Despite having flipped what must be thousands of pancakes in my lifetime, there is still a moment when my stomach clenches just prior to turning the spatula. It’s funny because nothing all that awful happens when I misfire on a pancake flip. Perhaps the pancake could land on its neighbor or, a little worse, it could land on the edge of the griddle. Experience has shown that, while the resulting pancake isn’t pretty, if I just let it cook in either of these positions I still end up with a perfectly edible product.
So what’s with the little flare of anxiety?
The moment I flip a pancake requires a leap of faith. Up until that moment, I am completely in control of the process. When I ladle the batter onto the griddle I can precisely choose its placement and I can carefully manage the quantity of batter and, thus, the size of the pancake. Whether I’m adding blueberries or chocolate chips, I can artfully arrange these into each cake. When I’m removing the pancakes to the serving platter I can neatly arrange them in three even stacks – one for each child.
Flipping the pancake to cook the other side, however, makes me feel just a little out of control. No matter how carefully I set things up – waiting until just the right moment when the batter is bubbling, watching the edges for the exact instant they start to look done, and lining up the angle of the spatula – the moment of the flip itself requires me to let go and trust that things will work out. It’s that moment of relinquishing control – when the half-cooked pancake is flipping in the air and dropping back to the griddle with no help from me – that makes my stomach clench a tiny bit.
Here’s the thing, though: if I succumb to that little clenched feeling by hesitating even a bit, a misfired pancake is guaranteed. Thousands of pancakes have taught me to breathe through that instant of anxiety and just go with it. After so much practice, more often than not, everything works out just fine.
You don’t have to make pancakes every day to get regular practice letting go. Yoga offers plenty of opportunities. I remember the first time I conquered one in particular. It was in the transition out of a posture called Reclining Wide Angle Pose (Supta Konasana). In this posture, you lie on your back and roll yourself up onto your shoulders, legs in a “V,” and reach your toes for the floor behind your head. Once in place, you reach up and clasp your toes. For most people, though this sounds complicated, getting into the posture is not an issue. It’s leaving the pose that requires a little leap of faith.
First, you must roll up to balance on your bottom without releasing your grip on your toes. Again, this tends to be a surmountable challenge. It’s the next step that can cause your stomach to clench. From your balanced position, you must drop your legs – still straight, still in a “V” and still holding your toes – to the floor. For most people it’s the landing that is scary. While a strong core can slow your descent a bit, the fear of smashing your heels into the floor causes some anxiety. For me, with my tight, long legs, it seemed preposterous to even try that landing in such an extended position.
The day I finally tried it, I had quite the inner narrative going. It actually started in the preceding posture – a seated wide legged forward fold called Upavista Konasana. While in it, I pointed out to myself that none of my muscles felt stretched to breaking point. As I moved through the next pose, I again deliberately pointed out to myself that my legs felt perfectly fine as I perched on my bottom in a “V” while holding my toes. Then my inner “coach” got really busy. I reasoned that if my legs were fine up and down, then they would also be fine along the way from up to down. After all, nothing would really change except their distance from the floor.
While this reasoning made perfect sense to the thinking part of my mind, it didn’t fully assuage my clenched stomach. No matter how hard I tried to keep my legs straight on the way down, my knees kept reflexively bending. It took me many weeks of practicing to manage to keep my legs straight on the way down. Nonetheless, when I finally did it, I was thrilled! Even though this wasn’t by any means a peaceful yoga pose for me – my inner coach actually had to holler over all the doubts and worries in my mind – I felt triumphant to have overcome my anxieties.
Years (and probably thousands of tries) later, this landing no longer causes a moment of anxiety for me. Luckily for me, though, there are plenty of other postures that do. Yes, luckily. Almost every time I unroll my mat I have the chance to take a leap of faith. Almost every time I practice yoga I also get to practice letting go of control and trusting that everything is going to work out just fine. Almost every time, it does. And even when it doesn’t, it’s fine. I can still forge ahead. I can sometimes even salvage the posture. And I always learn something – something to do next time or something NOT to do next time.
The tiny frisson of anxiety that comes from flipping pancakes or from practicing a yoga posture is nothing compared to other moments in life that require us to take leaps of faith. Leaving one job to start another, sending your son off to a new school, walking into a party where you know only the hosts, or waving as your daughter backs the car out of the driveway on her own for the very first time require you to let go and hope for the best. And, more often than not, everything works out just fine. Better yet, the more you practice, the more you discover that, just as on the griddle and on the yoga mat, even your misfires usually result in a perfectly adequate result.
Take that leap!