Sitting in my approximately 86th hour of continuously silent meditation at my 2nd vipassana course last year, I was overcome with an idea that could change my life. Yes, I know the goal is to sit still, in the now, and forgo concerns for the future and lose any frets over the past, but a mind will wander…
Normally, I would quickly right that wander, breathe a little deeper, focus a bit more on the air streaming through my nostrils and feel the tidal wave of right now consume me. But this was one of those ideas that escaped my intention and started to live on its own. It actually was the most exciting idea I had over my year in Thailand. What was it you ask? Well I thought of a way that might allow me to ride a bike, while in my brace (as you might recall, this was one of those majorly important to do items). The level of excitement was pretty much what I assume occurred to a certain Orville and Wilbur Wright that led them to their first successful flight.
So not only did I have this ball of excitement making meditation a bit harder than normal, I also had some 154 hours to go before I could even attempt to see if my idea was even worth this level of excitement. Needless to say, this became quite the obstacle to overcome as I worked at bettering my meditative practice. And honestly, it remained with me for the rest of the retreat and while it was difficult, ultimately it was quite helpful as it forced me to go deeper and intentionally into the moment. each moment, and feel the now intensely as I noted that there was a constant voice tempting me with misdirection.
But eventually I left the meditation center and finding out if my idea was viable became more than just theoretical. I had planned to rush out and try it the Sunday I got back to Chiang Mai from the vipassana center, but it was really raining and I was not about to try it whilst getting soaked. All of a sudden I was able rationalize and procrastinate attempting with any simple reason: I’m tired, it’s too sunny out, tomorrow will be the perfect day, etc…
All that excitement, the part that wanted to leap out of my body and pedal as fast as it could possibly pedal, had turned into fear.
‘What if it does not work,’ started to echo in my head. ‘If this does not work, that is it, there will be no way I can manage to ever ride a bike again’ populated my bones like a vitally cold, damp winter frost. ‘It won’t work at all, just like all those other times I tried, why even bother…’ replaced my blood and touched every centimeter of my existence as it pumped through my body. I knew that since this was one of the ten things I most wanted to do, that it may just break me if i was unable to do it, and thus, for a week, every time I would begin to build up the nerve to attempt it, I would locate another borough of rationalization to escape into. And in fact if I had not still been sort of high from the meditation retreat, I am not sure I would have been able to shake this fear. But I kept meditating, and meditating, and meditating, every day looking for the courage to make the attempt, shifting out of the worry that I might fail.
Then I woke up nearly a week after I got back from the retreat and told myself that I was going to find out today, no matter what. So when I marched off to my favorite cafe here, which also rented bikes, I asked my friend Maria there if she would let me attempt to ride one that day. She happily said yes. I said let me eat and we will be good to go. Only then she got super busy, and was unable to get away to assist me. And with that, I breathed lighter, almost as if I got a stay of execution. My faith that I was going to be able to pedal off into the sunset was waning quite quickly.
Two days later, I asked Maria again, and a few hours later she had a key for the lock and we were ready to go. I traveled out to the street like a steamer trunk bulging after being overstuffed — with apprehension. I thought to myself, ‘I can put a stop to this madness right here and never know, but also never have to face that absolute disappointment of simply not being able to thrust the left pedal down.’ Okay, okay… my thoughts were really more like this “FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK….”, but as you can see the same impression is conveyed… And when i put in all the fucks into google translate, well it too understood.
But we stood on the street next to a pink bike, which i nervously and quite unsteadily affixed myself to. Once on, I hiked up my pant leg and removed the left metal bar on my leg brace, upon which my leg could then bend greater than 90 degrees. I tossed it into the basket (I may or may not have been singing “a bell, and a basket, and rings and things to make it look good…” in my head), and began to set the pedals in place. And then when no cars or motorbikes or dogs or anything else were coming in either direction, I pushed my right leg, my good leg, down on the pedal. This action forced my left leg up, yet rather than let it travel the parabolic arc of pedaling, I kicked it off. I was quite uncomfortable with this rediscovered movement.
A few more fumbles like this occured and I was well on my way to giving up, I even said something to Maria about “this is just not working,” but like the superstar she is, she encouraged me, saying I “just needed to get going” that “she knew I could do it.” And it took a bit of equally convincing myself of this, but she was right. I could do it. I am sure I looked horribly awkward that day, but I had found a way to overcome the immobility of my leg brace. I found a way to do one of my most missed things.
Life was indeed pretty fucking good that day.
I was fearful of overdoing it, so it was only a five minute ride or so up and down a short portion of a short street, but I began thinking of just how dramatically this would change my life going forward. I’d like to say all the places I was thinking of being able to go and bike around, but really my head was deep in the ‘OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD, OH MY GOOD GOD’ state instead. This was as exciting to me as it would be sitting out at sea watching a new island from the cooling of lava.
Over the next week, I only biked once again, but I knew it was possible, and also that I needed to ensure I had the strength to pedal far and return. So I also was increasing my leg lifts and general fitness. And then, about a week later, my friend Lisa needed to get a group of bikes from one part of town to another. So without thinking, and smiling, and said, “I’ll take one.” She looked at me and asked if I was sure. I am pretty sure I also heard a very unspoken ‘have you gone insane?’. But again I said “I was sure.” And I began to caravan (carabike?) with three others about 2 KM. And let me tell you, 2 KM is much further than it seems. But I made it smiling like an imbecile the whole way. I even passed three or four people I knew and waved with a sense of previously unknown pride.
When we got to our destination, and I walked away from the parked bike, I knew without any sort of doubt, that once again I was a bike rider. A condition I am unwilling to give up lightly ever again.
And over time I have come to realize that it was me and my fear limiting my ability to ride a bike rather than just physical limitations, as I am now able to pedal without removing one side of my leg brace. I am able to get my leg around even with both sides engaged. I discovered this while traveling around Sukhothai with my friend Leigh. A place that would not have been accessible had I not figured out that I could ride again. At the Sukhothai Historical Park you bike and bike from temple to temple and it is a constant getting on and off and back on your bike. I got really good at removing and putting back the brace, but then as I was biking to another temple in the late afternoon, I noted that the piece of metal was not in my basket. At first I was horrified to think I had lost it, and my ability to walk. Then realized I was pedaling with it on.
Now, unless I am hitting up the market down the street or going up quite a bit in elevation, I bike everywhere I go. And every time I do it, start pushing my feet on the pedals and gliding along the street as the tires whisper that “zzzzzzzzzzzz” they make I constantly marvel at the fact that I am doing this. This thing I shuttled into the ‘that which is impossible’ corner of my life, where it hung out with reading people’s minds, lifting things through telekinesis, flying through the sky on my own volition, having an amazing restorative healing power, or you know superhero powers and/or mutations. This ‘box’ has been a black hole of desires, but this lets me think what else have I been limiting myself from doing, just because I have told myself i can’t though the filter of self-preservation. (Please note, while I will always silently, wistfully, long for superpowers, I am not about to jump off a house thinking I can fly, afterall, I am not PCP man….)
My brace buckles and protects me daily. And while it does indeed limit my mobility, it vastly improves it at the same time. Without it, I would be unable to walk impaired. And I’ll take impaired walking over not walking at all every day of the week. But, and this is one of those big BUTS, while I strap it on, I can not let it affect what I see as possible for myself. I can not allow the buckling to buckle in my capacity. Not only can I not, I will not. Self made limits are a type of censorship we weigh ourselves down with. Gravity weighs us down enough, lets not capitulate with it and artificially make it harder to move.