Here the highways cross. One heads north. One heads east
and west. On the corner of the square adjacent to the
courthouse a bronze plaque marks the place where two Civil
War generals faced one another and the weaker surrendered.
A few pedestrians pass. A beauty parlor sign blinks. As I turn
to head west, I become the schoolteacher living above the
barber shop. Polishing my shoes each evening. Gazing at the
square below. In time I befriend the waitress at the cafe and
she winks as she pours my coffee. Soon people begin to
talk. And for good reason. I become so distracted I teach my
students that Cleopatra lost her head during the French
Revolution and that Leonardo perfected the railroad at the
height of the Renaissance. One day her former lover returns
from the army and creates a scene at the school. That evening
she confesses she cannot decide between us. But still we spend
one last night together. By the time I pass the grain elevators
on the edge of town I am myself again. The deep scars of love
already beginning to heal.
Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change-
The first step on this “journey” of mine, was simply getting to know myself once again.
Before I competed in my first Gravel Worlds, I focused on “building strength” and training for the rigors of a 150+ miles gravel ride. A little over three years ago, I was struggling post surgery to get back into my cycling groove, needless to say I felt rather unprepared and woefully out-of-place. The week leading up to the chilly predawn start just outside Lincoln, Nebraska, I tried to imagine all the possible situations and challenges I could, and would encounter, and the associated mindset(s) I needed to adapt to them. I did not realize during the moment, that in doing so, I inadvertently found myself focusing on my true inner weaknesses – on the things that I need to improve, and on the behaviors that have eluded me for so long, that I pushed aside to compete, that did not come naturally to me … Anymore. Shortly after an early August rain shower, and two punctures, I quickly realized that I can allow myself to feel confident about my ability to deal with what the road had in store for me, for my life. Albeit not the strengths the stereotypical Lycra clad/carbon fiber cyclist, a little smile here and there, and a deeply rooted sense of humor kept two wheels up and spinning along into the evening.
Quiet simply, being yourself, being authentic – Is pretty inspiring!
I have to be alone very often. I’d be quite happy if I spent from Saturday night until Monday morning alone in my apartment. That’s how I refuel-
For the past two years in late August, I bike for nearly ten hours, one hundred plus miles, into the picturesque countryside around Omaha, Nebraska.. Out here, I don’t have a laptop, a navigation gadget, or anyone to talk to. It’s just me and my bike, and a few Western Meadowlarks greeting me kindly.
The first twenty miles are the hardest. I’m on an adrenaline high at first, I wake early and start riding East, where the brilliant glow of a sunrise brings a smile to my tired face. The air is clear on these desolate gravel roads, there is no sound of traffic, yet suddenly – I start to feel lonesome. I feel an urge to text a picture of what I am witnessing to someone, and when I realize I can’t, my phone is resting at home in the garage, a feeling of anxiety pours over me. I can’t turn back now as I turn south into a gentle breeze, so I begin to listen to my thoughts; I go over the events of the week, honoring my thoughts makes me feel less stirred up. Something surprising happens mid-ride, I feel a sense of peace. There is no particular switch that is flipped, I recall thinking at the time: I’m alone, and I’m happy.
Rarely do I get lonely riding anymore. I have loved ones and friends in my life whom I deeply cherish and value, yet, I don’t feel the need to be with them constantly. While it’s wonderful to go on a weekly group ride, I also happily wave so long to them when they turn around to head home, and I continue on … My time, this tender moment, is completely my own again.
I don’t partake in these grueling rides to prove anything. I’m out there, because I have fully surrendered to the power of solitude. It has taught me so much about myself. Most importantly, there’s no one to share opinions with, about who I am or what I’m doing. I don’t have a FaceTube status to update, nor do I have a future conversation with someone sloshing between my ears. What hits home the hardest is when I hit the 100+ mile marker, when I’m alone this much on a bike – man and machine, I can’t turn my back and avoid the problems in my life or allow a stray emotion to weigh me down. I can’t distract myself by blogging or surfing the net. What shines through, is the warm glow of my heart.
