We are meant to be students. Even as teachers it is important to keep the heart of a student within us. It’s easy to forget. It is easy to imagine we have arrived, and to let ego bulldoze curiosity and awareness with its special brand of certainty. All dogma and chest-puffery and the obvious dead end that ego cannot see.
I’ve recently been that student. Where once the roles were reversed and we climbed high mountains with the weight of responsibility for safety and outcome on my shoulders, we changed places seamlessly. I have learned more from Ed about riding a mountain bike in three days than I learned on my own in a year. I knew I was progressing on my own, slowly. But the hardest lessons to learn are the ones right under our noses, the ones we later call obvious. And we ask, “Why didn’t I realize this before?”
“You are holding a bird.”
No, I have a death grip.
“Exactly. You are killing the bird.”
“Let go. Let the bike do its job.”
How do I steer?
“With your mind. With your body. With your hands if you must.”
“Turn your headlight off. Feel the bike. Feel what’s rolling underneath.”
But … oh, I DO feel it.
“Give it less input. Ride, don’t drive.”
Shit. In three days Ed let the air out of my initial year on a mountain bike. I thought I should be driving, and pushing. I spent so much energy on my tension. On fear. I pushed past. I forced. I usually got away with it — because I can make power and make up the time I lose to those who ride efficiently — and that success blinded me to the cost. I couldn’t see another way even when someone else was clearly on it right in front of me. Certainty makes a poor student. And certainty buried under declared willingness to learn is the worst barrier to knowledge one can erect.
This isn’t exclusive. Not to me. Not to the bike. Not to movement or exercise. Human beings do this. We build our bubbles and we keep the things we like to see inside of them. We paint the windows or draw the blinds to prevent distraction — to keep us from seeing the contradictory evidence around us. We turn and turn and soon allow the slightest increment of progress to reinforce our belief in the rightness of our way, inside our bubble.
Be brave. Burst it. Pop your ego. Empty your cup and look for water. That first drink won’t taste good. You might spit it out. But that’s ego, that is your certainty trying to protect itself. Drink deep. You don’t know what you know. More importantly, you don’t know what you DON’T know. Get over it. If your ego was right you would not desire more, you wouldn’t be searching, or asking. You would know. Everything. And you don’t.
So become a student. And in that state, please, for fuck’s sake, don’t tell me how much you know, or what kind of gear you have, or what you have done. Be you in front of me long enough and I’ll know all that. And I’ll be me in front of you, with my questions, and curiosity, and effort, and eventually you will know how real my thirst for knowledge and experience is.
It’s the fourth day and time to push the boat out. Ed said, “You have to be at peace in your head before you can relax on the bike.” Conscious me silently declared, “I know this shit, and he knows I know it so what is he really saying?” That I’m not doing it. That peace isn’t informing my actions, and tension is my mission. I realize that this is true coaching so I relax and listen.
“We’ll ride as long as it takes for you to let go, and relax. If we have to burn the tension out of you we will. Bring more food and water. It could take awhile.”
Real learning requires honesty, and vulnerability. Sure, you can memorize theory or formula without showing your belly, but if you want to understand and grow you must expose your deepest self. You cannot change unless you do.
So I opened my mind and heart tonight. We turned on the headlights and their narrow beam tightened focus, prevented distraction. I concentrated on what was in front me, and what was in me. Ed reminded me to keep asking, “Why am I carrying so much tension? What am I afraid of?” Indeed, I have taken the greatest risk, over and over, peacefully. I’ve looked down from the high places with just an inch of steel and my balance holding me there. Why would I carry apprehension and tension into a simple bike ride?
The lesson of my recent months. Let go. Fucking relax.
I can do it sometimes. But more often than not I evade the present moment, I think ahead to what scares me, so I exist in a possible future and in my apprehension about it … I am not here. So I ride badly. I overthink. I apply more power than the terrain demands. The excess is equal to the problems I have created in my mind not the reality in front of me.
Therefore the exercise is to address what IS. Not what could be. Not what WILL be if I think too hard about it.
Be. Here. Now.
Yes, I teach. I lead. I coach. I declare. But in the same breath I learn. Because anything else would mean I am dead: either death-dead or living-dead, stagnant, redundant, repetitive, stuck. I have wasted time, of course, but I won’t waste life. And that’s why I’m here, on the road, in the dirt, atop the bike but sometimes on the ground next to it wondering what just happened. I am a student. This is how I learn.