On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I ride my bike to Amira’s school. She enjoys having me ride to meet her so that we can ride our bikes home together. The ride is less than 2 miles round trip. It’s a pretty speedy trip, even considering the fact that our neighborhood is filled with hilly terrain. At the bottom of one of those hills is our home. There is no way out but up. So, you have to bike up the hill for a piece before you get to a flat portion.
Today, I was feeling proud of myself for biking up the first hill without having to put my foot down to push myself or get off the bike altogether and walk it up and over the crest. My legs were spent and I was moving slowly trying to let my legs, if possible, rebound and to not pant too obviously as a result of my effort.
I winced internally knowing that the level portion of road is quite short before there’s another small rise. And, it really is small. If I could get some momentum, it would be a piece of cake to surmount. But the way the road, sidewalk and trail come together, there’s no way to build up any speed to help you take on the rise. Complicating things is the fact my legs are, after that last hill, functioning less like machines of force and more like overcooked noodles.
I can see in the cul-de-sac ahead that it is teaming with activity. It is filled with (on my left) young moms and their playing toddlers and (on my right) construction workers building a new front deck. I put on a brave smile and pedal. I navigate the road, that turns into a driveway onto a sidewalk and then onto the little path trail. You have to slowly weave and turn this way and then that. I make it a little over half way up and my legs let me know… “you’re done!” Thing is, I’m close enough to the top that getting off and walking my bike to the top seems ridiculous. I try one more push on the pedals and am crystal clear that it’s not going to take me anywhere.
So, I lean forward and drop down off my seat. There I am. I am waddling up, with my bike between my legs, the last 5-6 feet of hill that I couldn’t make it up. I feel and look ridiculous. I couldn’t bear to look to see if my waddling was being observed by the young, pretty moms or the construction workers. My brain just said, “keep going, keep moving forward.”
The rest of the ride is downhill with the ocean breezes cooling my hot brow (more from embarrassment than sweaty effort). I love how fast I move away from that spot. It feels good – like racing away from the scene of a crime. Except the feeling I have isn’t that I did something criminal or wrong… but that I am wrong, an embarrassment.
Amira and I head back towards home and I am registering in the back of my mind that I’m going to have to ride back through the young, pretty moms and the construction workers. This time, I’m going downhill… so I just muscle up my reserves and prepare to bike through. I did. I didn’t look at anyone and just rode straight through and on towards home.
Over the past few days, a good friend of mine and I have been talking about shame. We’ve been talking about what it does to us and how it stunts our capacity for doing what we want to do in our lives. We have been referring to the awesome Dr. Brené Brown in our conversations. Dr. Brown says that guilt says “I’m sorry, I did something wrong”… whereas shame says, “I’m sorry, I *am* wrong.” It’s a tricky but substantial difference between the two. She also points out that to shut down shame we must talk to ourselves like we would someone we love, reach out to someone we trust and share our story.
As I was thinking about our conversation tonight, this afternoon’s bike ride came to my mind. I didn’t distinguish it clearly at the time. I do see that I was shaming myself. It was over a little thing, but little things make their way into big things. It’s best to nip these kinds of internal conversations in the bud.
It turns out I was biking to school in a literal and metaphorical sense today. I became more aware of where shame finds its way into my life. And like my friend said to me today and I was moved to tears when she did: “Now that I know the shame for what it is… I’m finding it doesn’t work anymore. I can see it clearly for what it is and it has lost its power over me.” (This is a summary, she said it much better but I accidentally (Argh! No!) deleted the email with her exact words.)
If you have twenty minutes that you can spare, watching Brené Brown’s TedTalk on shame is worth your time.
PS – If there was any emotion to feel at that moment, when I couldn’t make it up the hill… the worst emotion that it could have been (and still been healthy) was guilt. I could have assessed the situation and said: “Wow, I’m sorry I haven’t kept more fit and active because now I can’t make it up this hill. Bummer.” From that, there’s an opportunity for growth and change. But if I am wrong (which is what shame says) — there’s nothing to be done. It keeps me stuck in the same place. As Brene Brown says in the TedTalk… it keeps me living small. And I’m not interested in that anymore.