By deborah granger
Feature photo by Adrienne Helitzer/Still productions
Author Bernadette Murphy is not only a master of words, having written several well-regarded books, but in busting down the confines of self-imposed comfort zones. Risk is not just a Hasbro board game, for Murphy, it’s a new way to embrace life for post-child bearing women.
But, then there is Fear. We all have it in some way shape or form, but not everyone deals successfully with this sometimes-debilitating emotion. For Murphy, the definition of fear is an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real. “Fear gets worse as we age,” says Murphy, “My fear does. I have more things to fear now than I used to, so it’s more important than ever to keep challenging those fears.” At one time in Murphy’s life, knitting was a challenge that she took on to get her out of her comfort zone and she expounds upon that in her book, Zen and the Art of Knitting. In Murphy’s latest book, Harley and Me, she looks at false evidence head on when she learns to ride a motorcycle.
Do something that scares you, is Murphy’s motto. “For a number of years, I had physical health problems,” she tells us, “if I did something physical I would get really sick.” But through determination and internal will, Murphy developed enough strength that enabled her to climb up Mt. Whitney. That was the start of a whole new thing. “I had to get in good shape for the climb and I wanted to keep in good shape so, with a friend, we started to walk and then jog around a high school track.” That stamina and courage eventually cumulated into running a marathon. “My false evidence was that I was too sickly or too weak to do these things, so I started challenging those assumptions and I found out that if I do them slowly and build up incrementally, I can.” And then came the motorcycle. “When I learned to ride the motorcycle, I thought it so big and strong and heavy, I didn’t think I could control it, but I was taught how and realized, I can do this!” One thing builds upon another. “All the ways that I limit myself, are often false.”
Murphy has learned how to make peace with fear. “Sometimes I’m afraid of stuff that I don’t really have a good reason too, it’s just there. I have to deconstruct it, take a look, and ask myself, ‘Is there a way that I can make a relationship with this fear?’” Riding a motorcycle not only conquers a fear for Murphy, but also acts as a metaphor for life. In order to take a curve in the road, you have to lean on your bike. If you lean too much, you’ll topple, but not leaning enough could be worse. “As long as I’m in fear, I’m tense and holding back as opposed to flowing with things and being able to be fully present. Anything that stops me from that is something that I need to make friends with.” Murphy “leans” into her life and the result is not being a victim to her fears, but choosing how to interact with them and recognize what element of her fear is false so she can expose it and stop walking around with an idea that no longer serves her well.
There’s a physical element to risk that Murphy uncovered while writing and researching for her Harley and Me book. After years of being “mom focused” and then hopping on a Harley, Murphy’s inquisitive side took over when she asked herself, “How could I have not known that I would enjoy riding a motorcycle?” It was that question that led her to learn about neuro-science. “I found out that as women, we are often judged by the mom years, the years we’re in childbearing age. People think that’s who you are but that’s only a small portion of an entire life. The brain chemicals that we create during that time make us nurturers and give a false picture of who we really are. Who we really are, is the person we were as a pre-adolescent and then we become that person again as we leave the childbearing years. All the estrogen that was making us nurturers starts to drop so we revert back to who we were originally. I was fascinated by this.”
Murphy’s advice for the post-child bearing woman? “Find something physical that intimidates you and decide that you are going to approach it.” Whether it be knitting, rock climbing, running, or even just a long walk, Murphy encourages women to start, master your challenge as best you can, and then tackle an emotional hurdle. “In my experience, when I find something in the physical realm that I’m scared of, and I realize I can do it, that strengthens my ability to approach things on an emotional realm. It’s much harder to do the emotional thing.” All of this has added up to a more grounded sense of who Murphy is at her core. “This,” she tells us, “is her story. It’s about getting over the hesitation regardless of whether you are any good at it or not and just jumping in to be part of the stream of life.” We all need to steal a page or two from Murphy’s playbook and, in turn, take those lessons and apply them to living our own authentic lives.
Janice Bremec Blum, Editor
Bernadette Murphy writes about literature, women, risk taking, and life — from motorcycles to knitting. She has published three books of narrative nonfiction (the bestselling Zen and the Art of Knitting, The Knitter’s Gift, and The Tao Gals’ Guide to Real Estate); her newest book is Harley and Me:Embracing Risk on the Road to a More Authentic Life from Counterpoint Press. She is an Associate Professor in the Creative Writing Department of Antioch University Los Angeles and a former weekly book critic for the Los Angeles Times. Her essays have appeared in Ms. magazine, Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, San Francisco Chronicle, The Oregonian, San Jose Mercury News, Newsday, BOOK magazine, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing and is the mother of three amazing young adults. Her website is Bernadette-Murphy.com.
Harley and Me is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and indie bookstores.
Contact Bernadette at http://bernadette-murphy.com