An eagle soars with an elegance that, from below, looks flawlessly easy. But in reality, he is propelling his entire body with whiplash inertia as his thirty-six inch frame carries his jack sized wingspan of six and a half feet through the air. The sheer power of flexing and bending to reach for those clouds is that of a pressure washer. It might look easy, but it is actually extremely technical and takes a tremendous amount of power.
We often think to have that sort of power, there must be a lot of pain involved. We don’t like pain, so in an effort to avoid pain, we oftentimes create more pain to avoid the assumptive pain about to hit our bodies. When we avoid pain, we flex more, contort harder, and spasm. We rarely glide, waltz or spin passed pain. So how does the eagle do it? How does he glide with such elegance carrying a massive load of six and half feet on either side of his body and make it look….well, painless?
See, in my mind, to have that sort of power, like the power of an eagle, there needs to be a whole lot of internal fighting going on. It can’t possibly feel effortless to register that kind of exquisite power. It must feel immensely straining. At least that’s what I assumed before taking my first swim and voice lesson.
Both of these “sports” involve using an inner efficiency that is as nuanced as it is elegant; powerful as it is majestic. More than anything, it requires surrendering to pain versus fighting through it. And somewhere in the margin of that surrender is where the power erupts.
There are subtleties which singers count on in their muscle memory which allows the voice to soar, much like an eagle, and subtleties in swimming, which allow the body to glide against the rippling chain of waves which, if manipulated correctly, can help you swim even faster in a painless state. The idea that I could find this space where my body could be carried, versus me carrying my body seemed preposterous to me. That is, until I learned how to do it.
“You’re pushing too hard. You don’t have to work that hard,” said Stefano Langone, my voice coach who finished 7th on American Idol. Same place as Jennifer Hudson, by the way. So I knew he knew a thing or two.
“You must be super Type A,” my swim instructor commented. Coach Dan has worked with top Olympic Champions on a college level. “You are working really hard, and it is tiring you out,” they both separately commented. I knew these were seasoned teachers who saw the best in their students and who both knew the secret to soaring like an eagle was to find “the pocket.”
The pocket is the place where a surfer glides in between the power of the wave and the break of the water where the perfect surf across the mountainous peak can be found. The pocket is where the surfer finally finds his stride.
See, I’ve had my fists up for so long fighting through so many tough challenges and moments, that I forgot how to go into my place of rest. Into my space of beauty- into the pocket. The idea that scaling back to propel myself further in any sport, let alone in life was never an idea I ever considered. One reason I pushed hard was to avoid the pain. But in pushing “past the pain,” I was only creating more pain. The first thing I needed to learn was how to lean into the discomfort. The second thing I learned upon leaning in, was that once that was achieved, there was no discomfort at all. There was only flow.
A gush of fluidity allowed my voice to hit a high F note without feeling strained. It felt effortless. I was able to swim fifty laps freestyle for thirty straight minutes without being winded once. That’s a mile and a half feat of straight swimming I had never managed to successfully conquer without a whole lot of pain and suffering, before I learned how to surrender to the pocket- aka to the flow.
I didn’t feel like I was in pain even once after learning how to glide, propel and elegantly become one with the pool. That is because I wasn’t fighting the pain. I was welcoming it, and in doing so, I was also avoiding it all together. Weird how that happened.
Like swimming five thousand meters with ease, “singing like an eagle,” as Stefano put it, became effortless. And for the first time I realized how power works. It is not something you have to fight for. Rather, it is something you reach for. Reaching is different than conquering. Reaching takes elegance. It takes a smooth relaxing effort. There is a softening that has to happen in the body, a loosening, an ease, that when tapped into can be unleashed with a mightiness that liberates you in ways you never expected.