Updated: Nov 11
It can help you wake up
Do you remember falling off your bike?
Rob went to the local rubbish tip yesterday to drop off our garbage because we live too far out of town for the council’s weekly service to do it for us. While he was there, a woman turned up with a bike she no longer wanted. It looked to be in good condition, so Rob stuffed it in the back of the car and brought it home as a present for me. I already had a bike, but he thought this was a better one.
It was rusty and dusty but after he washed and de-rusted it, oiled the gears, and pumped up the tyres, it came up a treat. It was light blue and green, had three gears, and a hard, wide, white seat.
I’m not a great bike rider and eyed this renovated one with mixed feelings: pleased that Rob had thought of me at the rubbish tip, but reluctant to engage in the fine art of bike riding because the last time I did so, I fell off.
To me, one of the mysteries of the ages is that humans have sent people to the moon but have been incapable of inventing a bike seat that doesn’t numb one’s backside. However, I got on the seat, rode up and down the grassed driveway testing gears, brakes, and the state of my coccyx, then headed off behind Rob for a ride through our rural neighbourhood.
We have gravel roads around here so I’m nervous going fast down hills, and usually have to get off and walk up them. But on the flats, I do okay. Occasionally cars go past, engulfing us in billowing orange dust. And every now and then a tiger snake crosses the road. That’s what caused me to fall off my old bike several months ago. The shock made me swerve wildly, and down I went.
There’s something ignoble about falling off a bike.
You always end up on the ground, legs in the air, and beside you lies an awkwardly shaped contraption with its handlebars encircling your chest, one wheel jammed against a leg, and the other wheel silently spinning in the air as if it’s wishing it were elsewhere. And there’s always blood oozing from some part of you.
When I fell off last time, my first thought was to make sure the snake had made it to the other side of the road and wasn’t eyeing me off in my vulnerable, prone position. Then I checked for blood and found some oozing from gashes on my knee, elbow, and chin.
Rob was riding on ahead, unaware of the calamity that had befallen me. As I righted myself and the bike and got back on to catch up with him, I recalled something I’d read that morning on page 159 of Pema Chödrön’s book, When Things Fall Apart:
Everything that occurs is not only usable and workable but is actually the path itself. We can use everything that happens to us as the means for waking up.
‘Hmm,’ I said to myself, putting cynical doubt into my mental tone as I stiffly cycled along, dabbing at my damaged knee with a tissue each time it rose to greet me. ‘How does falling off this bike help me wake up spiritually?’
If we are essentially spirit having a physical existence, which is what all the sages say, then everything we experience has physical and spiritual meaning.
The physical elements of my fall included the rearrangement of my limbs, the blood, the fear for my life at the snake’s proximity, the hurt pride, and my immediate and overriding thought as I headed earthward that I didn’t want this to be happening to me.
The spiritual elements were . . . were . . . were what?
This was a tricky one. How was falling off my bike a means for waking up? What was Chödrön implying?
It took me a while to sort it out. In fact, I’d caught up to Rob by then and was happily garnering sympathy from him.
Falling off a bike is a spiritual experience
The spiritual element of that experience was that it jolted me into the present moment. It literally woke me up.
Once I was on my way again, I was more alert. In the moment. In the lived experience. Not in my head.
I felt my backside on the seat and my hands on the handlebars. My eyes were aware of my surroundings. I was living the experience of riding a bike along a delightful country road as it was happening. I wasn't in my head wishing I'd reached my destination already, planning a company merger (ha ha), or formulating a letter to NASA about allocating some of its millions of dollars into designing a more comfortable seat for me to attach to my bike.
In other words, I was present.
I may fall off again, on this new bike. But maybe this time, as I sense the inevitable, I will turn it into a spiritual experience.
I will fall with spiritual grace.
As I head for a meeting with the gravel, I won’t wish it wasn’t happening to me. I will accept it on the way down, and perhaps this acceptance of the moment will enable me to find a way to fall more safely, more gracefully. Or not.
Whatever happens, it’s good to realise that whatever happens to us is the path to enlightenment.
With love and three tiny scars, Marlane