Maybe it was the Kundalini yoga class that I had attended beforehand, but on my last motorcycle ride this season, one nugget of wisdom after another lit up my mind as I flew down my favourite winding oceanside road.
I started riding a motorcycle when my daughter was a toddler. Learning how to ride and buying a bike had been on my bucket list for a long time, and I was expecting to love it.
But since learning how to ride, I’ve had a fraught relationship with being a wannabe biker chick. You see, riding kind of terrifies me. I mostly enjoy it, but I’m not very good at it yet, and while I’m riding I also tend to have freakish visions of careening off the road and ending up in a full-body cast.
I am, a suburban mom in her mid-thirties, not the daredevil I used to be. I’m learning to be okay with that.
But I keep riding, because some days, when I’m freshly Kundalini’d and feeling the wind whip my face with warm Fall air, it’s pretty awesome. And also because every time I hop on my bike, I learn a lot about myself. Here’s what shows up here, for me:
1. Holding on tighter does not give you more control.
Time and time again, I notice myself gripping the handlebars with white knuckles and hugging the gas tank with taut thighs as I ride. But usually, after a half hour or so, I start to loosen up, and I allow the bike to take the lead – to “do the work for me,” as bikers say. It’s a beautiful lesson on letting go and going with the flow: holding on tighter to an outcome doesn’t guarantee it, and robs you of the full-body freedom of allowing the Forces that Be take you for a ride.
2. Breathe, FFS.
Being a longtime yogi, I could never understand when I would watch someone hold their breath through a challenging or painful experience. My breath has always been my ticket to focus, calm and confidence. Until I hop on my bike. I regularly notice myself breathing shallow, tight breaths, hunching my shoulders, and holding air in my lungs in the first few minutes of a bike ride.
But when I finally remind myself to breathe, one of my favourite things about motorcycle riding happens: I smell. I smell the cheese bubbling as I pass a pizza place on a Friday night, I smell the leaves decaying as I fly down a Fall-strewn road, I smell the ocean just moments before her cool air graces my cheeks.
3. Notice when your fear takes the wheel.
One of the best books I’ve read recently was Gutsy Girl, by the amazing Caroline Paul. If you have a chance to read it, do: Caroline is the quintessential multipotentialite / daredevil. She’s a hang glider, professional firefighter, luger, and so, so much more. For me, the most memorable part of her book was when she describes the time she and a few friends decided to climb the guy wires of the Golden Gate Bridge with no fall arrest equipment…at night. When asked if she was afraid, she said, “Of course. But I don’t let my fear take the driver’s seat.”
Ever since reading that, when I notice myself feeling afraid, or anxious, or just getting caught up in a maelstrom of worries, I take a deep breath, take my fear out of the driver’s seat, and ask myself what other emotion I would prefer to have there. Sometimes it’s wonder, sometimes it’s joy, sometimes exhilaration or confidence or excitement. Even though sometimes it feels like I have a Shriner’s car full of emotions, I try to make sure my fear doesn’t override my joy.
4. Go on adventures as often as possible.
Riding my motorcycle, for me, is the quickest path to adventure. I don’t need to scale mountains or swim across oceans to achieve both the exhilaration and the confidence that engaging in adventure gives me: all I have to do is hop on my bike. Riding reminds me that I’m strong and capable and a little bit badass, and reminds me of the part of me that doesn’t drive a minivan and wipe bums so much. Which is, decidedly, a nice thing to remember about myself, every so often.