Latest Ride on Strava: Struggling on a Mostly Flat Night Ride Post-Rest Day:
It seems like a lot of people I know are struggling with their health right now, and several have lost the ultimate battle. Two people recently lost their mothers. One of them had recently lost her own mother. Another woman I used to know has had a stroke and likely won’t come back from it. Someone close to me is having a major health challenge that affects their quality of life. And while not comparable or a matter of life or death (well, sometimes it is), biking 100 miles a week is exhausting for this amateur cyclist.
“Such is life” say the French. “And so it goes,” wrote Kurt Vonnegut. “Life goes on” says every other condolence card ever written. But as the kids say, “The struggle Israel.” I don’t know why they say that, but they apparently do. Is that an anti-Semitic joke? Maybe a political statement about Palestinians wanting their own country? Or just absurdism? Oh wait, I’m just now being told it’s actually “The struggle is real.” OK, that makes more sense. That’s A Dude just trying to make light of a serious topic.
The Struggle Israel
It’s human nature to struggle, because that’s a central fact and requirement of life. Think of all the things we try so hard to avoid: We resist leaving the womb. Then avoid going to school and doing homework and chores. Applying to college. We try to put off getting a job. Going to the gym. Doing laundry. Cleaning house. And who on earth wants to pay taxes? Along with all of that, we are trying to evade death as long as possible. But try as we might, there’s real serious shit: war, crime, poverty, Fox News, pollution, corruption, slavery, hipsters, racism, sickness and death, plus traffic. All are different things to struggle against. Everyone struggles with something, even on a good day. Pick your battles. When we can meet or beat the challenge, great. When we don’t, we suffer, (but hopefully we learn.) Cravings are also bad in Buddhaland.
Live and learn. Forget and have to learn it all over again. –A Dude Abikes
But from misery and tragedy we humans try to make something good. Last night, the fifth time I attended One Page Salon, several readers shared fictional, but obviously very personal, stories about loss. And our host, the affable Owen Egerton, was moved, sure to fake, exaggerated tears. But there was a hush in the room after each reader, a moment before the applause, a second of shared humanity. Sad, but beautiful at the same time. Yet they put themselves out there, exposing themselves to the public to scorn or celebrate, to provoke thought, emotion or both. A good blog will do that too, so I’m told.
Everyone Poops (and Dies)
The other day I was at the friend’s mother’s funeral. It was a lovely service with Sanskrit chanting. At the end of the ceremony, her body was cremated. Those gathered walked behind the body which was wheeled behind the scenes of the hotel-like building into a garage. It was if we were in a play, going backstage where we weren’t supposed to be. Family members went into another room and actually put her body into the fire. It was surreal, intense, and obviously for the mother and those she left behind, final. Interestingly, they had wrapped her body with cardboard and taped it up. Even in death, duct tape comes in handy.
Right after the ceremony, I found myself at a movie theater. I guess I needed to be distracted from the sadness that was still with me. I saw the independent film The Lobster, an absurdist tale set in the near-future of a glum-looking Ireland. A man (played tragic-comically and wonderfully by Colin Farrell) is sent to a hotel for people who have lost their spouse or partner. They have 45 days to find a new mate, or they’ll be turned into an animal of their choice. Hilarity, murder, and strangeness ensue. Days later, I still find myself pondering this film, wondering what the writer intended, what it means to me, and so on. Like a good bike ride, a good movie stays with you.
Biking Teaches You Stuff You Can’t Learn in Your Car
I can draw no original, profound conclusions, no earth-shattering revelations or pithy, wise lessons from this topic. Just that we’re in this together, we can try to ease suffering in the world, and it’s ok to ask for help, or have a pity party, or even sometimes give in to despair for a while by [insert your favorite vice here]. Here are some examples from biking of people struggling in major and minor ways every day:
- Tooling around Austin, I see dilapidated houses, homeless people, people buying or selling drugs (presumably sometimes for sex), or out spending money on alcohol while bar-hopping on Sixth Street and then drunk driving home. I see a guy on the street who calls me boss-man, so I say, “I’m not the boss of you.” He laughs and I flip him my remaining quarter.
- Tonight, trying to not grind and in my lowest gear, going up a slight hill on the sidewalk on Riverside, I came across a short young woman walking toward me. She said her name was Kayla, and she had flown in from Orange, California to see a musician with a friend (both were named Cory, ironically). But her phone had died and she got off the bus too soon. She was scared, a little bit in a panic, not really trusting a stranger, and not having the good time she came here for. I reassured her, gave her directions where to walk and loaned her my phone. No big deal to me, but she seemed very grateful that I eased her pain a wee bit.
