Monday, January 6, 2014

training wheels ... again

When I was a kid, training wheels for bicycles did not exist, or, if they did, I never saw or was aware of them. Training wheels are meant to give the cyclist in training a period to practice pedaling from here to there without collapsing on the pavement. They allow the novice some time to get a sense of the vehicle s/he hopes to master.

Anyway, they didn't exist when I was a kid. This meant that support mechanisms had to be replaced with determination. Sure, mom or dad might hold the bike steady now and then, but mom or dad couldn't be there all the time and any would-be bicyclist yearned for the the freedom and independent action that came from knowing how to ride a bike just like the other bike-riding kids in the neighborhood.

I really, really wanted to know how to ride a bike and that meant practicing on my own ... and falling off over and over again.

And even if there had been training wheels when I was young, still, there would have come a time when the training wheels that once acted as an assistant would have become, instead, a deterrent: No one can make a fast, sharp, banking turn with training wheels; the full range of possibilities and delights would be constrained by what once had been a very helping hand.

I learned the old-fashioned way: Fall on your ass and pick yourself up. Scrapes and bruises and tears ... maybe training wheels would have helped, but I doubt it: With or without training wheels, the goal is the same -- to ride unimpeded along the delicate line between joy and sorrow ... yes, maybe I'd fall, but in the meantime, I was soaring. Once, I believed I could ride and was determined to do so. Now, I could ride.

I guess it is the mundane nature of riding a bike that makes people reluctant to agree with me: Bike riding, with all its joys and sorrows, is a precise metaphor when it comes to spiritual endeavor. Precise, exact, no need for exceptions.

Training wheels or not, mom and dad or not ... precisely the same. The texts and temples, teachers and helpers, hopes and fears, determination and dismay, bumps and bruises, incense and chanting, long history and new discovery, seriousness and solemnity ... I cannot think of a particular in one realm that does not find correspondence in the other.

Does anyone hope to ride a bike with training wheels forever? Doesn't anyone who rides a bike say thank-you to mom and dad and training wheels and then ... just ride? Seriousness and solemnity are as unnecessary now as they were once necessary. Childish dreams of "never falling off" (some static-state bliss) are set aside: Riding is falling off; falling off is riding. When you need training wheels, use 'em. When that time has passed, don't. What is useful today turns into a barrier tomorrow. Why make life any harder than it has to be?

Oh well ... I just got off on a training-wheels thought train this morning.

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