What is your “go-to” tactic for dealing with the icky stuff in life, for becoming triumphant over your obstacles? Most of us fall in to habitual patterns when faced with challenges, and we might be well served to remember there are many options available to us.
It was late autumn 1981 and, as I settled back in to my sophomore year of college, something had just triggered me, so I decided to go for a bike ride to clear my head. I was so angry I just had to move my body, make it sweat, conquer this horrible feeling I was having.
I remember pedaling as fast as I could, up and down hills, around winding curves and sharp turns. My blue Schwinn 10-speed bike careened over the damp, hilly back country roads of rural Michigan, and I owned this experience like an Olympiad. I was on this bike to burn off some true angst, some really bitter frustration, and to win a battle. My thighs ached and my lungs burned. Then, as the endorphins kicked in, I changed. I began to feel invincible, powerful, and willing to face life head on.
The feeling I created that day was triumph. I had taken what felt like an insurmountable challenge, a challenge that was tipping me toward crazy, and I had used my physical body to burn it off, to melt the rage and angst and frustration that had been building up. It felt so good, so sweet, to know that I could make a difference in my mind through physical exertion.
Perhaps this is the marker of youth—we are young and strong and vital, not yet wearied from life’s many challenges. Let’s face it, inevitably, life will take us “there,” to that place of despair, and we will have to figure out how to deal with it all.
And yet now, as those same emotions sometimes gently, or not so gently, scratch at my door, I have found out something new, something interesting. That sometimes, in some cases, rather than amping up and aggressively taking it all on, rather than using muscles and sweat and physicality to conquer the problem, it can be equally as empowering to simply let the disasters burn through us.
Instead of standing erect, defiant, and heavy fisted, it can be remarkably renewing to let the fires burn off that which needs to be burned off, to let the pressure flow through us. Rather than fight, what about sitting with the challenge and listening?
We are afraid to crumble, I think. We are afraid that if we don’t stand up with fist waving in the air claiming our power, that we will be weak, wimpy. But without exploring this more wisdom-focused option for dealing with things, we may never find our true power.
As eastern practices have introduced to us, the use of aggression through war, fighting and conquering is only one method of dealing with challenges, a method highly overused in current societies, as it comes with a profound cost. There is also, it should go without saying, negotiation, acceptance and understanding.
With a few more decades of life under my belt, I am much more aware of that which makes me crumble, what really frightens me. I know I have my limits, but I am also much less intimidated by this fear. Because I just went through years of crumbling and I am still here to tell my story. I am still here, standing, after the weight of the world seemed to want to stone me to an almost-death. I am still here as the dust settles, though still stinging my eyes. I am here to say that our worst fears are often not as bad as we had thought, and sometimes they are worse.
I realize now, from that afternoon long ago in the rolling hills of Michigan, that nature was an essential part of my healing that day. The cool, fresh air. The open spaces. The certainty of winter and the equally certain return of spring, were all reminders of the natural flow of life, and of my place in the scheme of things.
Our collective fear of crumbling and the inner war it creates hasn’t seemed to solve much. When we find acceptance of the obstacles before us, life, or is it nature herself, inevitably has a way of helping us pick up the pieces to rebuild. In doing so, we then see life with new eyes, different yet the same.