Learning to Fly

This past weekend I had the great privilege of spending the night with Pat de Jong and Sam Keen at their “farm.” It was wonderful to sleep with the door open and awaken to the fog and six or seven wild turkeys outside my room. As for many of you, Sam is a legend to me, having read many of his books and allowed his brilliance to challenge the mendacity of my own thinking at times. Wow; to have him give me a tour of the place he has called home for more than 25 years.

About a decade ago, I bought 20 or 30 copies of his book Learning to Fly and gave them to friends and staff members. The book is the story of how, at the age of 63, Sam, a world-famous author and Harvard educated philosopher, learned how to fly on a trapeze. He eventually set up one in his backyard. Now in his 80s, Sam is still flying, and I mean that in every way. His thinking still soars far above my own and those I generally rely on for wisdom.

I love that at an age when too many people are slowing down and being careful Sam was learning to let go and soar. He says it is because he has the “Why chromosome.” He loves the questions more than the answers.

In the book, he says that the basic components of the flying trapeze are the flyer and the catcher. Of course, you can add other people and stunts to the act, but it all begins with one person who is willing to let go of one trapeze, and be caught in mid-air by another. Listen to how Keen describes the moment one lets go:

The flyer swings out to the highest point of the pendulum, waits until the catcher shouts, “Hep,” releases the trapeze and flies. The gap between two pairs of outstretched arms is only a few feet that could be traversed in a millisecond. But between the ‘Hep’ and the catch there is a journey across an abyss. No footbridge leads from reason to faith, from doubt to trust. Prior to the leap, fear seems more justified than trust, isolation more fundamental than communion, and the flight of the spirit an impossibility.

Being with Sam and Pat this weekend stirred in me a profound sense that the Spirit is calling me to let go of SOMETHING and take a leap of faith. I honestly don’t know what that means, but, as I stood with Sam and stared up at the trapeze in his backyard, I knew that, if I didn’t find the courage to let go, I might be doomed to just hang out the rest of my life, swinging in the wind.

by Michael Piazza
Co-Executive Director
The Center for Progressive Renewal

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