I hit a tree, and I hit it hard.
I was on my mountain bike, pedaling my inner Evil Knievel through a forest along a narrow winding trail. Suddenly there was a fast moving, spandex-encased stealth bullet riding right up on my tail.
Spooked, I turned to look at the biker behind me. In the split second it took to glance back, my bike veered slightly off course and my left shoulder made direct impact with one immovable iron-hard post oak tree.
I didn’t go flying off my bike into the woods; the tree just brought me and my shoulder to a dead stop. Sometimes life does the same: it brings us to an abrupt stop.
From time to time, we can gather simple but essential lessons from what’s before us, or more importantly what hits us smack dab in the face (or in my case, the neck – a big pain in the neck).
In life, when we come to a startling and sudden halt, we are presented with an opportunity to hobble away to a safe place, tend to our scrapes and bruises and reflect on some fairly profound takeaways, lessons that might come in handy on the trails or roads ahead.
I’ve had some time to think about that tree and those trails while undergoing an MRI, a costly epidural shot to my neck and countless hours of physical therapy. I’ve also had time to think about life lessons while trying to ignore the stabbing pain that ran down my arm and rendered my pinky, ring finger and half of my hand numb for months.
Here’s what the tree and the trails have taught me:
1) Don’t be tempted to look back. It’s futile and possibly deadly to look back, even for a moment’s glance. Remember, what’s past is past. It’s over, done, behind you. Whatever wisdom you gained from days gone by, bundle it up and move on.
2) Focus on the path in front of you right now, just a few feet ahead. If you look too far down the trail, it can be as treacherous and distracting as looking back.
3) If someone’s on your tail and in too big of a hurry, that’s their problem, not yours. Give yourself the time you need to do what you have to do.
4) Stay on the trail and out of the weeds. Extraneous life drama, AKA weeds, often results in poison ivy, stickers and sometimes even cactus. Stay clear.
5) Forget about Big Foot, mountain men with hatchets, escaped convicts and other bogeymen hiding in the woods. Quit being fearful and LIVE.
Too much of my life I’ve looked back or too far forward, forgetting to look around at what and who is beside me today. It’s this very moment that matters, anything else is either already behind me or too far in the future to matter.
Meeting that tree, and some of the pain that still radiates down my arm and up my neck, is a stark reminder that what’s here and now – what’s at hand – should be my mantra.
I guess it’s why philosophers, writers and the ancients have been saying it since time immemorial. While phrased differently, the message is the same:
“Remember then: there is only one time that is important – Now!” -Leo Tolstoy
“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land, there is no other life but this.” -Henry David Thoreau
“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.” -Buddha
But wise words aside, sometimes it takes a tree to hit the truth head on.