Eight Days a Week… Off the Bicycle: Viewing Setbacks Through a Buddhist Lens

It’s been eight days since I’ve ridden a bicycle.  Why?  Heat.  Illness.  Lastimas. Life.  (Lastimas is wounds or injuries in Spanish. So that spells H.I.L.L, doesn’t it?  I meant to.)  When thought of in this way, it’s another set of obstacles, another rise in the road to climb, something that tests you but also makes you stronger.  Part of me is relieved, and lucky to have use of a car.  Another part of me is pissed off that I’m losing whatever fitness and form I had.  Another is panicking that I may not get it back, or get back to it, or even be able bike at all without more injury or at least pain.  Breathing in deeply, I notice I am not riding my bicycle.  Breathing out, I notice that I am writing a blog post about not riding my bicycle.

072518 Strava training log showing 8 days no cyling
My Strava training log shows XT, meaning Extra Training, or my walks.  But no biking.  Boo hoo.

There are things below our awareness which cause us to do what we do.  Bringing awareness to things we leads to a deeper understanding.  Today’s post is a potpourri of thoughts and images seen through the lens of Buddhism.

While I sometimes identify as a lower-case buddhist, I have not had a regular meditation practice for some time.  So I’m no expert.  But experts used nuclear weapons to bomb and kill and maim through radiation poisoning the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the anniversaries of which are commemorated August 6th and 9th.  So maybe it is wise to sometimes not trust experts.

Just Walk It Off, Dude!  Nope.

Juniper sits by a big metal cowboy boot.

Without going into detail about why (because I don’t feel like it, that’s why), I’m still off the bike.  But I’m still walking Juniper the cattle dog daily.  Or should I say nightly, due to the 100+ F degree heat here in Austin, Texas.  And a dog will do wonders to help restore one’s mood.  They’re just so in the moment, and if you get a good one that listens to you and likes you, you can have fun playing with them and forget your troubles for a while.  Don’t have a dog like me?  Borrow/rent/get paid to walk one.

Swimming may be a good low-impact exercise for me once I’m feeling better, but I don’t have a free pool to access like I did last summer.  And walking and swimming aren’t going to cut it in terms of exercise, keeping the weight off, and my mood at least in the tolerable range.  Neither is my daily yoga, either for that matter. Today I got in an extra walk, in two parts, to help a friend with her summer kids camp.  We went to a neighborhood pool, but there was no point to getting in since I couldn’t do laps.

But I took some moments to simply observe.  I noticed how the children interacted with each other, and me, a stranger who was helping them.  How when, on our walk to the pool, I sprayed the water bottle onto their faces, their eyes squnched shut with fear then delight.  Smelled the chlorine of the pool.  Listened to the voice of an old friend, looked at her face, and felt compassion.  I heard the noises of water splashing.  Time slowed down.  I felt peace, tranquility, equanimity.  Without knowing it I had been doing a form of meditation – really being fully there in the present moment.  It was magically delicious.  My daily walks are often very meditative like this moment at the pool, but I wonder if walking meditation might be worth trying again.  Probably.

img_20180725_133306265_hdr145918456.jpg
I helped a friend who runs a summer camp walk some kids to the pool.

What?  Biking Isn’t Everything?  Who Says?

But being mindful in the moment doesn’t last long, and soon my mind was back to bicycling.  I wanted to go to a bike shop for part 2 of the ride leader’s training this evening.  But I was too tired, it was hot, my bike has a flat.  So I napped instead.

Still, I felt and feel the need… the need for speed.  And freedom. The kind that comes from riding my bicycle.  Which I haven’t done for eight whole days.  I feel like I’m forgetting something and doing something wrong by not biking.  There’s discipline, and there’s causing harm.  So if biking is causing harm, I shouldn’t do it, right?  But it simultaneously is good for me.  If anything, Buddhism is about not causing harm.  So why do we, and I, so often not choose wisely?

It’s as if a part of me has been taken away and yet I can see the bike sitting right there, waiting for me.  My Fuji Silhouette with almost, 10,000 miles on it.  So far, she has not spoken to me like Sophie the Fairdale Weekender Archer.  But I can hear her calling to me:  “Hey Dude!  Lose the ‘tude and fix my flat tube!  And be sure to clean my gears and relube.  Let’s just go out for half an hour, see how you feel.  You’ll be fine, trust me.  Come on!”

But in reality, she is a bike, not a person, and she doesn’t talk, and she isn’t even a she.  Still, I hear her/it calling, and it’s good to pay attention to such things.  Maybe it’s my subconscious saying it’s time to face your fears.  Get back on that horse.  If it hurts, get off again.  Get a different saddle with shocks, maybe.  Go to that acupuncture appointment.  Get over that aversion to physical therapy and at least get the assessment done.  Call my old yoga teacher and ask for her advice.  Attack the problem from different angles.

This moment is trying to tell you something, Dude.  What is it?  You’re not young anymore, so slow down.  Examine the ego, its goals, what not posting rides on Strava really means in the wider world.  (Very little.)  And what if biking relatively long distances (for an overweight, middle-aged fathlete like me) aren’t possible to do and still be healthy anymore?  Well, that’s a very hard question to ask myself, I’m afraid.

And being afraid is at the heart of many of our problems as human beings living in times where fear is used as a weapon by rich and powerful people to turn us against our better instincts, and instead against each other.  This is profitable, because mindful, compassionate, organized people create ALOT of fear in the rich and powerful.  So it’s best for them to keep the vast majority of us afraid and disorganized.  That’s collective fear.  At a personal level, we all have fear:  Of speaking in public.  Going on a date.  Asking for help.  Riding a bike on the streets of Austin.  Any millions of things.  How do we move through fear gracefully?

