Getting back on the bike... again

The frame on my bike has given up. The new bike has the brake levers in quite different positions to the old bike. As I rode the new bike home, I came to the end of the street where the bike shop is situated, and my hands closed over non-existent brake levers, and the bike kept going! A shock like that only happens once or twice before the position of the new levers is well and truly dialled into the brain. And, sometimes, when we seek to change the way we live, change is that easy. We have a hiccup or two, but the change to new actions and habits is simple and easy.

The situation with the new bike's gears is quite different. They, too, are in a different place on the previous bike. But there is something else. Most modern gears have what are called "indexed shifters." You push the lever and, with a click, the system moves the chain precisely onto the next cog in your gears. Originally though, gears had "friction shifters." These took time to master. You had to judge just how far to move the lever, or you would skip a gear, or end up with the chain slipping between two gears.


Friction shifters are very rare these days. I had not ridden with friction shifters for over 30 years. But the new bike has one indexed shifter, and one friction shifter. (Bike nerds will deduce from this that I have a "mullet drivetrain," but that's another story.) Even though it is 'in the wrong place' on the new bike, my hand goes automatically to the indexed shifter every time. But when it comes to the friction shifter, some weird muscle memory and brain wiring frequently sends my left hand not to the left-hand shifter position of the new bike, or of the old bike, but down to the place the friction shifter sat on that bike of over 30 years ago! I've ridden 500km on the new bike, which is a lot of gear-shifts! But I still occasionally find myself grabbing air on the downtube!

Follow me for a few moments more: Forty-five years ago, as an adult, and for enjoyment, I learned to use a friction shifter. Now, not having touched one in 30 years, show me a friction shifter, and old brain patterns, unbidden and unwanted, burst into life! How much more strongly implanted then, will those brain patterns be that were laid down in childhood, perhaps as a response to surviving abuse, or other trauma? And perhaps with a couple of decades worth of muscle memory built up from daily practice for survival? Is it any wonder then, that when someone, or some situation, reminds us of something in our old life, that we lash out, or grasp at the air, as the old muscle memories and brain pathways kick into gear?

Our inability to quickly "change gears" and move on from those things is not a sign of weakness, or of illness. It is, first of all, a sign that we learned our lessons well. We survived! And, secondly, it is a witness to how hard it is to change the deep and early patterning of our brains. For these things are, in a sense, who we are! We are not so much seeking to change as seeking to become a new person. It took us a lifetime until now to become the person we are; becoming someone else will take time, too.

Life is not about being the perfect person. There is no such thing. Life is about the journey, the becoming who we are each day, as we seek to love those around us. I will do well to remember the steep hill of a few days ago.  While I was thinking about something else, the brain kicked in to change gears as the slope increased. The clashing muscle memories from various bikes took the chain off the rear cogs, and jammed the pedals so that I could barely unclip my feet in time to avoid falling over. What a stupid thing to do!

I worked out what had happened, got grease all over me, but still managed to un-snare the chain, and continued the ride. It's a good picture of those meltdowns and other failures which derail us and tip us over, time and again.  They're humiliating and messy. But we can get back on the bike, and ride on. It's the journey that counts.  And, very slowly, the brain learns new ways of being, and the little child that we are is healed.

And God? Well, God loves us anyway, no matter how well we think we are doing.

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