Just a few weeks ago, on a gorgeous weekend evening, a dear friend and I took a walk at Spring Lake, one of the countless natural treasures in our area. His waif-like, golden-haired daughter led the excursion on her pink and black bicycle equipped with training wheels. She recently began learning to ride a bicycle, and this was her third brave attempt to circle the lake. Protected head to toe with her pink helmet and color-coordinated knee-pads, elbow pads, and matching tennis shoes, she was a precious sight to behold. Although the paths are gently sloping and well-paved, it can be a daunting task even for accomplished bicycle riders to navigate through other cyclists, park-goers trailing their dogs, and parents wielding baby carriages.
With focused attention, occasional of reliance upon her dad, and sporadic shrieks of both terror and delight, she continued on her path knowing we were always nearby. As we came upon a downhill turn—the steepest of the journey—she stopped at the top in doubt. She looked up at her dad, and he smiled down upon her. “Honey,” he said with a gentle tone, “you can do this on your own this time. You’ve done it before, and everything was just fine.” “But,” she countered, “you were holding me before. You had my seat, the back of my bike. You kept me from falling.” She looked at me as is seeking outside support. I smiled widely, but remained quiet. Pup pranced and pulled at my side; he was eager to move on. Her dad bent down to meet her gaze. He patted her hand in reassurance. “You know,” he offered, “last time you rode, I was next to you. I didn’t have hold of your bike, you just thought I did. You did this hill on your own before.” “Really?” she questioned, her sparkling blue eyes searching his face for the truth. “Yes, I promise,” he replied soundly and firmly. “You did it last time, and you can do it again. Remember, you have the brakes on the handlebars and you also can peddle backwards Have some confidence, OK? I’ll be close by. Trust me, you’ll be just fine.” Her lips pursed in intensity, she took off down the hill as he squeals pierced the air. Laughing and grinning broadly, her dad called out, “Just remember–you can put the brakes on any time you want, Baby!”
As we followed briskly down the hill, his words, so sound and artless, settled into me. “You know,” I pondered out loud, “that’s the way it is with life, isn’t it?” “Huh?” he responded absently as he hurried ahead to check on his daughter who had disappeared around the bend. I smiled to myself, knowing that it had been a rhetorical question. It surprised me, though, that something so simple could be so resoundingly true. I rounded the corner and found both of them awaiting me, two pair of mirthful blue eyes delighted with the adventure’s success. Pup pulled ahead, eager to spy them again even after so brief an absence. Tail wagging and ears flapping, Pup side-swiped the bicycle, yet the pair seemed unaffected by his wild pouncing as they chattered about the berry bushes they discovered. Finding the berries still unripe, the flaxen-haired youth rode off. Our walk continued, and I smiled as new goslings fled toward the water, the adult geese spreading their wings and calling out fearsome “Do not approach!” warnings to when Pup ventured too close.
My thoughts turned inward as I realized how often I forget to remember certain basic truisms in life. When the pace gets hectic, or the burdens a bit heavy, I often “power through” as though I must, as though the world would collapse if I simply put my brakes on to slow down—or even stop–for a bit. The sun was slowly setting in the sky. My ears perked up at the call of an owl. I paused to listen again as I wondered if it was actually an owl or, possibly, a dove. I giggled knowing that I was not very good at differentiating between the two. I heard the call again and decided it was an owl. Not because I had a definitive reason for my decision that it was an owl, but simply because I wanted it to be so. I searched the grove of pine trees for the source of the bird call, but all was quiet—no movement, no sound.
I made a vow to myself on that outing that I would remember to put on my brakes more often, that I would remember that I can put my brakes on any time I want. I am in control of my pace. I am at the wheel. Worn down quite a bit after my mother’s passing at the end of March and my dear friend’s death in June, I knew that it was all the more important that I slow my pace a bit. Normally filled with exuberance and energy, my body and mind felt the weight of my sorrows, and exhaustion had set in. I had fought the effects of my grieving, and it was taking a great toll. I knew it was time to put my brakes on; even if I didn’t allow myself to stop, I needed to slow down. And so I did. With some concern and pangs of guilt, I cut back on my schedule. I went to bed not long after the sun set, and I woke after it rose. I still pushed myself, but certainly not as hard. I took “tea breaks” more often, and I set out fewer goals each day. A beautiful friend offered me an array of healing supplements, and I began to use them. I made a commitment to myself to visit an Eastern medicine healer—something I’d never done—and I reaped the benefits of her care. My to-do list was leaner and my pace was slower, but my get-well journey has moved forward slowly but surely. In moments of doubt, I picture the tiny blonde girl and her dad who had taught me a great lesson–that it all comes down to remembering that I can put on the brakes whenever I choose. I laugh at myself, because the Earth doesn’t skip a beat when I slow down. My family and friends understand and support me. The world continues on its path whether I slow down or wear myself out with a frenetic pace. In fact, the world might be better served when the healthier, more abundant and rejuvenated version of myself is allowed to shine. It was my fears, my own intensity, and my pride, that keeps me too often on a breakneck course. When I finally put on my brakes, I felt that it was right and good—and I wonder why I’d not done it for so long.
A client, frazzled and fatigued, walked wearily into my office last evening. She flopped down between the abundant arms of the large, comfortable chair with a palpable sigh. “Oh, I couldn’t wait to get here. My life has been crazier than ever!” she exclaimed as she snuggled into the chair. “This is my space to relax and calm down. I get to stop my life when I walk in your door.” I smiled as I offered her tea. I had an idea about the direction our session might go. “Could it be,” I wondered, “that the lesson I learned from the blonde-haired bicyclist and her dad is the one this client needs, too? Settling into my chair, I realized that most of us, at least now and again, could use a gentle reminder that we can put on the brakes—that we can slow down and take care of ourselves–any time we want. It takes faith, it takes courage, and it takes a deep breath and a smile.