Monday, June 9, 2008

Clarity


Rooted in the complication of Western society, our daily lives lack the now of our ancestors. Days pass into weeks of restrained existence; days spent where our most definitive stroke may be command-S. Tens of thousands of years of descent with modification in our sapient brains tell us this isn’t what life is meant to be. So we go on vacation. And what do we do? We look for the defining moment. Something to restore life to our life.

In interviews with race car drivers, big wave surfers and overweight corporate raiders climbing Mount Everest, one hears a common refrain: that in their moment of greatest difficulty the rest of their lives ceased to matter. And it’s not that they didn’t care about the job, the family, the dog, the bills, it’s that if only for a moment, they could see life stripped of its complications, they could see themselves in an unencumbered way so that they were no more and no less than a person doing.

In the grand scheme, I believe that each time a person takes a timeout to reset their minds and bodies back to now something good is achieved. The more we pile layer and layer of mortgage, car payment, market fluctuations, long commutes, disconnected job roles as well as the awkward negotiation of family roles at home, the more we struggle to keep straight our life’s priorities. And as our priorities and roles abuse our sense of self each day, we struggle to find happiness or even peace. But such vacations can clear the smoke of a day’s stress by rooting us to a moment.

That said, I mistrust the urge to drive ever harder in our off-time, as if the trite, “work hard, play hard” makes anyone a better, more balanced person. What I find more problematic is the need for the Ordinary Joe to climb Mount Everest or undertake any activity that possesses what could be called “a statistically significant rate of death.” There’s something supremely selfish about fathers walking a knife’s edge between success and death.

As cyclists, you are already aware that mortal peril is not a prerequisite to stripping away the demands of the day. Obviously, you don’t need the sales pitch for why cycling is an ideal path to self-discovery. Rather, what encourages and mystifies me are the multitude ways that cycling can strip the day away.

I’ve gone so hard on climbs I couldn’t have told you my name at the top. Most of the greatest descents I’ve undertaken I recall as silent films—sound ceased to exist during those moments. Whole races have gone by where what remains etched is the sound of 100 chains playing over gears. The sound of rubber sliding, spokes breaking and metal gnashing can refocus your eyesight before you are even aware, causing you to look not for the line to follow, but for the hole, the escape route to safety. Any time I see a gap open there is nothing else on my mind other than putting a finger in that dike.

We can find those moments even when there isn’t effort involved. Who can take a leisurely spin at dusk and not be glued to the sunset? That we can strip the complications away so easily (not to mention inexpensively) can keep even the most type-A sort on a more even keel for all four seasons. We needn’t risk life to figure out that our families matter.

For those who manage a morning ride before work, there’s a benefit beyond the camaraderie and effort we show up for. As we spin the small chainring home we compile the day’s priorities: shower, family, work, oh—a few bills. Following a first hour spent rooted in now, the others seem much easier to understand.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great writing. Next time somebody asks me why I "need" to ride I'll point them to this post.

Brooke Hoyer said...

Nice post. *But* ... having climbed seriously in past, I'll state that it's only slightly more dangerous than cycling.

The reason I love both is that I can get outside of the day to day. I can find a window to my soul and better understand who I am and what I can take. I can become intimately aware of myself.

Gary said...

We continue to add even more "things" to do, accomplish, attend, etc in all aspects of our lives. A couple years ago, I decided enough and started stripping down. Material things are part of it but the biggest is time commitments (social gatherings, excess work hours, clubs/meetings/sporting events). Having a freed up schedule greatly reduces your stress, and leaves more time to ride.

Erik said...

Mathematical proof: I haven't been out on a ride today + I'm jealous that it is my wife's night to ride and my night (and day) with the toddler + toddler won't nap + I'm getting less and less in the now = premise is true.

Anonymous said...

Echos of Eckhart Tolle's "The Power of Now".

You don't need an excuse to experience it because life is really just a continuous moving "now" which is expressed in many ways, e.g. "in the groove" or "in the zone". I'm sure you've all felt it at some point or other.

Padraig describes it beautifully here (and in other articles as well) Thanks brov.

Anonymous said...

Hallelujiah!

AG said...

True.

Anonymous said...

Amen...especially to the joy of the furly ride...as we like to call the pre-dawn spin.

Dan said...

"Finding Flow" Good book.

STC Captain said...

agreed -
its hard to decsribe to a non cyclist how a bike ride can calm your blood and sooth your brain.
Some of my most memorable rides have been the pre-dawn variety, or the ones i take without chamois or state of the art shoes, just me, the wife, and the kids strolling the neighborhood

Anonymous said...

Thanks for putting into words that which has been in my head for quite some time now. Ahh, the wisdom of having a few more years behind us. The simple, wonderful joy of feeling the body work while pushing on your favorite climb does so much to help us put the rest of our lives in perspective.
Love this site, keep up the great posts.

J, Sonoma County