I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult ~ E. B. White
I used to run. It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with that. I still refuse to use the word runner in the past tense, I believe that part of me will always identify as a runner, so I’m holding onto it. Occasionally, I’m motivated to lace up my running shoes and hit the trails. Getting lost in the wilderness with the wind in my hair, the crunch of the earth under my feet and the damp air on my face, it transports me to a time where this was my routine and I begin to wonder why I stopped. The wonder quickly dissipates when my previously broken foot starts throbbing; when my hamstrings seize and touching my toes becomes Mission: Impossible; and knives of fire are being stabbed into my left knee. The wonder disappears and I’m left with a deep knowledge of why I used to run.
Running was not only my source of exercise, but also a kind of meditative practice. A solitary exploration into my mind, where I was able to notice the thoughts flowing through my brain, but be too out of breath to do more than that. Other times, the exploration of my thoughts was a deep dive down the rabbit hole, which ultimately (fingers crossed) resulted in blinding lightbulbs of realization. It was also a way to run out my anxiety, my overthinking and all my proverbial “crazies”. The act of running was so taxing on my muscular and cardio system, I was afraid that there would never be anything else to replace it.
Until I walked into my cycling studio.
This was a whole new world for me. It was inside, there were other people everywhere who were talking to me, and the bike was not actually going anywhere. I didn’t get it.
After I set my bike up, climbed on and started turning my legs around, I started to get it.
By the end of the class, with a pool of sweat forming under my bike, my lungs screaming for air and my legs begging me to stop, I got it.
Many great lessons are learned at my daily 6 am cycling class. The first lesson I have learned is that when we are uncomfortable, we are actually getting stronger. Significant growth and gain comes from putting myself into that place of discomfort, where my legs are yelling at me and my lungs are hungry for air. My muscles get stronger, my conditioning improves and my competitive nature is satiated. Every day I walk through the studio doors and every day I am thrust into a place of discomfort, and I know I’m getting stronger. Growing. And I pay to be in that space. I not only pursue that discomfort, I crave it. The real lesson has been to embrace that discomfort, to lean into it, not to avoid it or attempt to numb the discomfort.
We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions ~ Brené Brown
In my space of discomfort, on and off the bike, powerful feelings often threaten to overwhelm me. My second lesson is: feelings lie. In the middle of an extremely taxing interval, my mind wanders, my legs scream at me, my lungs threaten to fail me and doubt starts knocking at the door. I feel that I can’t do it, I feel overwhelmed, I feel like I’m not good enough to get it done. All lies. I’m not saying my feelings are not real. They are very real. When I feel that overwhelmed, suffocating feeling, when I feel like I just can not do it or go further or push past the wall, they are all very real. But they are not always telling the truth. Thoughts elicit feelings which drive behaviours. If we can change our thoughts, we can effect our feelings. Flip the script. Refuse to believe the lies and understand the thinking that is driving those feelings. That gremlin in my brain, my inner critic, might just be feeding me bullshit for fun. She’s oh so much fun that way (insert sarcastic tone here). This is not the same as ignoring my body. Ignoring or refusing to believe the feeling that I am unable to do something, is not the same as ignoring the very real pain in my foot when running down that trail. Two different things.
Choosing to believe that I can do something, that my feelings are lying to me, is enhanced by my cycling community who I see every morning at the crack of dawn. My third lesson: community has made me stronger and the challenges more manageable. Running for me was most often a solitary activity. Headphones and the great outdoors. Lost in my thoughts, or lack thereof, or often writing my next sentence of my thesis, which seemed to take forever. When I hit that notorious wall running, when I felt like I could just not take anymore steps forward, I only had me to push me along. I had to rely on an intense stubbornness and an inability to give up. When it worked, the run was still painful, listening to my voice in my head, “you got this!” “you can do it!” When it didn’t, I found myself walking back to my car, dejected, and mad at myself for giving up. Now I belong to a greater group, a collective. It’s impossible to ignore the ‘good mornings’ and the ‘how are you feeling today?’, just as it’s impossible to ignore the sweaty high fives at the end of class. As the collective take their respective bikes, the same spaces and faces every morning, we also take a collective deep breath. I am inspired, encouraged and propelled forward by this group. My natural competitiveness emerges and we push each other up and over every virtual hill climb. It’s an individual effort, but together we summit the mountain. When my legs no longer want to push and the pedals seem to slow down, I am confident and comforted by the fact that we all feel the same way. I no longer have only my own voice to listen to, but all of those around me and together we have climbed all the mountains.
True belonging is not passive. It’s not the belonging that comes with just joining a group. It’s not fitting in or pretending or selling out because it’s safer. It’s a practice that requires us to be vulnerable, get uncomfortable, and learn how to be present with people without sacrificing who we are ~ Brené Brown