One morning this September in Prospect Park, I saw a couple running, connected at the waist by a short nylon leash. From 50 yards away it looked strange, but as they approached, I realized the man was blind. Suddenly their coordinated stride took on a poignancy I hadn’t expected. I’m well aware of the foolishness of assuming things about strangers, yet I couldn’t help but feel moved by their determination to do something together that seemed so difficult to pull off. Would I have the courage to be either of the people in that arrangement?
Lately I’ve been looking for help with difficulties and uncertainties, whether they are chosen, bestowed, or inherited. Not all challenges are bad of course, sometimes they just come from change: my twins have started high school; the president might be impeached. Given that changes are the only constant, I have been searching for ways to stretch my capacity for dealing with them.
This summer I began holding a yoga block over my head for nine minutes every day. I tried this tiny, seemingly pointless, activity after hearing about it at a dinner party. Two of the guests were talking about having done it in a yoga class. I sat there listening, thinking, “That seems painful.” Still, I wanted to try it, just to see if I could. Turns out, it was as bad as it sounds! My arms burned and shook. I wanted badly to throw the block and stop, but I kept at it.
I’m not much of an athlete. I have never tried to run a marathon. Maybe if I had, it wouldn’t have taken me four decades to learn that it feels good to push past what you assume you’re capable of. All I know is that the pure, sweet relief of putting that block down after nine minutes made me feel high. So I did it again. And again.
This voluntary endurance test has had the miraculous effect of making other small discomforts easier to endure. During a recent seven-hour flight, in which I was stuck in the middle seat at the back of the plane with no internet or television, I closed my eyes and imagined the flight as an extended “block over my head.” It helped in the moment, but it also helped me complain about it less after the fact and enjoy the release of being off the plane more.
There are endless things going on in the world that are worth being upset over, and I know that a long-distance flight is not a true hardship. But momentary inconveniences can truly overwhelm even the calmest among us. This small intervention has become a kind of rallying call in my head. I have even had the thought that life is just one big “block over my head” — which sounds bleak, but I don’t mean it that way at all. I never cease to be amazed at the sudden plot twists that adulthood throws at me. People I love move away, illness strikes out of nowhere, fortunes change. We all want assurances about the future, and the truth is, there are none. We can’t control anything but our reactions to what happens around us.
The older I get, the more I recognize the wisdom of doing things that make me uncomfortable, and change is a big part of that. Forcing small changes in any process helps shake away sedentary thoughts and ingrained assumptions. It helps prepare me for big changes when they come. Since I saw the runners in the park, I’ve been imagining that sometimes I am the one leading and sometimes I’m the one needing to be led. Maybe I’m capable of more than I thought. Maybe we all are.