I was fortunate enough to be able to visit my home state of California and see my beloved family and friends for a whole 10 days. I caught up with my relatives and friends, visited the west coast Flywheel locations, drove from LA to Santa Cruz, hung out with my totally loving, hilarious family (including the star of the show - my niece, Ari), cooked with my vegan partner-in-crime (my mom), and ate my way through incredible vegan food at Sage Organic Bistro, Crossroads Kitchen, M Cafe de Chaya, Joi Cafe, Mesa Verde, and Cafe Gratitude and Geisha Sushi in Santa Cruz. My family and I even had a mini Garage Band recording session of us singing our favorite family songs, "Big Yellow Taxi" by Joni Mitchell and the jazz standard, "Twisted." It was the vacation hippie dreams are made of.
With all the important eating, laughing, and loving I was doing in Cali, the end of 2015 crept up quick and took me by surprise once I got back to the city! With teaching to do as soon as I got back and New Year's festivities (thank you to plant-based chef Daphne Cheng of Exhibit C for hosting a lovely, mindful New Year's bash), it is now the 2nd and I haven't done my yearly intention-setting for this coming year! However, I am not one for self-shaming (anymore) and know that every day we are brand new so every day is New Year's in my book. That being said, the closing of our calendar year is a great time to get extra intentional.
So here is my intention for the coming year - to share and write about a different focus for each month on this blog. I will include personal experiences and practical ways to utilize each focus in your everyday life. The purpose of this is to provide guideposts for you along the journey of this coming year to check in with and inspire you to stay mindful of the way in which you are moving through it. I would love your feedback and comments on anything that is on your mind, anything that is a struggle, anything that you find helpful or any guidance you are seeking that I may be able to provide. I want to open a safe, supportive space for you where you can find insight on how to live a life that lights you up.
With that, the focus for this month is INTENTION. No surprises there, right? I can talk for hours about goal-setting and creating a vision to set an intention for your year and your life, but I want to share something more personal today. It's a story that I wrote almost two years ago, but now seems like the perfect time to share it. It is about an experience that taught me the true power of intention. Enjoy, my friends:
I learned this lesson in an unexpected situation. It happened when I, a self-sufficient, twenty-five year old (at the time) New York resident, learned how to do something most people do at seven or eight - ride a bicycle.
Who knows why, but despite the age old saying that “it’s like riding a bike - you never forget once you’ve learned,” I had forgotten. I did the whole training wheels situation as a kid (I even have an adorable pic of me in a tiny acid washed denim jacket and skirt combo on my pink and white ride). I even pedaled without the trainers a couple of times. However, over the years, my childhood filled up with theater, singing and eventually boys. Then we all got our licenses and only ever wanted to be behind the wheel, and somewhere in all that, I never rode again. When I eventually tried getting back in the saddle, I’d lost my confidence. I was embarrassed and frustrated at myself for letting this seemingly innate skill slip away even after I’d grasped it. I hate being bad at things (who doesn’t) and anger turned into fear. The fear grew until the only story I could tell myself about riding a bike was that I was the girl who couldn’t. This became my little secret - it made me ashamed but also a little proud in a way. Like I was starting my own little trend - “not biking” - just to be unique. But mostly I stayed scared and resisted the constant offers of “I’ll teach you,” from pretty much anyone who ever learned this fact about me.
Flash forward to the summer of 2014. I was twenty five and my sweet, loving and also adventurous older sister was getting married in October! I couldn’t have been happier for her and was so excited to help plan and partake in all the wedding festivities. That included the all-important bachelorette party, of course, and she had her heart set on a September bicycle tour of Sonoma’s wineries. #panicattack
Needless to say, the pressure was on for me to learn, and quickly. Again, friends all offered to rent CitiBikes with me and teach me, but even the thought of it brought tears of shame and frustration to my eyes. I know myself and I knew I needed to learn from a stranger who was also a professional. I am so grateful that I found Andree Sanders, who teaches two hour, three person max bike classes out of Bicycle Habitat in Soho. I booked the class, knowing that if I had someone else to hold me accountable I would have to show up. The day came, and I did.
