Perhaps the most visceral, difficult, and severe life lesson we can learn from a motorcycle is this: Don’t Freak Out!
In life, when we freak out and panic there is a tendency to make a sudden change. On a motorcycle, making a sudden change due to a panicky freak out is likely to result in a crash, which could potentially result in an end of life, whereby life lessons would cease to be relevant.
This critical life lesson is less philosophical and more spiritual ... or at least psychological. However you shake it, whatever you call it; this lesson has to do with emotions and how you learn to face the truth about yourself and what you feel.
The plain and simple fact of the matter is that you can crash your life just as easily as you can crash a motorcycle, and it happens in the exact same way. While I’ve only crashed one motorcycle, some might consider me an expert in crashing my life ... at least I used to be.
I stopped crashing my life thanks to crashing my motorcycle. Somewhere in the longest week of my life; the week between my motorcycle crash and the purchase of my second motorcycle, I realized a great truth. The great truth was this: The underlying cause of ANY crash is GOING TOO FAST!
Going too fast for what? The road? Conditions? The operator’s skill? Perhaps one, perhaps all. But that isn’t a great truth, what philosophers refer to as an ABSOLUTE TRUTH. An absolute truth is always true ... it’s not conditional. The absolute truth of every single crash that has ever happened in the history of humanity from the first crashed wagon to the most recently crashed fighter-jet is this: The [object] was moving too fast for the [sudden change].
Absolute truths are really fun because absolute truths also end up being relative truths (what philosophers term analytical truths). This means that we don’t have to consider speed as the problem, but rather, we can consider sudden change as the problem.
Now we have to evaluate the sudden change. Was the sudden change internal or external? That is to say, was the sudden change due to the situation, or the rider? We are dealing with life lessons, and the corollary of “no sudden changes” was “don’t freak out.” We can’t control external circumstances changing rapidly, we can only control how we respond. Moving at speed can sometimes cause us to need to respond rapidly. However, a rapid response isn’t a sudden change. A rapid response is a prepared plan of action with the presumption of external change which is inevitable. The great lesson of life here is that the external change is rarely what causes the crash. It is rather the freak out and unprepared reaction (sudden change) to the external “change” that causes the crash.
The deeper reality that the motorcycle teaches us is that the external change wasn’t really a change at all. The deer that jumps into the road wasn’t an external change ... it was a different event in the next moment THAN how you imagined the next moment would be in your mind. In the crash I described previously, the mustang (car, not animal) that leaped in front of the truck wasn’t really what caused the crash. What caused the crash was that I assumed the mustang would stay put until after the truck passed. Had I truly accepted the possibility that the mustang might make that left turn in front of the truck ... I probably would have at least backed off the throttle, and would have probably stopped the bike just before impact, instead of having a crash at 10 mph.
Moving at speed, we learn to look way ahead of where we are, and we make decisions long in advance. Then we have to stick with those decisions. The deeper truth of my crash is that I freaked out ... not when I saw the mustang turn, not when I responded rapidly by applying the brakes, but when I was braking so hard that I became concerned about losing traction and/or getting rear-ended ... I let off the brakes and attempted to swerve at the last moment.
Almost hilariously, the initial contact of the crash was my engine guard and the rear bumper of the mustang. Just enough to throw me “over” the handlebars and into a tuck and roll. The fact that the bike didn’t get run over by the car behind was proof enough that I probably would not have gotten rear-ended had I continued braking ... and my subsequent 30,000 miles of riding have taught me that even on those crumby tires I had enough traction to stop the bike before impact.
When I reflected on all of this during my week of agony without a motorcycle, I came to realize the unequivocal fact that the crash was entirely my fault, and that the absolute certainty of that fault rested squarely on my freak out.
Life is no different, and that is the life lesson that the motorcycle teaches us. If you freak out and make sudden changes every time life throws something unexpected your way, then you’re going to crash. Sometimes there is truly nothing you can do. Sometimes you are simply destined to crash. Sometimes you need a crash to learn. Nonetheless, for the part of life we can control: don’t freak out, don’t make sudden changes. Most likely, even if you need to respond rapidly to external conditions, if you don’t freak out everything will be okay.
#311, Matthew J. D'Anca, Sr. shares the life lessons he's learned since he became a motorcyclist in 2005. Though the knowledge he has gained has been paramount to improving his skills behind the handlebars, it has been even more critical in improving his life.