‘Care about other people's approval and you'll always be their prisoner.’ -Lao Tzu
What do mountain bike brakes and caring less about what other people think have in common? More that you may think. Bikes have brakes that range from a scruffy foot-stop all the way up the line to precocious hydraulic brakes that need to be treated with the TLC of a newborn. My new Yeti 4.5 29er has the special baby-love brakes. They are so sensitive that all I have to do is breathe on the right front brake and my wheel stops dead. The brakes are so responsive that it's very easy to overdo it and go flying over the handlebars (which I have done on more than one occasion!) I’ve learned that 'less is more' with regard to braking my bike.
I wish I could do the same thing with as much ease in my spiritual life. I wish I could care less about what other people think, (CLAW-OPT!) I wish that I could be more fearless, move more gracefully over life's terrain, and tap my emotional and intellectual brakes less. I thought by sixty-one I had conquered not giving a fig about CLAW-OPT—that I could write and say and be and do what I want without inhibiting my truth or feeling the inherent criticisms that the human race is so generous with. What a joke time has played on me.
We 'think' we don't care, we even boast that we don't—at least in our magical thinking minds—until something happens and whamo! we are right back in our six-year-old shame spots inhibiting our behaviors, drowning in deprecating thoughts, and apologizing profusely. All it takes is a visit to a public space with a three-year-old to prove my point.
I took my grandson to the Portrait Gallery in DC the other afternoon. My Lovie is a city-savvy kid and knows most of the DC museum security guards by their first names. The museums are rich with gorgeous atriums, gardens, exhibits, and salons to spend hours hanging out for free, and as a result, he has visited a museum everyday since he was four months old. The atrium we were visiting is a wonderland for a three-year-old: lots of space to run and play hide and seek, huge marble islands to drive matchbox cars 'round and 'round, and the echo chamber—wow, it sure is fun to make noise! There are also lots of adults relaxing at cafe tables working, drinking coffee, and enjoying the space. Being kind and considerate of others is always a rule—my grandson knows his way around public spaces, and he knows the rules. And yet, he's an exuberant three-year-old. It didn't take long before "No! Don't! Be Careful!" was spewing out of my mouth, not at all my style of play with him. What surprised me the most was how uptight I was about every move he made, I wasn't able to relax and enjoy this 'ride' with him, so much so that I had to stop and ask myself what’s going on here?
His lovely energy and fearless joy, while not out of bounds, set loose in me some buried shame about not drawing attention to myself in any way, especially in public. It came flooding out and I immediately responded by slamming on my emotional brakes, inhibiting this wonderful little guy's experience in the space. A hard truth hit me: what was driving this response was me worrying about what the other people were thinking about us, and specifically, about me and my grandmothering-abilities. I was in full shame-mode fearing that we'd offend, or make a scene, and that we lacked manners. Wow—that really floored me.
‘We care what other people think because at some level, it matters.’
Why did I care? What was going on here? I grounded myself in these feelings and then—I got really mad at myself. That I could so easily be transported back to a time when I actually moved in the world like that shocked me. I thought I had conquered that stuff. I was startled by it and disappointed in myself. Not only had I slammed on my emotional brakes, I had gone flying over the handlebars.
My ‘crash’ was swift as was my recovery. I took a deep breath and navigated the delicate dance between enjoyment and decorum with my grandson with much more self-kindness and courage. By being conscious of my shame source, I was able to right my bike, dust off and remount—see it for what is was—and then let it go. My effort to go from self-conscious to conscious saved our outing: we laughed, we played, we had an absolute blast at the museum.
We care what other people think because at some level, it matters. We care because other people help to hold up our mirror so that we can know who we are in this world. We care what other people think because we want to know how we measure up. We care because we are human and want to belong to our tribe.
‘choose your life-ride buddies with care’
The trick is caring about quality and character. I ask myself, “what is the source of input that I want to be positively influenced by?” Knowing this helps me to shift and shape who I want to become in this world. I have done so much thinking about this conundrum and I resolved to live what I have learned over and over again: better to consider only what some people think. Your people. The people who align with your core values (and the generally accepted behaviors of a civilized society: kindness, courtesy, and paying taxes.) Surround yourself with people who challenge you AND who have your back. We are a direct product of the people we spend time with.
‘I think we cheat our joy by spending too much time and valuable creativity not trusting our own instincts.’
Choose your 'life ride buddies' with care. I'm pretty fast on my mountain bike, but my ride buddies are way more fearless; they challenge me and make me braver, they encourage me to tackle boulders and bridges that scare the blazes out of me, and they make me a better rider. In turn, maybe I make them a little faster. We feed and grow off of each other's strengths and positive vibes.
I think we cheat our joy by spending too much time and valuable creativity not trusting our own instincts. In mountain biking every rider gets to choose their own line on every section of the trail terrain. Everyone rides the same singletrack, but we do it in our own unique way, navigating the rocks and roots and rubble as we see fit. This is what we must do with our lives: pick our own line and ride the hell out of it. Be on the lookout for who we want to become, without inhibition. Take chances, experiment, allow for do-overs, crash, have a blast going fast and free, and scream lusty war-whoops that echo our truth and joy loud and clear. We must play hard and not give an ‘eff about what the other riders are thinking about us—because they aren't! They are riding their own line, their own way. And yes—brake if you must, but only on your own soul-searched terms: knowingly, judiciously, lightly.
PS: I cannot wait until my grandson becomes one of my actual ride buddies!
I’d love to hear from you—feel free to send your comments to me!