Sometimes I do not like this whole ‘love’ thing. It’s hard. It hurts. And sometimes I feel out of control.
The most pain I have experienced in my life – so far – is not recovering from abdominal surgery, not crushing my finger in the kitchen door, not dislocating my shoulder, not biting through my lower lip, not running 50 miles in one stretch. Bodily injuries typically cause endorphins to release into the bloodstream, helping you cope with pain, helping you get through the worst of it. Persist, until maybe, you can find a better word.
Trauma to the heart has always been more difficult to overcome. Probably because you are losing something that isn’t physically a part of you. It just feels like it.
When my dad got sick this year, the fear of losing that whole love thing kicked in. And over the past few months I have found that my body responds to fear in a way it does not with physical pain. That’s likely why I can push myself to go for 20 mile runs without (too much) complaint, and perhaps why I recently found myself stranded on a trail in Pocatello, Idaho, frozen on my bike seat, unable to start pedaling. I had taken a moment to look around and I shouldn’t have.
The trail overlooked the valley we had just climbed out of, and while it was not particularly steep, or rocky, or uneven, it was exposed. Suddenly I could not continue forward. I would push on the pedals but fall off to the side. I tried again, heart punching my chest, hands shaking, only to slip back to the wall of grass I just came from. I tried reasoning with myself: You are fine. You are not in any danger. Just move forward. My feet remained rooted to the hillside. I watched Dayton pedaling with ease up the trail. Defeated, I called out. I am sorry. I cannot go any further. I have to turn around. We did. Still, it took several minutes before my hands stopped quivering.
As I learn to mountain bike, I am discovering that gravity is your friend, not just a fundamental rule of nature. It’s actually easier to descend rocky trails at higher speeds than by gripping the brakes, watching each stone pass under your wheel, hoping you won’t crash and knock your teeth out. But it is hard to trust the machine underneath you. That it will grip when it needs to, that it will fly when it is supposed to. At least, this reliance upon another is hard for me to muster.
Sometimes I believe humans are over-developed. While the human race is lauded for its complex and mighty brain, this same organ that controls our breathing, determines whether we are going to bat left or right, processes our sensory information, and enables us to reason—all without our consideration – also has a tendency to overthink things. It can send us false warning signals of danger, making us feel unsafe when we are. It can protect us from the very things we need to experience in order to grow.
Sometimes I wish we could have stopped while equipped with the reptilian brain. Species like fish use their brains to concern themselves with matters important to survival such as eating, reproducing, and avoiding death. They do not worry about 401k plans, PET scans, or what happens when they die. They do not worry about finding love. They do not worry about losing it. They do not cuddle. They do not kiss the shoulder of their partner in the morning. They do not dream. An unfortunate trade off.
Because I do not believe that a fish has a better grip on living, I am working on not being afraid of what is, or is not, to become of me and my life. I am reading a book called The Wild Within: Adventures in Nature and Animal Teachings to help me learn how to manage my overworked, overly worrying brain. The author, Paul Rezendes, is an expert tracker who has mastered the art of participating in life. Each moment of it. Even if it’s cold, dark, and confusing. He writes:
“ … each moment is constantly changing. Sometimes we try to stop the movement because we are afraid of change, the unknown, and death. The movement of life, however, is constantly bringing us into the unknown. This is why it can be so hard for us to really be present, to be in the moment, to be in the now. We’re afraid to be.”
So I am working on being. And I am doing it by continuing to learn how to mountain bike. Because I need to learn to be able to pull myself out of the moments where my brain is talking me out of doing something I can do. Dayton says that the way to overcome the fear is to look ahead to where you want to go and let the ribbon of trail guide you.
I am getting better at realizing that I alone must learn to handle whatever rocks, roots, and switchbacks the trail throws my way. I am finally learning to let go of my brakes. Yesterday, I was actually able to do just that. I followed Dayton down the canyon and watched as the trail unfolded below me – through dry creek beds and patches of sunlight — and thought, this is nice.