The Backflip Butterfly
I haven’t done a back flip for two years. Not the elected official variety, no, the callisthenic trampoline kind. I remember telling my self after I left school that I’ll always do back flips.
“Just kick up at me with both your feet.” The senior boy told me this simple, and in hindsight way too simple advice on how to do a back flip. A group of boys where standing at ground level around the edge of the trampoline pit waiting for their turn.
Mostly, their turn would consist of performing the tricks of previous boys, adding their own at the end. The games winner was the ‘last man standing’, doing all the tricks without fault. There was a handicap system, the tricks could be done contact or non-contact. The easer version was contact, landing on the tramp mat with the correct ‘contact’. These were one of the following; face (flat out, face down, arms extended), knees, by themselves or hands as well, flatback (opposite of face), roundback (self explanatory), seat (sitting down) and feet (only after a non feet contact). Non-contact was the above but included the trick in the air as well. They could be; forward or back summersaults, tucks, pikes (legs straight), twists or a combination of these. In the event of a tie the non-contact player won.
Sometime, between the games, we attempted tricks just for fun. This is what I doing, using the senior boys’ advice to attempt my first back flip. The simple advice worked. They were pleased when I accomplished my backflip. I was pleased, it was easy. Not the easy that swings that heavy weight off your ego, warping you to words and feats of excess. No, it was an easy easy. No weight, no expectation. There was just that general, warming feeling of accomplishment that came and went like a butterfly.
Later I learnt that this is how the self is sustained. Not by heroic acts but by being. Allowing the self to be. Self efficacy, I had explained to me, as having the bar of life at the right height. Too low and achieving involves no sense of achievement. And too high involves no accomplishment. Back flips are always the right height, and therefore challenge, for me.
As an added bonus, it turned out that each back flip was new. Each one involving the same trepidation it did that first time and still does. Interestingly, not the trepidation that comes forward to judge new things that I do in my life now. Waited with middle aged caution and the ‘wisdom’ of years. No, that youthful pause, not even long enough to draw a full breath yet alone contain one beat of the heart, but nevertheless weighty. The scales that toll this weight rarely get used and when they do my ego is always involved and the outcomes not good.
Several years later I was racing my friends, me on a borrowed pushbike, back to school from Telopea Park. I was on the foot path, they were on the road, both facing a red light at Manuka. I rode across the southbound lane, for they were stopped as well. I look up at the northbound lane as I neared the centre of the road, and seeing nothing in that youthful pause, continued, head down and racing.
In that eternity that was contained in the next few seconds this is what happened. I heard brakes, in the back of my mind I thought this isn’t good. The screeching increasing rapidly in volume, even after I was thrown from my bike. The first time I saw what was screeching was when I landed, 10 odd meters down the road, facing the car. It turned out that blind spots do exist.
Several things then happened at once. I thought, well, that explained the noise and bad feeling but more importantly I was preparing to spring out of the way of the oncoming vehicle like a surprised feline. The motion I noted as I landed was the jolt as the cars momentum was finally checked by the squealing tyres. I relaxed a little, deflating like an appeased cat, and allowed the rest of the world to catch up. This mainly consisted of the pain where my right calf had scrapped the bike pedal as I was ejected from my ride. Queuing for attention was the rest of my body telling me that although flying was fun, landing on bitumen was not.
At the time I couldn’t tell what state I was in, self or ego, when trepidation caused that youthful pause. In the latter case, it was when riding in the ambulance or some similar unusual, unreal moment, that I tried to string together how I’d got there. At the time most of this energy was used in excusing my actions. Only now am I more interested in the cause.
It’s in the unscripted moments, when the self displaces the ego, that I am most alive. For me, back flips are one of these occasions. That wondrous butterfly, that uses youthful pauses to enter your life, shine, and fade. So quick that your ego is left baffled, as it should be, for these moments are not to be honoured, just enjoyed.