Lessons from the Flying Trapeze

“The aerial art celebrates ‘the passing moment, beautiful beyond belief’. That is every man and woman’s story.” Sam Keen from “Learning to Fly”

This weekend my dear husband and I celebrated our fifth year anniversary in Sonoma and thought it would be fun to take another set of lessons on the flying trapeze from the Trapeze Pro, Marek Kaszuba. He teaches on a beautiful outdoor trapeze rig amidst towering eucalyptus trees at Sky Ranch, owned by author Sam Keen who wrote “Fire in the Belly” and “To Love and Be Loved”, which I count among some of my favorite books.

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If you’ve ever thought about taking a trapeze lesson, Marek is one of the best instructors to take your first flight with – he’s been catching people for over twenty-one years now, and is a master of the art. I took a trapeze lesson with Marek over ten years ago, just after Keen’s book “Learning to Fly: Trapeze-Reflections on Fear, Trust, And the Joy of Letting Go” inspired me to take my first lesson. I was living in London at the time, working a crazy double shift for a startup in the wireless space, and had just seen Angelina Jolie’s aerial ballet (or bungee ballet) from the Tomb Raider movie. I admit I was hooked on the idea of learning to do aerial ballet, and found out that I could take aerial classes at the UK’s premier circus school. l signed up for weekly lessons in static trapeze, then progressed to flying trapeze just before completing my overseas stint to come home to the Bay Area.

Upon returning home, I wanted to continue my lessons locally so decided to give Marek a try. Since I lived in San Francisco and didn’t want to drive up to Sonoma every week, I took occasional classes at the San Francisco Circus Center as well as Trapeze Arts in Berkeley. Both are excellent schools with solid instructors, but once you’ve flown in the warm outdoor air of beautiful Sonoma, there’s really no comparison with a concrete gymnasium.

I enjoy the flying trapeze for the same reasons I love watching Cirque du Soleil – each time I return, I am amazed by the incredible feats of daring and beauty that the human body can accomplish when given the right frame of mind and the proper inspiration. Here are some lessons I’ve learned from these fun but fleeting moments in the air:

  • Breathing is good. Putting attention on your breath takes your mind off your own mind, which is ultimately the root of all fear – fear of flying, fear of falling (off the platform), fear of letting go (of the bar when it’s time to be caught). Don’t overthink it. Breathe and do.
  • Timing is everything. On the trapeze, as in life, there is an optimal time to move or not move, to wait in the wings or jump off the platform. Hesitation or a missed beat can mean the difference between the perfect catch or a face plant in the net. The times of ‘non movement’ and ‘non doing’, such as the pauses before the release, or the time waiting on the platform, can be just as important as the moments of action and ‘doing’. It takes wisdom and patience to know when is the right time for which.
  • Trust is hard, but necessary. When I watch people get on the trapeze for the first time, I can see when their trust in the whole setup is shaky. You have to trust that the harness won’t break, that the net will prevent you from hitting the ground, that the catcher will actually hold on to you when you reach out your arms to him and let go of the bar. You also have to trust in your body- that it will not fail you as you climb the ladder or falter as you hook your knees to hang in midair. Without trust, the fear can be paralyzing, and some people never even make it off the ground to climb the ladder to at least try.
  • Letting go is liberating. Letting go and taking a risk helps the body come alive. Letting go of control and giving it over to someone else in whom you trust (the Catcher, your husband, the Force, [fill in the blank]…) is good for the soul. Control freaks and those with trust issues do not do very well on the flying trapeze, or life in general. Those who live in a constant state of fear of either dying, failing, or being embarrassed don’t take very many risks in life, and may never know what it feels like to be truly alive.
  • In order to let go, one must first feel safe to let go. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself and help yourself feel safe. Then let go.
  • Failure is a given for those who strive for ‘perfection’. But those who strive for improvement, learning, and fleeting moments of beauty and awareness of self – will always succeed.
  • Smiling always makes the experience easier, more fluid and full of grace. SMILE is one of Marek’s two rules. The other rule is….
  • Listen. Really listen. To someone other than yourself. It’s amazing how in our heads we are as a people. To really listen means to turn off our incessant audio commentary on everything – how we are feeling about this, or thinking about that, or judging ourselves, or worse judging other people. The noise in our heads can be deafening, if we really tuned in. To listen on the trapeze is essential for survival, and those who follow their own internal monologue are totally missing the point of being present and awake.
  • Do what you love, and let success flow from your joy. I really love the trapeze and throw myself into it completely for those short moments in time. They are fleeting, and I have no real output to show for it except for my calloused palms and the next day’s bruises and scrapes.
  • However, as Sam Keen says in “Learning to Fly”, “Our greatest gift to the world may be in sharing what gives us the greatest joy”, so hopefully this small sharing has inspired something new in you today.

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