I love mountain biking. I feel strong, capable and even graceful. I often have the sensation that I’m dancing with my bike and the terrain. Alert. Fluid. Light. Mountain biking, more than any other sport I do, is metaphor made real. This is where all that talk about having the skill and trust to let go into flow becomes real for me. Of course, the sport is incredibly effortful, both physically and in terms of mental focus. And, it simultaneously demands a level of relaxation to be able to glide through the obstacles. Even when I get home from a ride where I’ve had to get off my bike and walk through the toughest sections, I feel pretty good about myself. Proud even.
Then, recently, I was provoked to wonder if I was fooling myself into thinking that I was capable rider and, in reality, I sucked and had no right to be on a mountain bike, never mind write blog posts about it (such as here and here).
What happened was this. I connected with a friend of a friend out here in California (where I am for at least a month every summer). She suggested we mountain bike together. Oh no. Now someone was going to witness my dance on the bike and I was suddenly self-conscious that I would look unskilled or ridiculous. Worst of all, I would learn how deluded I was about my talent.
I know. Compare and despair. A lesson I need to learn and re-learn over and over.
The moment of reckoning coincided with a personal exploration I’ve embarked on to notice where and when I don’t feel like I belong and bring more compassion to the parts of me who feel outsider (and not in a good way). A part of me that I think of as my Self-Belonging Part has shown up recently. She’s the part of me who is bold and comfortable in herself. She believes that she belongs anywhere she wants to belong, so long as she arrives with humility, respect, openness and love. She is getting more air time in my internal thoughts than she used to, but that’s not saying much.
She was quiet as I started out on the ride with my new mountain bike acquaintance. Instead, I felt anxious and off-balance. We started out with me ahead, because I knew the trails. It became apparent that she was stronger physically and her technical skills were a notch up from mine. When we got to the longest stretch of the trail that had no forks or decision points, I asked if she wanted to ride ahead. She hesitated. We had already been having a conversation about the different voices in our heads; so, I took a risk and told her that there was a voice in my head who was super worried that I was embarrassing myself with my woeful lack of talent. As soon as I’d spoken the words, my Self-Belonging Part piped up. You love riding mountain trails. That’s all that matters. You belong on your bike. Just having named my fear to this almost-stranger enabled the more compassionate part of myself to manifest.
The rest of the ride was playful and challenging. In the end, we were more than compatible enough to both enjoy our time together. I dropped the compare and did not despair. I stopped worrying about whether I belonged on the bike. Of course, I did. I reveled in the conversation. As much as I love riding alone, having company was a big treat. I hope we’ll ride together when I’m here again.
As I write this (on Friday), my summer sojourn here in California ends tomorrow. This morning I got up extra early to squeeze in one last ride I hadn’t yet had the courage to do. It’s not overly long (it takes just under 2 hours from my house), but the trail is technical and quite steep at some points. I’d never actually done the ride alone and was more than a little daunted by being out there without a partner to help me out if I crashed. As I took off, I told myself I could decide to cut the ride short and leave out the hard part, if I wasn’t feeling good when I got to that decision junction. And then the ride flowed. It was exciting. At one point I landed hard going over a 2.5 foot drop off a rock and one foot unclipped, but I managed to keep the bike rolling and re-attach myself to my bike. The name of that bit of trail is Drunken Deer and I felt tipsy after the episode. That happened early in the ride and gave me the courage to continue. I didn’t see another person on the trails. It was glorious. Zen. Intense. My Self-Belonging Part felt satiated and empowered.
My continuing commitment to explore the boundaries and possibilities of my belonging was well nourished. As it also was by this spoken version of Pádraig Ó Tuama’s poem, “How To
Belong Be Alone,” which I came across recently. My Self-Belonging Part thinks he wrote it for me (even though he has no idea I exist). You might feel the same way about his words.