Somatosensory cortex, part II.

There’s nothing quite like eating sh*t during a group bike ride to set one’s ego to rights.

Some say one’s own suffering can serve as a link to the rest of humanity, as can love. It can open you up or close you down depending on your level of self-awareness, and in every moment you can choose one or the other.

A week after my rock climbing adventure, I attempted my first “mountain biking” experience – so quoted because the ride was dramatically dumbed down for me, and I’m sure no one else in the small group would say it was really mountain biking.

But there were climbs and stream crossings and anxiety-producing single-track trails along hillsides, which if you tumbled down you probably wouldn’t die but definitely would get hurt. And it was gorgeous, winding through the grassy green hills of Tehachapi, along railroad tracks and running water, through neighborhoods and barking dogs.

Within three minutes of leaving the parking lot on our bikes, I crashed. My link to humanity was feeling pretty strong that day. Did I mention I’m not that comfortable on a bike?

My thought process as I arrived at the moment of suddenly finding myself over the handlebars went something like this: Calmly peddling along the paved path, noticing the others passing through an opening in a fence at the end of the pavement, noticing a cable a couple inches off the ground that everyone glided right over, thinking I’ve never done that before, then noticing that after said cable you have to bank left, but not too far left because that will take you up a little dirt jump, and not too far to the right because that will land you in a ditch, all the while the cable is getting closer.

Front tire passes over cable, on target to hit the spot between jump and ditch, right pedal hooks the cable and I’m down. The guy behind me says I’ve never seen anybody catch that cable before.

If I have a mountain biking nickname, it’s Cable Catcher. Sweet.

For the rest of the ride my heart pounded as the adrenaline flowed, compounded by the humiliation of often walking my bike downhill or across a particularly treacherous-looking stream crossing. (All the while our leader towed a Trail-a-bike, his four year-old securely strapped in place. Like I said, treacherous.)

At one point one of the other riders asked if I’d noticed an especially large oak tree along the trail, and I am surprised when I realize I never saw it at all. I could hardly take my eyes of f the ground. For about an hour and a half I had to embrace being so clearly not good at something. I couldn’t just ditch the bike and walk home. I couldn’t pretend to be more skilled than I was, and I couldn’t put on a brave face and risk my life and teeth by charging down the hills of death.

Later, after I thanked everyone in the group for tolerating my velo-ineptitude about ten times, Trent of the Trail-a-bike mentioned that the key is to make sure you feel like you’re riding the bike, rather than like the bike is riding you.

That 1998 Schwinn dinosaur was definitely riding me, and it seemed to weigh about 100 pounds. Not once up on the rocks the week before did I feel afraid, yet on this bike, a few feet off the ground, I had been terrified for my life, or at least for my teeth, relatively unscarred face and unbroken bones, almost every minute.

What’s that quote? Observe the mind. Laugh at it.

I said earlier, in Part I, that we risk hurting ourselves every day. But the greatest risk, as someone has said before, is risking nothing at all. From the Eastern perspective, the goal may be to reach a point at which you no longer perceive risk as being risky, but that does nothing to diminish the significance of the path that leads you to that place.

One’s suffering can turn bitter and solidify, trapping you in viscous memory. Or it can crack you open, exposing your softest parts to the world, leaving you with an awakened heart that connects you to all suffering among all creatures.

Breathe it in, connect with the pain, breathe out relief for all who suffer, and this is where you will find groundlessness. There is no harness, there is no helmet. There is no somatosensory cortex.

Heart: awaken. Fill yourself with emptiness.

Then go do something that you absolutely suck at, preferably with a group of people who are really good at whatever it is.


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