A Lesson in Falling

Yarra River Trail, Melbourne

Yarra River Trail, Melbourne

There's a certain magic that occurs in travel. Navigating unfamiliar terrain keeps the mind alert and the senses sharp. Even a mundane trip on public transport or a walk along what might be seen by the locals as an unremarkable residential street is seeped in intrigue. Strange bird song, a shocking scent of juniper, a crescent moon hanging in the sky so close it can't be real. My time in Australia, on the other side of the world, quite unexpectedly turned my world upside-down. 

In Melbourne, I borrowed a bike from the owner of the yoga studio. It provided an easy ride to and from teacher training each day. Riding on the left side of the road for the first time required an unbelievable amount of concentration. A few days after I began riding, an unskillful encounter with some tram tracks resulted in a nasty fall. I got up and rode home shaken, with only a few scrapes and bruises. 

I had one deep scrape on my left palm, a scabbed over right elbow, and some minor cuts and bruises on my hip, thigh and knee. I convinced myself that the best course of action was to get back on the bike immediately. I didn't want to spend the rest of my life living in fear of a little bike ride after all. Unfortunately, the scrape on my palm would make it impossible to grip the handlebars for several days. While I watched and marveled at my body's ability to heal physical wounds, I became aware of the mental wounds that lingered and the imprint the crash had left on my nervous system.

One of the obstacles described in Patanjali's yoga sutras is abhinivesha, often translated from the sanskrit as clinging to bodily life. Fear of death. Commentators on yogic philosophy describe abhinivesha as a deeply rooted instinct for survival. Not at all a bad thing, this concern for one's own safety. But the arising of irrational fears that limit us in life? Well, there's the rub. 

Once my palm had healed enough to ride again, I was determined though fearful to make my way to the studio the next morning. The night before my return to biking, I watched a shot video of Pema Chodron giving a talk on moving outside of one's comfort zone (I can't find the link. If I come across it I'll post it here).

Chodron drew three circles, each inside the other in a target-like formation. The middle circle represented one's comfort zone - all things pleasant and easy. In the circle beyond the comfort zone lies the realm of growth and learning, and beyond that, extreme risk. She argued that growth and learning can only occur when one moves beyond the comfort zone. Extreme risk is when we find ourselves in a situation where we don't have the necessary skills or understanding to operate effectively. When we move outside our comfort zones, the comfort zone circle expands to cover new territory. The realm of comfort and ease can eventually grow to include experiences once considered extreme risk. On the flip side, if we remain always within our comfort zones, the circle becomes smaller and our options in life contract. 

Long story short, the bike rides that followed were joyous. A satisfying joy I felt I'd earned. From the meandering trails along Melbourne's Yarra River, I watched the season shift from summer to fall. So strange, to come from late winter in New York to summer in transition to fall (kicking through autumn leaves and a Halloween feeling in the air) then home again to late spring. 

Perhaps travel's greatest gift is the reminder that wherever we go, whatever the weather, the season is now.