Sunday, 7 July 2013

Do something every day that scares you

Who was it said, do something every day that scares you? It is a mindful practice to open yourself up to the things that scare and be able to see what feeds them and drives them. Well today I did about a month's worth of being scared, in one episode. Now I am aware that for lots of people it wouldn't be scary at all but I guess that is the nature of the things that scare us, they are very personal. For me, riding a bike is something I have avoided for much of my life. I think I have had too many bad experiences of riding a bike. I learnt to ride on my sister's bike, which was far too big for me and also lived in a city which was very hilly, so not a lot of cycle-riding happened anyway. Then hiring a bike in Australia many years ago that had no brakes, you had to back-pedal to brake and that was unnerving to say the least as I felt totally out of control. I never found any pleasure in bike riding. So when we got married and our children were young it was always my husband who took them out bike riding and I just refused to go and that became the norm.
But here we are in Barcelona, and the ideal way to sightsee and learn something about the city is to do a cycle tour, which all the rest of the party were very keen on doing. They were also keen that it was something we all did together, which is understandable and something I would ask for in different circumstances. So I found myself with a huge dilemma, did I refuse to go, or overcome the fear and go along with them? It wasn't something I could easily resolve because just the thought of getting on a bike made me want to cry! And I know this may sound terribly wimpish but just think of the thing that really scares you, that you have spent your life avoiding and suddenly being asked to get on and do it!
To be fair there wasn't a lot of pressure from the family, they were happy for me to go along and decide once we got there whether I would join in or not, but there was an obvious issue about what I would do if I didn't join in for the 4 hours while they were cycling the city. There was also some expectation that I would join in, mainly because they were all looking forward to it so much and couldn't really understand the fuss I was making. But our fears are not rational, explicable thoughts that can be easily worked through, they are often accompanied by layers of past history and confusing hidden depths.
Last night I had to deliberately choose not to think about making a decision as it would have kept me awake all night. This morning we all got ready together and set off to the meeting place and I still didn't know whether I could get on a bike. When we met up with our lovely tour guide my stomach was turning somersaults and I was ready to cry, but step by step! We went off to the shop to get our bikes and then I had the opportunity of getting on one and trying it out. It wasn't as bad as I had feared! I was shaky to begin with but I discovered I could steer the bike and keep balance and not knock people over (and there were plenty of tourists who could get knocked over!) So in that moment I took the decision to go for it and join in. And I am so glad I did!
The tour was pretty gentle and we stopped lots of times to hear some of Barcelona's history and look at some of its beautiful architecture and the great majority of it is fairly flat so it was an easy ride. There is just one hill, up to the Sagrada Familia and by the time we reached there I was very overheated and felt sick but a rest in the shade and plenty to drink settled that. And I was distracted from my concerns by being poohed on by a bird as I looked for shade under a palm tree! Why do people say that is meant to be good luck? I also discovered I wasn't the only one on our tour who was a novice bike rider, so as well as those such as my children who were incredibly confident there were others who were as shaky and nervous as I was, especially in negotiating narrow old streets full of people on foot. But it wasn't 4 solid hours of bike riding, it was broken up with lots of stops and chances to drink water (it was also a very hot day!). And it is an amazing way to see lots of the city in a short space of time, and work out which places you want to go back to and explore further.
The tour company is called Fat Tire Bike Tours and I would happily recommend them to anyone! They offer similar trips in London, Paris and Berlin and they are extremely well organised but also very friendly and easy-going.
And so I did it! Today I rode a bike and overcame a fear of many years! I'm not saying I now want to leap on a bike at any circumstance but I now know that something I had considered to be impossible is in fact possible and that is an amazing thing to recognise. In teaching mindfulness we emphasise that thoughts are not facts and don't have to be believed or acted upon, but when something is very deep-seated it's not so easy to accept this. Today I became living proof that it is possible to meet a long-standing fear, look it in the face and realise it's not as big or scary as it appears to be! And I am very glad that I did. Now I can appreciate why doing something that scares you is so important, as otherwise you could spend your whole life being ruled by such fears, avoiding things and limiting the opportunities we take because of them.

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