space brings a more final sense of loss.  What was, can never be had again.  How can deep appreciation sit next to sadness so compatibly?

A couple of exalt’s key staff have just left the organization to pursue their creative work full time.  It is a huge loss for the organization, for us as a staff, and for the hundreds of young people whose lives they deeply impacted over the years.  And yet, they are demonstrating, living, the ongoing growth we try to teach our students to embrace for themselves.  The change is both incredibly beautiful and supremely sad, all at once in the messy mélange of what we who stay behind are left to feel.  We not only have to manage our own sense of loss, we have to help young people who are accustomed to too much loss and inconsistency, see that change, and thus loss, has untold upsides there for the seizing if we put our minds to it.  So new people will come in, and infuse exaltwith new kinds of energy, enthusiasm, ideas, passion.  These never supplant the work or spirit of those that came before, they build on them. 

Sometimes it takes more courage to end something - a job, a relationship, a place, a behavior - than to begin something.  To pull back, rather than dive in, or continue swimming in the same direction.  At exalt, we are asking our students to do this on multiple levels all the time.  So we, as leaders, need to be able to model this adaptivity with confidence, transparency and optimism.  I believe, when done well, it’s called grace.  

Executive Director

Executive Director