People meditate in different ways. Because I have a broken brain that never stops making noise, my three favorite ways are bike riding, dance, and silence. The sound of the wind as I ride down the trail drowns the never-ending ringing and squishy sounds in my head. Like a baby listening to a lullaby, my mind instantly calms and lets go of its clutter. The leadership reflections that follow were born from my cycling meditations. (Another time, I’ll tell you more about dance. Silence encompasses all.)
I used to ride long-distance up until four years ago. My legs were strong and my endurance was great. 50 miles was not a big deal back then. I was competitive and pushed myself to go faster when other riders passed me on the trail. Much of my attention was on the outside.
On August 6, 2016, I rode my bike to go kayaking and never rode it back. The brain aneurysm that I didn’t know about, ruptured and caused an immediate subarachnoid hemorrhage – a deadly condition for most, and greatly debilitating for those who survive it. Some of us (about 5%) are able to recover without a permanent visible disability, but the road to healing (both physically and emotionally) is challenging.
In the early days after surgery, walking was hard and trying to climb on my bike made me dizzy. I discovered, however, that my bike made for a nice walker… so me and my bike kept walking until I finally got my balance back. That first real ride made me cry – from joy.
This week, after completing my longest distance since that first ride, I got to reflecting on lessons from cycling meditations and how those lessons have made me a better leader.
I invite you to take this ride with me with curiosity and self-reflection…
I can no longer ride as hard and as fast as before, but a funny thing happens when you slow down: you notice the beauty that surrounds you. You stop your bike to admire the purple flower on the roadside; you notice the sun breaking through the leaves, and you hear the birds singing instead of your ears ringing.
Healing requires acceptance of limitations. The thinking, analytical, and “always on” part of me tried to force my way through pain after surgery. I hated the chaotic mind and short-term memory problems that I was suddenly stuck with. The harder I pretended that I was OK, the more painful life became. I was terrified at the idea of failing to meet my own standards and others’ expectations… One day as I was biking, I realized that I had it all wrong. The big hill ahead of me was real, but equally real was the fact that my physical resources were no longer sufficient to ride all the way to the top. Facing my own reality and limitations didn’t change the goal. Instead, it shifted my mind to see what was possible. With my bike serving as my “walker” and support, I made it all the way to the top. Goal achieved. There was no shame in walking the hill.
When my brain says: “that’s it – time to rest,” it doesn’t ask. It TELLS me. If I don’t listen, it simply turns my “bright and shiny” light off. My eyes get blurry, my head hurts, people’s words seem far away, and I start talking “Finglish.” This used to really throw me off during my early days of recovery.
But what if my brain was doing me a favor? After a long bike-ride, no one questions the body needing water and physical rest to recover and replenish its energy. Yet, we seem to think that we can keep going without mental rest at work – sometimes even without sleep! I turn my phone off after a bike ride, so no one can disturb my moment of bliss – the amazing sensation of tired but calm energy that follows the physical exercise of a bike ride. I allow the replenishment of energy by giving myself a well-deserved break.
I hope you enjoyed your ride!
P.S. On August 6th of this year, after 4 years of recovery, I rode 53.66 miles (that’s 86.357 kilometers). It took me 5 hours, 33 minutes, and 57 seconds. I saw flowers, and mountains, and trees, and I heard the birds and the ocean, instead of the ringing in my ears. And yes, I walked the last hill. 😊
This blog was written by Tarja Huuskonen, CEO here at Action for Results.
Tarja is a visionary leader, speaker, advocate, and strategist who believes in the power of healthy habits and healthy brains as an accelerator for innovation and growth. Her life’s work has been about transforming healthcare by building capabilities and cultures that enable innovation; working with amazing leaders and teams in Life Sciences, hospitals, academia and government, and orchestrated programs and partnerships for growth globally — always focusing on healthcare and patient outcomes.
You can connect with Tarja on Linkedin (Click here to see her profile).
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