We walked our bikes to a protected, flat asphalt lot in the center of Soho. A few (cute) men and a lot of homeless people sat on benches looking into the court, eating lunch. Oh great, I thought, we have an audience. Then Shayna, my sister, popped into my mind and I reminded myself I was doing this for her. Ultimately, I was also doing it to prove to myself that I am competent and I could conquer this fear I’d held tightly to for so long. I chose to acknowledge the fear, let it pass through, and instead let my love for my sister and myself float to the forefront of my mind.
Andree had taken our pedals off our bikes, so first we worked on walking the bike with our seat on the saddle, eventually lifting both feet off the ground and gliding, finding our balance this way. Even in this position, without pedaling, she emphasized the most important part: you have to look in the direction you want to go. The bike is an extension of your body, she explained, and like any other limb or extremity, it gets its cues to move from your brain. “Steering” isn’t done with the arms or the torso, but with the mind. So, even when you’re just gliding, which is the first step toward actually riding, you have to look straight ahead if you want to maintain your balanced, forward motion.
Light bulbs and rainbows started bursting into illumination in my brain. Could there be any better metaphor for the work of creating and staying true to the path to your best life? It’s a balancing act, but when you have a clear focus on what’s ahead of you (i.e. your goals), maintaining balance occurs naturally. You can pick a route or say you’ll stay up on the bike, but if you don’t keep focusing on where you’re going, you’ll waver. Especially at first....
Once I had grasped this spiritually relevant concept, I grasped the glide almost immediately. Not only did it come more easily, but much of my fear and anxiety lifted. I felt incredibly liberated - years of mental walls against this seemingly simple skill came tumbling down when I focused on the intention behind it.
Soon Andree put one pedal on my bike to teach me how to start myself and push off one foot. She told me to put one foot on the pedal with a wide stance and stand on it to lift myself up so I could pick up the other foot and sit on the seat. Another relevant lesson - sometimes you have to start your path from an uncomfortable place where you feel off balance, but it can be the best way to kick start yourself into motion. And as long as you immediately “look where you’re going,” you’ll find your center and be cruising in no time.
I was on a high of physical and existential exhilaration at this point. And before I knew it, Andree was putting my second pedal on. Here I was, about to actually pedal and ride a real bike for the first time since my acid washed denim outfit days, and to my delight, I felt excitement where the fear used to be. And because I had practiced each part of the basics; the focus, the balance, the push-off, I got on that sucker, and I went. Awkwardly at first, sure, but I was up and I was going. I was amazed and delighted by the ease with which the bike followed cues of my eyes, as I practiced turning in both directions. LIFE LESSON ALERT: “You can always decide to change direction,” but you have to have a clear direction in mind, otherwise you’ll wobble. But good news! “If you lose your balance, finding it again is as simple as refocusing your intention.” You get what I’m saying here. The lessons are endless.
As I practiced, picked up speed, learned hand signaling and gear shifting, the comparisons to the power of intention kept flooding my mind. Here’s a recap of some other major “a-ha” moments I had:
- Balance is as much about relaxation as it is about strength. Yes, your core has to remain strong and steady, but if you grip the handlebars too tightly, you won’t be able to lift one hand off at a time to signal, which you need to do to communicate with those around you so you can move with the flow of traffic while still getting to where you’re going.
- Everyone learns at their own pace, and at their own time. The other woman in class with me was having a very different experience from me. She was struggling to find her balance and experiencing some frustration, I imagine. However, she kept trying and she eventually got it. She had decided to get it, and she had support from Andree and me to let her know she could. And it didn’t matter that we were picking it up at different speeds - our common goal united us in as a supportive team for one another. Intention brings people together.
Look where you're going, isn’t it beautiful?
With love, light, gratitude and INTENTION,