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

-Rainier Maria Rilke

What’s Eating You?

A healthy meal, relatively:  chicken, peppers, onions, potatoes, cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, sunflower seeds, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, spices.

I suppose my point is that all these tests of mind and body are opportunities to return to the present moment.  What am I feeling – thinking – doing right now?  Do I need to journal?  I haven’t yet today.  Nap?  Sure did.  Eat something?  I did.  First healthy, then not so much.  What about work?  Where is today’s income coming from?  And maybe by asking yourself these questions, you’ll stumble into what’s known as self-care these days.

When you have no one else caring for you, quite literally some times, it comes down to you.   Whether it’s weight loss, or dealing with our egos, hectic work schedules or the need to create income, feeding the children, paying the bills, or protesting an unjust immigration system.  On the inside addressing doubt, embarrassment and fear (see my previous post on this), “We all are waging a struggle about which others know nothing,” as the saying goes.

One of my many battles is with sugar, that addictive substance that’s in many food products, and some real foods, too.  Late in the day did you know that your pre-frontal cortex where your will power is stored weakens?  It’s true, there’s a study on it out there somewhere.  (Go look it up.)  So the late night munchies are actually not entirely your fault.  Sure, if you can, substitute for something less unhealthy like fruit or anything else low-calorie as possible.  Applesauce, fruit ices, and water are all good options if you can manage.

If you must eat something unhealthy, try to not beat yourself up over it.  Enjoy it.  And plan ahead for tomorrow.  Try to avoid the addictive craving by carrying healthier snacks with you. I know this but every day have to deal with it.  Someday maybe I’ll learn.  Perhaps it’s my karma from a past life.  Or a way to keep my energy up while I write this blog.  Either way, what’s really behind it?  How can I overcome it?  Mindfully.  Moment by moment.  “Craving and aversion are the two sources of suffering,” Buddha said.  I wonder how he would have dealt with the cheap and prevalent availability of Junior Mints.

Come Down From Your Fences, and Mend Them

Tonight a tenant pointed out that the fence that keeps Juniper the dog from wandering off into traffic was broken by a delivery person.  His fear told him the growling dog meant a dog bite.  But as I learned the first day, it was just meant as a warning.  Although the dog apparently doesn’t stray from the yard, my fear couldn’t bear the thought of the possibility of her running away or even getting hit and hurt or killed by a car.  So I got some clamps, screws, drills, hammer, and packing tape and got busy over the next hour fixin’ it.  (Duct tape was not available and wouldn’t have matched anyway.)

It was good and sweaty work with much back and forth, swear words, and eventually, success.  I decided to “Git ‘er done,” and I did!  At least I made enough progress to make the gate usable and contain the canine.  Maybe I’ll be compensated for my efforts, maybe not.  But work is its own reward.  All work is noble, a friend once told me, and the Buddha would agree.  Fixing this fence gate is a good metaphor.  When presented with problems, I can muster the resources to address them.  This builds confidence.  And that helps fight fear.  The next time I see a broken gate, I know I have a decent chance of victory.  And victory over one obstacle begets more success over fear of failure.  I could have failed.  It wasn’t perfect.  But try, and you might succeed.  Never try, and you won’t.

If you think you can do a thing or can’t do a thing, you’re right.

— Henry Ford 

There’s a well-known book called When Things Fall Apart:  Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun in the lineage of Chögyam Trungpa.  I have the book but for some reason, I’ve never finished it.  But she begins it by talking about fear.  How it’s normal and natural, yet we do everything we can to distract, avoid or ignore it.  And yet it’s there and will need confronting at some point if we are to ever evolve, or even just come to terms with the biggest fear of all:  death.  In some respects, we are constantly dying, every moment is gone, forever.

Of course Chodron suggests meditation, and I’ve tried that.  Oddly, earlier today the voice of a teacher came to my mind.  I don’t know what he was saying but it was an interesting reminder that the path is available.  Being on funemployment for half a year and now past that into a negative cash balance situation has a way of focusing the mind.  Maybe the voice is leading me to really examine closely and deeply my relationship to money and work and finding ways to serve through what the Buddha called Right Livelhihood.

“BE HERE NOW!” 

Ram Dass said that, but it is not so easy; it’s a constant struggle.  I’m asking myself alot of questions these day:  about relationships, with myself, to others, and biking.  Everything, really.  Whether through formal seated meditation or rumination, journaling, writing “morning pages,” daydreaming, maybe even picking up a musical instrument, or simply taking small actions — paying attention to the present moment can only pay dividends.  But it is not easy.  A Tibetan monk in The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham said, “The pathway to salvation is as narrow and as difficult to walk as a razor’s edge.”

While helping another friend the other day, another sage sang this:

Life has come a long way since yesterday (I say)
And it’s not the same old thing over again (I say)
Just do what you feel and don’t you fool yourself (I say)
Cause I can’t make you happy unless I am (I say, I say)

I’ve got to be true to myself
I’ve got to be true to myself
I’ve got to be true to myself
I’ve got to be true to myself

Ziggy Marley, True to Myself on the album Dragonfly

Be true to yourself.  I’ll be back with another post on Friday.

img_20180724_20360975274751258.jpg
Buddhist master of the present moment Juniper strikes a happy pose while on a walk with A Dude Abikes.

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