Returning readers recall relatively recent reflections recommending rest. After five days of riding my bike almost 90 miles, and knowing I would reach 100 miles last week, this weekend I did very little. My body, my left knee and quadricep muscle in particular, were very grateful. As usual I was having trouble getting myself going. So when a friend offered to come by and help with some errands in his car, I jumped, however gently, at the opportunity. Later, we went for a walk, and it got late. I could have forced myself to go put in some miles on the bicycle, but I did not. And it was glorious. Let me tell you.
A Walk Around a Pond at Sunset with a Friend
Bicycling is the main, but not only topic, of this blog. It’s a big part of my existence, but sometimes I question how long I can continue living the car-free life. Due to not having a car, there are work opportunities that I have been missing out on, people and places that are too far to travel to see in a timely fashion, and sometimes weather or health simply don’t allow me to bike as far or as fast as I would like. So after treating me to a light dejeuner at La Madeleine, including potato gallete and French onion soup, the friend and I moved some of my many boxes to storage, did runs to two pharmacies, and then I suggested a sunset walk.
Strolling around the Mueller Pond, on the land where the former Austin airport sat, and a 1940’s era airplane hanger still stands, I listended somewhat absent-mindedly as the friend waxed on about the advent of self-driving cars. This friend is a big futurist, a believer in techonology as savior, and scientific progress overcoming human frailty and ecological damages. I’m much more skeptical, seeing how technology hasn’t really worked out too well in the past. Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Chernoybyl, Fukushima, the London Bridge, Napster and Windows Vista, to name a few epic failures.
The friend insists we’ll be having self-driving Tesla’s, superhighways without much traffic, less pollution, no accidents, and so on… and far sooner than we think. Maybe we will, and if he’s right, that’s great. But what if he’s not? As far in th e future as I can see is that in a few weeks I have to find a place to live after this extremely generous abode I’ve been provided, sitting vacant as it has been. I need some income pretty quickly. Little help is coming in that regard. My community healthcare is woefully inadequate, slow and at times completely lacking. So while I appreciate his unflagging optimism and don’t want to dampen it, it’s very hard to think about abstract concepts whether they are months of years down the road when next week more of my bills are due.
Biking Is Something, but Not Every Thing
Walking around, I saw a veritable movie set in motion. There were joggers, people walking their dogs, ducks and geeese, professional photographers snapping women in their wedding or quincianera dressers, aerobic coaches barking out orders to their minions, kids squealing with delight as they chased each other around, a guy flying his kite. I remarked that the park looked like a landscape architect’s rendering. A guy went by on his bike, and I barely registered it. Just like my legs, arms, back, and more, my brain just was tired. Tired of thinking so many thoughts about biking so often that I guess it just needed to be unplugged for a day.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Biking — or whatever sport you do most — need not be a miserable slog through the quaqmire. Sure, it can be hard, there is suffering and struggle involved. But sometimes, you deserve a break today. If you don’t get enough breaks, that can lead to burnout. This is a real thing, and it’s important to recognize it. Another aspect of burnout is the diminishing returns of comparing yourself to other people. There will always be those who are going faster and farther than you or I. Good on them, I say. We are probably going faster and farther than plenty of other people. Everyone’s different. You do you. I’ll do me. Let’s not judge.
Sure, I’m getting older, I’m not sleeping long or well enough, I don’t eat optimally, and there’s definitely something going on with my muscles, nerves, tendons or joints. I noticed my white blood cell count was above normal on a recent lab test, too. I’m not making excuses; I can definitely keep trying to do better in all areas of life. There are very good reasons for rest. Life is stressful for everyone in different ways. Where we had saber-toothed tigers chasing us, now we have TPS reports that are due by 5pm or the boss will have our head. We can only hope we have the resilience to bounce back from the slings and arrows.
The friend brought me home, and we hung out for a while, not saying much. We looked at the Amgen Tour of California on the TV for a moment, which Houston and hometown hero Lawson Craddock rode in. The friend had to head home and go visit his dad who’s recovering from something. I had to try to wind down from an eventful if not overly productive day. Making sense of little, I unrolled my yoga mat, and did my gentle poses. Sat down at this computer to type these thoughts. Some jazz flute on in the background. The crickets chirp. The cantina of neighbors playing cards on the front porch with their Mexican beers and repetitive norteno music that was in full force earlier finally wound down.
BE HERE NOW!
Thinking back to our walk, I recalled some of the many things in the world that aren’t going well, for we humans, not to mention the birds and the bees, quite literally. Senseless deaths and suffering, wars, poverty and pollution. Fleeting but real things too: sports scores, stock prices, celebrity scandal, idiots being rude on Craiglist and NextDoor, and well, everywhere on the internet. I commented to my friend about the million dollar homes facing the park while considering how unaffordable living in Austin has become to so many of us. It’s a very real problem technology alone won’t solve. One of many in the grand scheme of things. (By the way, why is that scheme always so grand? I often don’t think the scheme is that great at all.)
But then, mindful of my melancholy, I turned my gaze back to the park and took in nature. The wind whistling through the canopies of green trees. The laughter of children. The setting sun casting a beautiful light over the water. Birds and humans, dogs and grass, concrete and clouds, everything all part of a greater whole. I remembered to take a breath in, and to breathe out. To BE HERE NOW! as Ram Dass exhorted us. And my malaise melted a little. Who am I to doubt the wisdom of the wind, or the beauty of a white puffy cloud in a clear blue sky? To question whether the natural order of things isn’t exactly how it ought to be, despite so many apparent flaws? The Matrix has flaws, and I’m perfectly okay with that. So do I.
Fellow Texan Edie Brickell (who married Paul Simon), sang with The New Bohemians in “What I Am,” speaking my mind years ago and today just as accurately:
I’m not aware of too many things
I know what I know, if you know what I mean
Philosophy is the talk on a cereal box
Religion is the smile on a dog
I’m not aware of too many things
I know what I know, if you know what I mean, d-doo yeah
Shove me in the shallow waters
Before I get too deep
What I am is what I am
Are you what you are or what?
What I am is what I am
Are you what you are, or… what?
Tomorrow I will get back on my bicycle. I’ll go about my business like an ant. A haircut, perhaps. Pay those bills and look into ways to replenish my meager reserves. Come ever closer to finishing my book. Try to figure out what it all means all over again. Maybe I’ll be a bit more mindful of my cravings and aversions, my attachments and expectations. The things the Buddha warned us to be aware of. And perhaps I’ll remember this moment, take a breath, and relax a little. While there is suffering all around us, and within us, much of it is our own creation, there’s plenty that’s not our doing. May we each find a breathe, a smile, and a friend to walk with.
And after all the violence and double talk
There’s just a song in the trouble and the strife
You do the walk, yeah, you do the walk of life
Mmm, they do the walk of life
— Mark Knopfler, Dire Straits, “Walk of Life”
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