It was difficult saying goodbye to my cargo bike, but as I might have imagined, my new bicycle has already gifted me as it is so much lighter and swifter. I have found myself riding even more than previous. These past few weeks, riding has been a wonderful exercise in patience, persistence, courage, and acceptance.
Bicycling is patience-building. Patience with the weather; rain is experienced as unpleasant, and headwinds reduce my speed by many minutes. Patience with my body, which still groans in pain here and there. My body gets stronger and more used to the bike’s stance, but I still walk up Scammell Hill, for instance. And on this hill, I rest a bit while I walk. I just give myself enough time that I can rest when I need to. Why not?
Persistence is manifested, for me, in the fact I ride the bike even though I have a working car (and sometimes, people asking me for rides in that car!). It is a real practice on my part, to commit to a longer travel time instead of darting around in the (mistaken) belief that I “must not waste time” and should use the car. It is also a real practice for me to say “No” to those who want rides! Over the last few weeks I have noticed that the supposed time-saving benefits of a car are sometimes disingenuous or not real. My bike never needs gassing up, for instance, and is easier to park every time. And if the winds are working with me it can be as swift to bike as to drive, depending on where I go!
It takes courage to bike, for me, because cars and car-drivers are not 100% safe, and also people seem to be often telling me how unsafe it is to bike. Due to a little bit of factual danger but probably due a lot more to cultural naysaying, the bike experience can sometimes feel more vulnerable. In a car I have the illusion of safety and control; on the bike, I do not. In a car I am unlikely to get shouted at or sexually harassed; on the bike, I am more likely to get stared at or accosted. Even then, though, things aren’t all that they seem. The more personal/”vulnerable” nature of the bike is mostly a very pleasant thing. I make a lot more eye contact on the bike, smile a lot more, am smiled at in return, can have conversations easily and get to see deer and kitties and puppies and children and people and foliage and our cities’ beauty a lot more. Two days ago I found an enameled ring on the road and gifted it to my son, tying it around his neck by a cord. All in all, the intimacies of the bike are a experienced in a pleasurable way, not a painful one.
When I get home, I submit a prayer of gratitude that I’ve had a safe ride, yet again.
I practice Acceptance when I ride my bike on all the things aforementioned – but most profoundly with my experiences of impermanence and Not-Self. The ride puts me in the moment in a way the convenience of the car leads me to not experience the moment. Bike riding helps me recognize that my ego and my circumstances and my thoughts are finite, limited, impermanent, and in their way, full of suffering. I have a brief bit of time I can meditate and experience the Now and when I do, I touch the infinite, the limitless, the joyful, and I smile at the mystery of my suffering, which is still with me after all these years.
Acceptance and Gratitude permeate my thought-stream while I ride, and even after I get home. I’ve put a couple hundred miles on the bike and due to some pain issues I am ready to take it in and talk about possible adjustments or changes. I find I’ve been thinking about how much I’d greatly enjoy a YMCA membership so I could treat myself to some swimming or yoga or weight lifting to help balance my body from the unique stress of and performance of riding – to un-stiffen my body (and of course, I’d also like a membership so I could take the children swimming!).
But even there, the bike reminds me things don’t have to be perfect for me to be Okay. I can practice acceptance, courage, patience, persistence and gratitude without having the whole thing figured out. I can enjoy my riding even without the perfect geometry, the best biking gear, a pain-free body, or the sometimes-coveted Y membership.
Riding my bike teaches me to smile at The Way Things Are.