Let’s Start at the Beginning…

bike beginnings

“Beginning again and again is the actual practice, not a problem to be overcome”

-Sharon Salzberg

Lately, I have been contemplating this idea of being a beginner and of “beginner’s mind.” More specifically, I have been thinking about what it means to be a beginner in activities that I am NOT just picking up for the first time. Let me clarify: there are physical activities that I am starting to do again (post-injury/surgery recovery) that I haven’t done in three or four years. You know that adage, “It’s just like riding a bike…” Well, I am actually testing out that saying right now! Just this week, I found myself riding an actual bicycle, outside, for the first time in about four years. It was a profoundly interesting process to be self-aware enough to watch my thoughts and really kind of notice what was happening during this experience of re-learning.

I am a naturally pretty competitive person (I am probably more self-competitive than competitive with others, although some might disagree…), so it is very hard for me to turn off my comparing and evaluating mind. As I reintroduce some of these movements that used to be second nature to me, I am noticing the thoughts and feelings of comparison with my old self and how I “should be” performing or moving or doing things. Luckily, I think I have a renewed perspective and appreciation for this place that I am in of revisiting activities. Like many things in life, starting over can either be incredibly frustrating and demoralizing or it can be a most liberating position to be in. There can be a significant lightness about shedding all expectations and just embracing the idea of a fresh start. The key is all about the perspective you take.

To me, the idea of relearning how to ride a bike is truly a gift. Being a beginner takes away most of the pressure I usually feel to perform (self-imposed, mind you). I don’t have to be “good” at it. I don’t have to know everything about it or even pretend to. In fact, everyone who knows my story pretty much expects me to be really shaky at these things right now. So, with those low expectations, I cannot fail! Seriously, though, it allows me to bring a true curiosity and openness to this activity that I otherwise would have completely taken for granted. In the past, I could have easily overlooked this experience for its simplicity- riding a bike- but now, I can truly savor it as such a source of joy and movement exploration.

I can approach bike riding from the perspective of knowing nothing and that opens up this huge scope of flexibility in what I can get out of the experience. I can choose any way that I want to participate in bike riding as an activity. I can ride a road bike or a mountain bike. I can ride a bike purely as a form of getting from one place to the next (e.g., a commuter activity) or I can choose to ride my bike for exercise. I can play with the time duration, distance and elevation change. I can choose to bike only when the weather is nice or I can investigate what those funny, huge snow tires for bikes are all about. I can learn how to change a flat tire and do my own maintenance or I can create the habit of relying on my friendly neighborhood bike shop to do it for me…you see being a beginner, the possibilities are endless!

This situation also creates a great opportunity for learning. The uncertainty that I have about introducing new activities as well as the actual difficulty of these activities (biking is hard if you haven’t done it in years!) means that I am paying a lot of attention and have to struggle in a sense to engage in them. Because of this, I am reminded of the idea that having some level of difficulty is what facilitates learning 1 and that developing broad and adaptable skill sets cannot happen without changes in the way that stressors are presented 2 . Without the rigidity of strongly held patterns of movement or ideas of how you should do something or how an experience should feel, you can be free to actually experience new ways of moving, thinking, and being. This flexibility (or lack thereof) is very important to our functioning effectively in situations of stress as regulated by our autonomic nervous system. You can find a great discussion of this idea as it relates to rigidity of movement and movement strategies: HERE.

Let me ask you, when in your life do you have as much flexibility in perspective and possibility as you do when you are just beginning? Aha! And here, my friends is the key to this whole thing…

YOU CAN BE A BEGINNER WHENEVER YOU WANT TO!

Each day. Each moment. Each activity. Each interaction with a friend or family member. They are all beginnings. You are free to begin again and again and again…..

 

  1. Psychologist Robert Bjork researches what he calls, “desirable difficulties” or those challenges that are just hard enough to facilitate learning.
  2. Talib (2012). Anti-Fragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. Random House.
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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Don Dufresne
    May 14, 2016 @ 16:09:38

    My 1974 Raleigh International gave me many great memories and introduced me to the world of long distance cycling. Riding 25 miles to work in the blizzard winter in the late 70’s. Good times.

    Like

    Reply

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