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Who’s really steering your life?

I ride a big motorcycle, and my motorcycle has cruise control. Sometimes, if the highway is straight enough and smooth enough, and there’s little traffic, I take both hands of the handlebars and just sit back and let the bike ride itself. Maybe you’ve done the same thing on a bicycle, but I’m doing it at 75 mph on the Interstate. Just like with your bicycle, I’ve discovered that the gyroscopic forces of the two wheels of my bike will keep the bike straight up and going in a straight line for miles and miles, usually with nothing more than a gentle shift of my weight in the saddle to make small direction corrections.

Am I a daredevil? No, not really. I’ve discovered that the laws of physics are riding the bike, not me. I just add some inputs to accelerate, steer, and brake, but 99% of the time the bike is doing everything itself. I’m just along for the ride. Could the same be true in life?

You are gripping handlebars of your life for all you’re worth, and wow is it a sight to see you twisting and turning through all those life challenges! You feel great pride at your skill, your accomplishments, and your success. But is it really true that you are driving your life? Or can you see that your life pretty much drives itself? What would happen if you took your hands off the handlebars of life? I’m sure it’s scary thinking you might crash. But maybe you would discover that there is an infinite chain of cause and effect that has put you where you are now, and steers you steadily along a path that has no definable future outcomes.

In 2005 I had a wonderful job, a beautiful home in New Orleans, a handsome husband, and lots of great motorcycle buddies. I was completely content and happily looking forward to another 15 years or so of the same thing until retirement. Then Hurricane Katrina permanently closed the college where I was working as a department chair. It has taken 10 years to get back into a steady academic post again, after several false starts along the way.

That taught me something important. The Buddhists call it “anicca,” which means impermanence. Everything you know about your life could change in the next instant. And if you resist the change, you will learn what the Buddhists call “dukkha,” which means suffering. And your belief that you are in control of your life simply isn’t true. The Buddhists call this “anatta”, which means not-self. Take your hands off the handlebars. Try it! You’ll see that you only think you are the one in control of the speed and the direction of your life.

Relax and enjoy the ride!

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