- Earlier in the night I found myself riding in a group of six riders on their weekly social outing. Tony had moved from downtown Houston to Driftwood, in the country south of Austin, where he works from home and get lonely since he has only his dog to talk to. The roads there are unsafe to bike on, so he drives into town for the rides, braving horrendous traffic just to make a human connection.
- The other day I was coming home from a ride and saw a tall man with a prosthetic leg who was just starting his ride. It was his first one outside after six months training inside. I didn’t get more of the story, but that was enough to give me pause and admire his tenacity. I’m dealing with a health challenge that threatens to take me off the bike quite a bit, which has sent my emotions on a roller coaster ride. But hey, I still have two working legs. And if I lose one, I can still bike. Yay!
- A pedi-cabber I know revealed the City is making him get rid of his trailer and replace it with a safer model. He doesn’t make much money from the pedi-cabbing because it takes a lot out of him. So a new trailer is a real financial burden. So too is selling the old one and storing the new one and his other bikes. He’s getting up there in age and I imagine he wonders how much longer he can keep doing the work of hauling rich, annoying, young drunk people around Austin since we “kicked” Uber and Lyft out of town (yay democracy!) for refusing to fingerprint their drivers.
- Then there’s me, with my various aches and pains, which aren’t important enough to chronicle here but aren’t going away as much as I’d like. Some days I ask myself if I should be biking at all. I also must put up with the deafening silence of pretty much no followers or responses to this blog, though there are an okay number of views happening. I’m trying to do my job, meet my bike goals and make better food, sleep and health choices. Meanwhile I’m also having to deal with not feeling good, managing a substandard living situation, being stymied by low wages, having friends who are too busy or live far away, not having family close or willing or able to visit much or at all, and living with the risk of being turned into a lobster any day now due to the curse of being single.
Life is suffering (or disappointment depending on the translation). -Buddha
White People Problems Are Still Problems
True, most of these are “First World” or “white people problems” and as such do not rise to the level of say, cleaning up the Fukushima nuclear reactor, having bombs dropped on your school because you’re in the middle of a civil war in Syria, or an entire planet that will be drowning in hot water in a few centuries if humans don’t stop global warming. These gripes could be judged as bourgeoisie, petty or even privileged. That may be, but they seem real to me, just like your problems are real to you.
My point, and I do have one (thank you for that book title, Ellen DeGeneres) is this: When Life hands you lemons, screw the lemonade, throw a couple of those lemons as hard as you can at the back of Life’s head to try to get her attention. Ask her, “Why all the suffering and struggling? How do we get around it?” “Do we just ignore the problem? Give in to despair? Or is there a better, middle way?” (Buddhists would say meditate.) Let me know if you get Life to give you an answer. Or if you have any Life cereal. That stuff is all kinds of delicious. Do they have a kosher version called L’chaim? Why not? Why you be hatin’ on Jewish breakfast, General Mills? Why oh why?
Striking a Pose – Every Day for 2 1/2 Years
On 6/6/16 I marked 2 1/2 years — 30 consecutive months — of doing 30 minutes of yoga every single day. Usually in my bedroom in my undies. Sometimes at a class. (With pants AND undies.) That is a huge accomplishment, one that does not seem very yogi-like to brag about. But A Dude certainly uses yoga to focus his concentration while riding his bike and trying not to go into that light… of oncoming cars and trucks. I’ll use the yoga mind to try to come up with a solution to this problem of why humans struggle on my next bike ride. And I will fail, I’m quite sure. But I think it has something to do with learning how to let go, being grateful for what you do have, and keeping calm and carrying on as much as you are able to. I felt sorry for myself that my legs hurt when I bike, then I literally met a man with one original leg and one articial leg. Perspective can be amazing, right?
I leave you with this quote from a Tibetan Buddhist master. It can easily be applied to my biking journey or any hard thing you are trying to do, like live your life with as little suffering as you can. Meanwhile, try repeating this to yourself a few times. May I be happy. May you be happy. May all beings be happy. See if that helps. It does for me, when I remember to do it. You keep on truckin’. And A Dude will keep on bikin’.
My advice to you is not to undertake the spiritual path. It is too difficult, too long, and is too demanding. I suggest you ask for your money back, and go home. This is not a picnic. It is really going to ask everything of you. So, it is best not to begin. However, if you do begin, it is best to finish. -Chögyam Trungpa