BL&T No. 061: Finding Calm

Borrowed, Learned, & Thought (or BL&T) is a weekly newsletter sent on Mondays. In every edition, I share a borrowed idea (quote, excerpt), a lesson learned from the previous week, and a thought starter heading into the new week. Learn more and subscribe here.

Borrowed

"Oftentimes, I found myself looking at the world and wondering why it's not the way it should be, and it caused me a lot of grief. If only the world was [this way or that way] ... this would be such a pleasant place to live. In motorcycle riding, if only it wasn't too cold or too hot, or there was enough shade or an open road, it would be the perfect ride. Rarely does the perfect ride ever happen. ... So I thought to myself, well okay, I'm really in charge of how I experience the world. The world just is the way it is, and I interpret it in a certain way ... So If I really want to have a perfect ride, I don't need to change anything on the outside, I need to change something on the inside. I need to see it differently."

Ven. Kusala Bhikshu on This Motorcycle Life: Episode 32 - The Skillful Monk [Podcast]

Learned

What gets lost in times of chaos? Communication, logic, and order. Communication breaks down in our effort to save the day. We feel threatened. Fight-or-flight mode kicks in, and we act without logic. Order is lost. It feels like everything is falling apart, and if we don't find a quick fix, it will all come crashing down.

When I started working with an executive coach, they asked me what type of leader I'd like to become. I arrived at this idea of a "calm force." Becoming a calm force meant someone who brings a stillness to the room. Someone who keeps communication, logic, and order intact no matter the circumstances. Someone who invites others in and helps them find a brighter path ahead.

Over the past several months, I've kept this vision in the back of my mind. In situations that feel tense or chaotic, I've made efforts to slow things down and stay curious. But I'd be lying if I said it was easy. When it feels like everything is going wrong, it can be difficult not to jump to solutions in the moment. Between unforeseen challenges at work and all that comes with settling into a new home, I've been exploring my path to finding calm. Lately, I've discovered parallels with my motorcycle riding experience thus far.

During my motorcycle training course last month, the instructor, Blake, shared a concept that's stayed with me: when you ride a motorcycle, you are in control. Whatever happens is a result of what you did or didn't do. As a first-time motorcyclist, I found comfort in this mindset, especially when most everyone around me highlights the danger of riding. The danger is real, but to me, Blake's perspective meant that if I put in the work to become a skilled rider and stay alert, I can greatly reduce the risk of an accident.

Last Friday, my motorcycle arrived. Rolling it into my garage was surreal. Realistically, I'd been waiting for this moment for months. In the grand scheme of things, it was more like a couple of decades. A quiet childhood vision realized.

I was on cloud nine as I walked the bike across the driveway. Then, before I knew it, it was lying down beside me. I hadn't noticed a collection of leaves when making the turn into the garage. Combo that with fresh tires, and I might as well have been walking on ice.

Given the lay down was only minutes after the bike arrived, the delivery guy was still on the driveway. He ran over to help me pick it up. Luckily, the bike was just fine. In total embarrassment, I found myself cursing the leaves out loud.

Here's a shot of the bike moments before it went down.

The experience set a dark cloud over the rest of the day. Friday afternoon, I got back on the bike to get some practice in, but I felt nervous, trying to get every move "right" so I wouldn't fall. An experience that was supposed to bring me joy wasn't the least bit enjoyable.

That night, I thought of Blake's words as I reflected on my botched motorcycle delivery. I admitted that the laydown wasn't anyone's fault but my own. I hadn't seen the leaves, and I didn't ask for help getting the bike to the garage. From then on, I decided that if the bike went down, it would be because of me. I wasn't going to let that happen (so far, it hasn't). I spent the rest of the night immersing myself in motorcycle articles and videos. I woke up on Saturday with a renewed energy to ride. I got on the bike with focus and accountability.

The way I see it, there are two ways to look at motorcycle riding. The first view is everything is happening to you. Think of a parent's advice when their child learns to drive, "It's not you that I'm worried about; it's everyone else on the road." You ride around in fear, praying for no surprises. The other view is everything is happening; it's up to you how you respond. When the motorcycle tipped over, I took the former approach, blaming the leaves as if they were evil villains who were out to get me. Silly in hindsight. This mindset is where we create chaos.

The truth is, every experience on a motorcycle is new in some shape or form. Just this weekend was the beauty of the first time alone on the road, wind over my shoulders, surrounded by autumn trees. Then, there was the surprise of the bike jolting as I practiced downshifting or the car honking at me as I carefully made a turn.

In those moments of surprise, I could point fingers. I could get angry. I could get scared. Fear is when we think something that IS happening should NOT be happening. Fear is what opens the door for chaos. When chaos ensues, all logic goes out the door, and we end up exactly where we didn't want to be. Alternatively, I can accept reality, take control, and choose my response.

On a motorcycle, finding calm can be the difference between crashing or riding away safely. In life, the situation may not be as dire, but the same applies. I've only had the bike for a few days, but in that short time, I've learned so much. The more I practice this mindset on the bike, the more I discover the application to my life at work and home. I know I'm just scratching the surface here. I'm eager to continue forward and see what else there is to uncover.

Lesson? To be a calm force means becoming skillful at finding calm. Finding calm means taking accountability, owning the way I experience the world. It's accepting that life is full of surprises. Like motorcycle riding, surprises happen at every turn. It's up to me how I manage and learn from them. When I look at life from this angle, nothing is chaos unless I want it to be, and finding calm feels within reach.

Thought Starter

Where is "if only" creating chaos in my life?