It was a beautiful day, blue sky, mid-70s. I was meeting Bekah and Jane for a cup of tea in their lunch break. Great day for a cycle. I thought I would come to a graceful stop outside the coffee shop at the mall, "high style" method. It's been my usual way of getting off a bike since I was a kid. Trouble was, I had packed my right pannier with a very heavy tool and as I swung my right leg over the back of the bike, the added weight unbalanced the bike. I did not compensate, and in an instance I went crashing down. It made quite a noise.
Picture it. People sitting outside enjoying their coffee. Folk standing chatting, enjoying the sunshine. Everyone noticed. Lot's of them shouted, "you all right?" "Yes, no problem!" I responded as quick as a flash I picked up my bike and hobble over to a chair at the café.
The damage? A pedal got all scratched up, a few other scrapes, but nothing more on the bike. My knees were bleeding, and I was "all shook up" as I hit the ground pretty hard. The bruises showed next day in all sorts of places. Worst of all was the damage to my ego.
I can distinctly remember my thoughts just before I dismounted. Something like this, "Boy, do I look cool. Shades and all. Nice bike. I wish Bekah was here to see me do this smooth high style dismount ..." Crash!
And there I was—the most uncool guy in the parking lot. The old fart who hadn't learnt to get off a bike properly. The oldster who hadn't worked out he's no longer a youngster. The "zen guy" who forgot to practice mindfulness. The "tai chi guy" who can't balance. Talk about ego attachment!
Sitting here in our garden, several days later, looking at my scabby knees, I'm glad I fell off my bike. Not because I like pain or acute embarrassment, but because I learned a couple of things that will make life more rich.
When I was a kid, I always had scabby knees. All my friends did too. We were beginners. Everything was new. Everything had to be tried. And that was cool. No jadedness. No "Been there done that." No cynicism. Life was there to be experienced, and experience produced scabby knees.
In Zen, there's the idea of "beginner's mind," shoshin. It's coming to everything as if for the first time. Newness, wonder, eagerness and willingness to "give it a go," without preconceived ideas. So, at least until my aches heal, and I have again grown-up non-scabby knees, I have a daily reminder that beginner's mind is OK. It's not a bad place to be.
Falling off my bike also reminds me to let go of my self-image. Buddhism has the notion of "no-self," Anatta. It's a complex idea, and I don't pretend to understand it. Historically, scholars have debated whether the notion is non-existence of the soul, or whether anatta is losing the "false self," the ego, to find a "true self." The latter seems to line up with Hindu understandings of atman, the true inner self, the Buddha nature in some forms of Buddhism, and "losing life (dying to self) to find life (the Christ within)" in mystical Christianity.
In simple terms, don't take yourself too seriously. Have a bit of honesty, with a large does of humility. Don't think too much about your self-image. Have a good laugh at your foolish attempts to be something. Be mindful. Stay in the present and not in some fantasy world.
Falling off a bike every now and then helps!