The One Thing A Flamingo Can Help You Understand About Emotions

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Last year I ruptured my right Achilles tendon. Due to the cumulative hours I spent standing on one leg whilst wearing a bright pink cast on the other, I decided to refer to this as my Flamingo Season. I flamingo-ed in the kitchen. I flamingo-ed in the laundry room. I flamingo-ed in the bathroom.

To be honest, it was more of a one-legged wobble than it was a strong, steady, flamingo stand. As I continued to teeter through time and tendon healing, I did my best to hold onto two things: One, anything resembling a countertop or sturdy surface and, two, years of yogic wisdom I have learned from hundreds of hours on my mat that encouraged me to sway my way through various challenging postures.

A flamingo that holds itself too taut and too rigid has an increased chance of falling over should a gust of wind blow through the lagoon. A flamingo that has learned to bend with the breeze is likely to stay upright even upon a singular avian foot.

Isn’t it interesting, I thought after allowing yet another current of emotion to move through me (likely anger or sadness), how we’re taught it’s okay to oscillate inside of our physical practices, but mentally and emotionally we’re encouraged to aim for a steady state?

I managed to stay upright through the duration of my recovery with the help of countertops and teachings from yoga (as well as crutches and a trusty knee scooter). But upright and upbeat are very different things. This journey, like all healing quests, has not been without its mental and emotional ups and downs, a type of undulation that our achievement-oriented society isn’t terribly comfortable with but would do well to embrace it.

The Illusion of Being Unflappable

Most of what I was taught during my young adulthood involved developing mental resolve and sweeping potentially turbulent emotions under the rug.

“Be rational, be sensible, be level-headed,” I was told. “This isn’t anything to cry about. Get a hold of yourself,” was the recurring message from teachers, parents, and softball coaches.

It’s taken years for me to undo that way of thinking, to come to a place where I value mental and emotional fluidity as much as physical flexibility, to understand flamingo strength.

I know I’m not the only one who experienced messages about remaining stoic and unshakeable no matter what. Leaning toward a steady state is a pattern I’ve seen with consistency in my years as a life coach and intuitive mentor.

Many of my clients could be sorted into two common I’m-stuck-at-a-steady-state categories. The first is folks who tell me they are “fine.” These are people who report having pretty good lives but also feel as though some kind of meaning or purpose is lacking. “I’m not sad,” they say. “And I’m not an angry person. I just sort of . . . well, there has to be more than this, right? Oh, and I’m tired a lot. You should know that I’m tired . . . A LOT.”

The second group of people report being “not fine.” This group usually talks about how they’d like to be happy. They’d like to replace their current steady state for one of consistent contentment.

“Life feels hard,” they might say. “My world feels smaller than I’d like and I’m sad a lot of the time. I’m ready for a change but I’m also exhausted and not sure I have the energy to change?”

I offer the same response to them all because I believe it’s the only option we have. “It sounds like you’re searching for aliveness,” I say. “For the experience of being fully alive.”

Both groups nod. Often there are tears.

Then I ask if it’s possible they’re tired because they’ve been trying to control something that is, at its essence, dynamic. It takes a lot of energy to steady our life force at “happy”and ask it to sit still, and, in the long run, I’m not convinced we’re capable of that.

More nodding. Often there are more tears. And then the work begins.

Aliveness is not a steady state. We are not going to move from generally happy to ceaseless rapture without touching things like grief and rage along the way. We are not a light switch that can instantly replace sadness with happiness and live forevermore in a steady stream of bliss.

Any good flamingo knows they mustn’t become too attached to the singular “happy” leg they stand on. (Plus, it’s exhausting to support oneself in life using a singular leg. Believe me, I know.)

The emotional destination is not the goal. The goal is to live as flamboyance. We must learn to walk, at a faltering pace, in a circuitous and seemingly nonsensical route. Somehow the walk—pink casts or otherwise—leads us toward two different places at once. It wakes us, by way of its wobble, to the beauty tucked inside a pair of wings that are constantly moving in the contraction and expansion that is life.

Aliveness is an oscillation. It is a trembling. It is a back-and-forth, ebb-and-flow. It is a pulse— pounding and racing and skipping a beat. It is the wavering tone of our voices as we hear the sound of our truth. It is a flickering in our bellies, a pang, a goosebump, a sigh. It is allowing as much space for rapture as rage and offering as much companionship to gladness as we do grief.

The goal is to feel how fast everything is moving inside and around us. What we have to do is allow ourselves to be moved from one place to another. Finding and holding the edges of our mental and emotional comfort zones adds up to more of what we’re yearning for, not less.

May our time here, like our time on the mat, be a practice aimed at becoming more, not less, moveable—physically, mentally, emotionally, and beyond.

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