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Handling panic

Posted Sep 02 2012 8:16pm

I meditate on my bike. The misconception about meditating is that it’s hard to do. People think it’s got to be sitting somewhere, repeating some sound, noticing the world around you without letting it in, without letting it affect you. People think yoga and mats and incense, but actually meditating just happens, easily, all the time. It’s just that most people don’t recognize that they’re doing it. I certainly did not think of what I did on bike rides as meditation until someone suggested it to me. I guess it’s meditation because I can’t hold onto my thoughts while riding. Feeling and breathing take over. I don’t tell myself “deep cleansing breaths” or anything like that. I just do what I do, and it happens.  Paradoxically I do end up realizing important things while riding, but these thoughts come to me in flashes of truth that just as quickly blow away like leaves. I’m learning to see these thoughts and store them away for later; further examination is just not possible on my bike.

My bike is not a fast bike; it is a mountain bike, and not only that: it has 29-inch tires. These tires are a third of the width of a car’s tires. This is a bright red Specialized Rockhopper , Scarlet, born to jump and crunch things. Acorns pop under Scarlet’s fat tires; curbs melt away. The tires work themselves up to a strumming zhing once they get enough momentum; the sound is hypnotic. I love the bike, even on an uphill, especially on a downhill.

On my way home during my favorite bike ride there is a street that is mostly one swooping downhill curve.  The street is lined with big gracious 19th century manor-type houses, in gray clapboard and dusky stucco. They go by in a blur, though, because I’m going so fast.

As I took the curve downwards today, I found myself leaning too far into the turn, and my head was flooded with that nearly orgasmic high that is part of going too fast. It’s delicious, it’s thrilling, but it’s dangerous. I could see the sandy gray road in front of me, moving towards me too quickly. In the past I have thought, “I’m gonna fall, I’m gonna fall…aaaaah” Bu this time I remained aware that I was riding, I was still riding, and that I did not have to fall. I consciously did not fall, because I did not allow myself to picture falling. I realized then what panic is: panic is giving up, giving into the fear. Panic is seeing the worst thing happen so that you can no longer have the best thing happen. Thus, when I panic, I fall. This time, I did not panic, I rode through that scary patch, willing my arms, hands, and legs to hold me up. Scarlet did the rest.

I bumped along to the bottom, braking hard but still feathering it in, keeping it steady.  I had a flash just then, of Nat during one of his aggressive phases, and something that happened between him and Ned. Back then it seemed like the bulk of Nat’s aggressions occurred with Ned. This is probably because I would give in and avoid the conflicts. Ned stood up to Nat, every time. And one time, he said this to me afterward: “I don’t know, but I realized that he’s my kid. He’s just my kid and I’m going to just be here for him. Like that’s my job, even if I get hit.” And he didn’t get hit.

I look back on that time, the beginning of Nat learning to deal with his frustration in other ways. But I think that it started with moments like that with Ned, where he just refused to panic. It is almost as if he refused to be hit, or at least to be afraid of it. And I think that Nat sensed the unconditional love, perhaps, and it made him feel safe. Feeling safe meant he did not need to lash out; he realized on some level that he would be okay.

Now, I am not saying that if you get hit you are doing something wrong. And I am not saying AT ALL that it is your fault, or anything like that. All I’m saying is that there was something about Ned realizing he could plow through that scary moment with Nat that then made it possible.  Is it facing your fear? Is it a kind of letting go, realizing that whatever happens, you can take it? Kind of, but I feel that it is more. It is a kind of mastery that occurs, when you’ve been through this difficult thing enough times, that you know the extent of its horror, and you no longer fear it. When you no longer fear it, you are free to do even more with it. You can handle it, you can take care of yourself.

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