Traction.

April 11, 2022

Traction.

May 29, 2023

I can still taste the feeling when I departed MEA in early December: the sense of connection with my fellow compadres; the burgeoning sense of possibility; the openness to new frontiers. I departed in a mild state of euphoria. My boundaries were lowered and I was ready to step into a rejuvenated mental framework about life in “middlessence,” and all it could offer. The flavor was sweet.

A few weeks on, however, I could feel my taste buds losing their zest – a creeping sense of COVID-like flavor diminishment dulling the richness I'd experienced. The realities of life can do that.

I mentioned this to a couple of my peers from our transitions-themed week in Baja, California. “I feel like I’m losing a grip on the sensations I had when I left MEA,” I said.

The week at the MEA campus in Mexico had been glorious. Twenty strangers gathered in what can only be described as an idyllic setting of blazing sunrises and sunsets atop a glittering Pacific ocean, where the rhythmic crashing of waves soothed the soul. The food was fresh, local and nourishing. We attended classes, baked bread, sat with shamen, walked, talked, did yoga, surfed, sang, danced, and discovered an intimacy that rarely develops in such a short period of time. A kind of magic infused the salty air. We shared of ourselves, reimagined who we were, or who we thought we were, and through the wider lens of our compadres, and we felt a shift. Cautious as I tend to be, I called it “potentially transformative.”

I confess: Two months later, I miss the feeling, and I’m starting to lose it. This caused me to start ruminating on the idea of traction – what it means, how we gain it, or lose it, or feel it. I know the notion of traction has gained some currency in recent times. It shows up in daily conversation with increasing frequency. I see it in news headlines (“Mental Health and Wellness is Gaining Traction as a National Priority.”) There are books on it to help guide entrepreneurs. I’m aware, too, that MEA has designed tools to keep the communal experience alive, from monthly Zoom calls with cohorts, to online resources, to an upcoming in-person alumni reunion in the San Francisco Bay Area.

When I thought more about the word traction, I realized that it doesn’t always refer to adherence - that stickiness/friction that keeps the rubber to the road, or a disciplined mind tethered to the task at hand. It also refers to a state of tension, as in the “pulling of force exerted on a skeletal structure (as in a fracture) by means of a special device,” according to Merriam-Webster. It can also mean the “support or interest that is needed for something to make progress or succeed.”

I noticed the idea of tension in my own emergence from MEA, not only in the re-framing I was trying to imagine for the rest of my life but also in the act of making sense of the euphoria I’d experienced. I couldn’t really live in that feeling state 24/7. There are meals to prepare, laundry to do, bills to pay. And on some level it would be disruptive to live in that elevated state all the time. How could I actualize that feeling within the daily grind we all must navigate? I wondered if the tension came first, before the grip is able to take hold? Maybe I was missing a step in the process, or maybe that’s what traction entails – a tension to help us find the groove we want to inhabit.

This had me wondering further: What are the forces that keep us from staying the course and, conversely, help us reach our goals? A few that came to mind: Distance (temporal and geographic) from the experience; old boundaries and habits that bounce back; fear of making change; diminished connections with cohorts; and more. These were all playing into my own sense of grip-less, or aimless, limbo. It probably meant I needed to make a different plan, or rethink my strategy -- to locate that place where I felt rubber touch cement on the path towards my personal ambitions.

The word traction does contain yet another meaning. One that suggests a supportive, motive element. For instance, the drawing of a vehicle by motive power – as in a tractor that pulls something along. This could be the third element of traction. Can those of us that experienced our shared magic of MEA keep pulling one another forward – human tractors for the re-imagination, possibility, and motivation that we sampled in Baja?

Now, wouldn’t that be a delicious way to keep savoring the MEA smorgasbord.

Douglas Robson is a former journalist who covered business, sports business, and sports (mostly tennis) during a 25-year-career.

P.S. We look forward to seeing so many of you MEA alums at the reunion in San Francisco April 22-24.

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