Closeup of a small stone buddha with a flower in front of it, taken at the San Francisco Japanese Gardens, 1992

Obsess less, ride more

Published 2010-07-08

So I did something really extreme. I took all the cyclometers off my bikes. Lemme ’splain.

I’ve been going a little nuts lately. Like “sudden flashes of violent emotion” nuts. Waiting for our little girl to hurry up and get born is making me crazy. Not just the waiting but a kind of mounting pressure that I will shortly be the sole breadwinner for a family of four.

But I can’t entirely blame that, although I certainly feel a little buried by my life lately.

I have dozens of “projects” hanging around: bike “training” of dubious necessity; bicycle improvement projects; web stuff I want to build & learn; work projects that have no ROI but enormous future-proofing potential; home improvement stuff; landscaping stuff. Projects. But I’m not 24 any more, hell I’m not 34 any more. My energy for “projects” is nil.

But it isn’t entirely a lack-of-energy thing either, although I sleep never and have free time less. (By way of illustration: I have more time to take showers at work than at home.)

The thing of it is, I have goals and hopes and aspirations. Lots of them: big (“new backyard”), small (“paint backdoor“), vague (“learn more Django”), specific (“ride bike 100mi/wk.”). When I have a hope or a goal: I’m stretching to attain. There’s a gap between the state I’m in and the state I wish I were in. It’s this gap that’s really driving me nuts; it has always driven me nuts. Difference is, when I was 24 (or 34!) I could turn that nuts energy into action, and get stuff done. When I was 24 it drove me to learn and build web things. When I was 34 it drove me (us, rather) to move to China and learn Chinese.

That I never actually finished these projects is immaterial. It felt good to have them going, to make progress, to aspire to something. But these days the weight of obligation — a wife and dog and kids and mortgage to feed — pretty much nullifies the energy overage I could always tap for projects.

The Buddha’s second noble truth is that suffering arises from craving. We suffer in proportion to the amount we desire. I always knew but never understood this; because I desired so little, and because I had surplus ego. Before 2008 or so, my life was pretty much entirely about me. But now I am (and, by extension, my projects are) the least important thing in my life. Ego is now in seriously short supply.

And, to add to the suffering, one of my longtime desires is for a simpler life. But living an uncomplicated life without furniture or a credit score is just capital NOT going to happen (see: wife, kids, dog, mortgage). Think how perverse this is: what I want is nothing and what I have is abundance. Thus I suffer.

Which brings me back to the cyclometers.

Last week I checked out a cyclist’s training manual. I’ve been shopping for GPS/heart-rate monitors. It worried me that some of my mileage is “off the books” — because does a mile count if a cyclometer doesn’t register it? And then there’s the 70 or so bicycle-related blogs and Twitter accounts I read every day. My bike love was finding expression in numbers. This weekend I had a beautiful ride over Parrett Mountain and the Chehelem hills; but I was stressed that it was “short miles” (only 43!) and I was too slow (only 15.9mph!). I had let the desire for attainment overwhelm the joy of riding. If I’m ever going to let go of all that desire, the bikes are a good place to start. Because it should be possible to experience joy (“whee, I’m on a bike!”) without desire (“...but I’m only going 15.9mph!”). Quit counting. Be here now. Obsess less, ride more.