Letting go of the brakes

Our job in this life is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.

Steven Pressfield, The War of Art (Buy on Amazon: UK or US)

First instincts tell us to sit on brakes while we ride doing the mountain track, lest we hurtle out of control. To push the stopper down of our rollerblades, lest we get speed wobbles. To keep thinking about thinking when learning to meditate, lest we actually allow ourselves to be empty. To keep our eyes closed underwater, lest we open them and discover that the water doesn’t hurt our eyes after all. To keep our self-consciousness so engaged with worrying about what to write that we feel stuck and unable to write anything at all—let alone (heaven forbid) actually writing something good.

At first, letting go only happens for a second or two at a time. Glimpses of release. In those glimpses though, we travel much further forward than you imagined, and not having the brakes on is no way near as frightening as our first instincts promised us it would be. We discover that even though we’ve let go of the brakes, we can still guide the bike with the small adjustments to the handlebars, and by leaning our bodyweight. These insights change everything.

Most of us understand this phenomenon to some degree, but putting it into action is a whole other thing. Turns out it’s really hard to relax your control in a controlled way. Our instincts can’t fathom how to reconcile the simultaneous lack of control and the presence of safety, calmness, and flow.

It seems like a contradiction, but it’s not.

Soon, with practice, we allow ourselves longer dashes of freedom. Longer stretches of joy and flow between the still-instinctual cautiousness and perceived safety of the brakes. Soon we’re more confident that gravity will pull us forward, and that we’ll still be able to guide the bike down the hill. Soon even more comfort with letting go, with leaning into the corners, and maybe even beginning to pedal faster as we head towards a jump. We relax into the joy of momentum, and our newfound comfort in a state that used to be entirely outside our comfort zone.

Instead of making resolutions this new year in an attempt to add to who I am, my aim is to identify the areas of my life where I’m hanging on the brakes, and to find ways to relax that instinctual reflex. I have a sneaking suspicion that learning how to let go will have a far more positive impact than the alternative.

Where in your life could you do with letting go of the brakes?

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