😝 Life at the Center: Falling Flat on my Face 😝 Vol. 88, October 2020

The right to err, which means the freedom to try experiments,

is the universal condition of all progress.

– M. K. Gandhi

I have literally fallen flat on my face quite a few times. Three times that I recall happened within a minute of each other, and could have been particularly ego-bruising.  Looking back, I can see that I was like a little bird experimenting with flight – and I could only do it by falling out of the nest quite a few times.

Oh my gosh, if I could have a nickel for every mistake I’ve made….

During a gymnastics meet in high school, I was competing in my favorite event: Free Exercise, aka Free-Ex.  Each gymnast got about 90 seconds to show their virtuosity as a tumbler and dancer.  Nowadays, gymnasts compete on beautifully sprung floors that are like heaven to move on. Back then, if we were in a really good facility, we had a special flat, square Free-Ex mat on the floor.

This meet was held in a less-affluent public high-school in Oakland, California, which had only enough folding tumbling mats to cover half of the regulation-size square. Masking tape on the edges of the gym’s basketball court floor marked out the other half of the square.

All of our most difficult, highest scoring tumbling runs were choreographed to go from corner to corner, so that we could get a running start for momentum. I was going to have to cross between the wood floor and the matted floor.

So there I am, waiting for my music to begin, in one wood-floor corner of the square. My grand entry music starts, and I take off at full speed across the diagonal to perform my most dramatic tumbling sequence while my body is still fresh. It all looks quite doable… I mean, the edge of the mat I have to go up and over is ‘only’ an inch high. But that inch turns out to be a significant bump in my highly practiced sequence. My toe hits the edge wrong, and instead of performing my round-off, back handspring, back flip.. I go sprawling across the mat.

OK, not unaccustomed to adversity, I pick myself back up, regain my footing and my place in the music and proceed with my routine. I had not come to the end of my trials, however. I had two more long tumbling sequences to perform, tumbling between the mat and wood floor… And I went SPLAT both times. So humiliating! I nevertheless finished my routine and did my customary bow to the judges before leaving the Free-Ex square.

As I say, this was not my first gymnastics mishap. Nor was it my last.

At my first-ever gymnastics meet, I had performed a balance beam routine. I fell off the beam 3 times and scored a 1.4 out of 10 possible points!  Yes, one point four out of a possible ten. Here I am, accustomed to getting gold stars and smiley faces and 100%s on all my school work, and I’ve just earned myself an abysmal sub ‘F’ score in my first gymnastics competition.

“That was wonderful!” my assistant coach exclaims as she hugs me. “I’m so proud of you! The judges are scoring really hard today!”

And that encouragement launched me onto my decade-long gymnastics endeavor, in which I was voted team captain of both my high school and university teams.  But that didn’t keep me from falling… and falling.

Firmness is the power of taking up something and sticking to it through thick and thin. It is more or less inherent in all things; otherwise the world could not subsist for a single moment.
 M. K. Gandhi

I’m grateful to my parents who never made me feel as if I were failing when I was falling! And – strange to say – I am also grateful to my teenage self for picking herself up again and again. It was just part of the gymnastics journey. As my skills got better and better, I had my fair share of top scoring competitions, but what I really loved was learning how to fly through the air, just as I had dreamed of doing as a little girl. Most of all, I now appreciate the character-building aspects of my gymnastics experience. I remember times of dangling, sometimes beneath the balance beam, sometimes beneath the uneven parallel bars after missing one of my tricks. I probably resembled a sloth in a leotard, hanging under a branch and scrambling to get back up on top. Other gymnasts accepted their falls more gracefully. Not me. Even though I had already lost the point on the judges’ scorepads, I doggedly refused to touch the ground before I finished my routine and saluted the judges. Hah! I must have looked ridiculous!

So many mistakes and falling …. That all seemed necessary for so much learning and progress!

All progress is gained through mistakes and their rectification.

– M. K. Gandhi

We’ve all been in uncharted territory for the past half year with the pandemic. Here in America, at least, we’re about to enter full terra incognita (land of the unknown) with this year’s election season and its consequences. I’m gearing up for it!As I got older, and I learned about Gandhi, I came to realize how much value there is to failing! Gandhi’s autobiography, in fact, is called “My Experiments with Truth”, as if his whole life was one big laboratory. Reading that book taught me that if we never try something challenging, we minimize our chance at failure, but what valuable life-lessons come from our “failed” experiments!  As Thomas Alva Edison wrote about his efforts to invent the light bulb:  “I haven’t failed — I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Speaking of experiments, I really love the story below about THE LADY WHO KEEPS REINVENTING HERSELF! Please do make sure to open it.

If one is dedicated to not only a Gandhian life of experimentation, but also a life dedicated to creating a world around ourselves of greater harmony and understanding with our fellow human beings, we don’t need to wait for ideal circumstances to put these to the test. In fact, the greater the challenges, the greeter the need for our efforts There’s not a ‘snowball’s chance in hell’ of our complete success. Yet I know of no endeavor more worthwhile!

I look forward to falling flat on my face quite a few more times in the attempt.

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