Time passes differently after 120 miles. I once watched a young doe leap over an eight foot fence from standing; slowing down as she turned to look at me, the sun passed directly overhead during this time, and I didn’t even notice I was heading West. I patiently listen to the wind as I unzip my jersey to cool off as I head home.
The most exhausting part of the ride, is heading home. I have forgotten about the traffic late at night, the stimulation, the nauseating advertisements seemingly everywhere. Sprinklers running, dogs barking, are a jolt to my body … Although friends, the cold shower awaiting me is simply divine.
Out for a walk tonight,
the dog is throwing all her weight
against the leash, lunging toward
the fat tomcat
licking his black ankles
with a delicious, solemn attention
at the top of the neighbor’s steps.
Because this is what the dog
was made to do.
Because for some lucky animals
the space between the body
and what it wants
is all there is.
You may plainly perceive the traitor through his mask; he is well-known everywhere in his true colors; his rolling eyes and his honeyed tones impose only on those who do not know him-
Why am I waking up this morning?
The answer is, hopefully, not because I have to or I should, but rather … I have a sense of purpose and direction for this wonderful day.
Being able to adapt well to a myriad of challenges, to be able to bounce back from a period of difficult times, requires me to have a sense of direction in my life and a belief that I am acting in a way that is consistent with my true personal values.
What day is it? “It’s today,” squeaked Piglet. My favorite day,” said Pooh-
My acts, these posts, are not necessarily random but they are based on kindness and service.
Seva, above all else, has been essential for my transformation, personal growth and for tapping into my creativity (little what’s left of it). At every step of my journey I have felt the need to be sharing in some shape or form with you. I have believed from the very first post that it’s important to see that we are all in this together, it’s not about acquiring more stuff or taking care of what you have, it’s about actively contributing to the whole “thing” I like to call Life.
Life, all the beautiful beings we consciously choose to ignore, the furry cute little creatures, plants and even mother earth, we are all in a symbiotic relationship with one another. When we step outside of our ego driven selves to take time to give, to contribute, to listen, to love, to heal, to teach, to be compassionate in our daily action(s) for all forms of life? We are expressing mindful love through Seva. As we take time each and every day to become more mindful of our thoughts, words and actions we begin to take a breath of unfettered mindfulness. This breath allows us to slow down, to pause, to listen and not react to the little things spinning around us or being trampled under foot.
When we act with mindful love guiding ourselves, we bring the best out of those we interact with on a daily basis. Winnie the Pooh once said “Beings are like honey pots, those that get the most mindful attention yield the sweetest of honey.” Action and reaction -aka- the Law of Karma begins and ends with how we mindfully care and love after our own gardens first <— This is critical, and then learning that through Seva, we can bring forth the best in all the beings we live with.
Some, many folks, try to express mindful love through “pay it forward campaigns” – “social media pats on the back” and a “look at my loving attitude,” self-serving way of living. Seva is as simple as sitting down with a friend after yoga class who is going through a difficult time, cleaning out your cluttered closet and giving what you haven’t worn in five years to a local homeless charity, volunteering at a local animal shelter, or working in a food kitchen for a day. If you don’t have time for this? Then maybe consider donating to a charity or organization that makes you smile and your heart gently glow. The Action and Reaction – The Law of Karma – isn’t as important as the feelings of love and kindness behind it. When the right energy is sent with the most humble of gift(s), the world can simply multiply your actions a million times over.
I encourage each and every one of you taking a moment to read this post, to embrace Seva. May kind, and compassionate thoughts spring forth from your heart this weekend – Take care and be well!
After we picked you up at the Omaha airport,
we clamped you into a new car seat
and listened to you yowl
beneath the streetlights of Nebraska.
Our hotel suite was plump with toys,
ready, we hoped, to soothe you into America.
But for a solid hour you watched the door,
shrieking, Umma, the Korean word for mother.
Once or twice you glanced back at us
and, in this netherworld where a door home
had slammed shut forever, your terrified eyes
paced between the past and the future.
Umma, you screamed, Umma!
But your foster mother back in Seoul never appeared.
Your new mother and I lay on the bed,
cooing your birth name,
until, at last, you collapsed into our arms.
In time, even terror must yield to sleep.