Thursday, April 05, 2007

Lessons of a Book and a Bike Tour

This week, I've been leading a Pre-Easter bicycle tour in the Texas Hill Country, full of ups and downs, in terms of both terrain and desires vs. the facts. All week, it has occurred to me again and again how hard satisfaction is to attain for a day, much less hold on to for longer periods of time.

As some of you know, I recently read a book called, "Loving What Is." The author uses a dialog technique which is refreshingly straight-forward, challenging and jargon-free. Her direct questioning has gotten me into questioning a lot of what gets said by me and by others.

A bike tour participant might say, for example, "I should be in better shape," or "I am not really a serious cyclist; so-and-so's fast" or "so-and-so's in better shape."

I'm now on the lookout for all uses of the word "should" and all comments of comparison in which a person seems to delude or demean themselves or others.

The first question is, "Is it true?" Is it true that you should be in better shape? Doesn't your current shape accurately reflect reality? Doesn't your physical self NOW represent your body, given what you've eaten and how much you've exercised? Perhaps you'd LIKE to have a different body now. Perhaps you have the desire to be stronger or more trim or fit. But it's reality that is true. Reality is the only truth we know.

And so, if there are any 'shoulds' at all, they are those which recognize and express reality as it is now: I should be in the shape I'm in. This is the body I should have (all things considered). It's only from this awareness based on things as they are that we can really take action for change.

On my tours, it's common for the slow cyclists to say that the fast cyclists are "better" or "more serious." But is it true? This comment has, for years, demeaned the art of recreation and of bicycle travel to me. I've often said that "the best cyclist is the one having the most fun." And often that is NOT the "serious" or fast cyclist.

By saying this, the slower cyclist, perhaps a bit "out of shape," perhaps struggling up the hills, is putting two things at the top of the totem pole: muscular strength and SPEED. But as Gandhi said, "there is more to life than merely increasing its speed."

"Fun" is, of course, a short hand, accessible and immediately attractive way of saying "finding pleasure and/or enrichment," even of experiencing "growth" or that elusive "bliss." The fast cyclists often are in a race they can't win. They're pumped up and proud of their speed, but they're smiles are often hollow and short-lived. They're literally on the fast track and often don't know what other alternatives might exist. Fast cyclists, I am here to confirm, often miss seeing much that's right beside the road, much less things on the far horizon. They're what one old gentleman rider I met called "white-liners," referring to the white stripe down the outer edge of the road. He'd ask if we'd seen this or that and then say, "Don't be a white-liner."

Well, as a tour leader, I have to be more diplomatic than that. I used to try to broaden the scope of the most narrow-minded, but people don't change... much. Some do, and so I offer the joy I feel from riding, no matter what the pace and no matter with whom.

Many people like to say they "have their own pace," but they're either riding too hard -- too close to their aerobic threshold -- or they're really just being defensive, not wanting to enter into the give and take of togetherness and compromise every group ride is all about. Perhaps I'm gifted, and I have always been able to ride faster and farther than it seems my general lack of "training" would allow, but I don't feel I have a pace. I have freedom instead. And joy, as in enjoyment. I want to be with others, to share and experience WITH them, not against them. To me, the joy of life, of living in our bodies as they are, of pushing ourselves or easing back, is about
letting go of competition and the sooner the better.

In competition, many of us get suckered in to challenges thrown down by others. When we let go of competition, we gain a whole slew of great things: free-spiritedness and whimsy, play and cooperation, time to ourselves and time to see what's beside the road and out there on the far horizon.


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