Does anyone else feel as though they are just now figuring out who they are, what they like and don’t like, and becoming aware of all the things they’ve done incorrectly their entire lives? Or is it just me?

As I rode from Torrey Utah, up over Escalante and through Bryce Canyon yesterday in the sweltering heat I’m pretty sure I became aware of the fact that I’m right smack dab in the middle of the infamous “refiners fire”.

Don’t ask me why, but anxiety and panic attacks have become more than a daily experience for me…. they have decided to make an appearance hourly. As I rode I felt myself clinching my jaw, shrugging my shoulders, rounding my back, holding my breath and feeling like I just wanted to go home. But wait, when I’m home, I just want to go on vacation… what the hell?

I’ve been learning a ton about mindfulness, being aware of my body, staying present with myself, feeling every emotion, breathing, allowing emotions to pass through me rather than get stuck inside of me. (I’m sure everyone has experienced this…. It’s the whole hamsters running on wheels in your head thing… or that tension headache you’re not sure where it came from, or maybe the stomach ache and nausea without Mexican food?)

Here I was, out in the most beautiful country, on my bike, with people I love, doing what I love and I could hardly breath. I felt scared and anxious. It was my turn to lead out on the bikes…. But I didn’t want to. As I rode I began to ask myself a lot of questions and thankfully, after about four hours of hell, the answers came.

In order for clarity to present itself I had to become more present and aware than I believe most people ever experience. (which meant I had to turn off the music I typically have piped into my helmet and listen without distraction) I was not only noticing what I was seeing, smelling, hearing, and feeling around me, but also began noticing things like how tightly I was gripping the handle bars, if I was sitting up straight or slouching, if I was clenching my jar, was my shirt was riding up with the wind? Were my knees squeezing the tank or were they relaxed?

At lunch, prior to this ah hah moment, my son and I, and others we were with, were discussing whether we do the things we do because we truly enjoy them, or if we do them because we are wanting the approval and acceptance of others. For instance, why to we run marathons? Do people truly enjoy pushing themselves that hard, or do they do it to prove to themselves and others that they are “good enough”? During our conversation I came to the realization that I hate camping. I’ve always told everyone that I love camping at Lake Powell, but honestly, I hate it. I did it because it is what we could afford and I thought others seemed impressed with my willingness to endure eating sand and sleeping with bugs in 100 degree weather. My son was questioning if he truly loved mountain biking. Do we work out for others? Do we manicure our yard for others? Do we believe our identity to be our callings at church or our status at work? How much of our lives do we spend trying to impress or please others without even asking ourselves who we truly are and what we truly want?

I sped up, from the back of the pack and took the lead. On previous rides when I lead out, I realize now, I was functioning from my limbic brain… that part of the brain that provides the basic instincts of survival, fight or flight, protect yourself from pain and seek pleasure. I realize now that I had never been asking myself what I needed, how fast I wanted to go, when I wanted to stop, etc. Instead, I had been in my head and was worrying about whether I was going too fast or too slow and what everyone behind me thought when I would brake on a turn. (that’s something “cool riders” just don’t do) It had never been an enjoyable experience for me (usually it ended up being a near death experience as I decided that going to fast was a much better option than risking anyone thinking I was going too slow). I decided to make today different. The root of my ability to make this shift was because I was being very mindful and aware of all of my senses. I was accessing my soul and asking me what I needed and wanted in that moment. I stayed present, in the moment, and through some breathing exercises I slowed my mind down, found a comfortable speed and began to feel the difference in my body. I was no longer worried about what others thought, I was taking care of myself, being safe, not trying to impress anyone, and I was still able to check my mirrors to observe if others were enjoying the ride.

At our next stop a friend who had given me crap for not wanting to lead started to apologize and expressed she was worried that she had forced me into doing something I was uncomfortable with. I stopped her and thanked her for her persistence. I explained that it had been a great life lesson for me.

Through this journey of self-awareness I am on, I am digging up, cleaning out and re-creating a healthy relationship with myself, my loved ones, and everyone around me. I am discovering that it’s okay to check in with my own needs and boundaries, to care for myself, to trust myself, and consequently, those I interact with will experience change and better relationships too. I’m learning that I’ve always been so concerned for others feelings, rather than my own, that I have tried to protect my loved ones from hurting or feeling “negative emotions”, which has kept them stuck in certain behaviors or has created co-dependant situations.

I believe a good portion of the world only accesses and allows them selves to feel a very small amount of emotion. I believe we live in such a fast paced world, with so many distractions that there is no time to slow down and feel. I believe our society has become so programmed to accomplishing and achieving that looking to others for approval feels normal.

It takes courage to slow down and feel. It takes courage to look deep into our selves and ask our selves hard questions. It takes courage to stay present, to stay with our selves, and to be our own best friend.

I believe that adversity is our greatest teacher. I believe when we embrace adversity and walk with courage through the refiners fire we begin to feel and understand who we truly are, what changes we need to make, and we start to allow God to shape us into more than we ever imagined.