Friday, August 5, 2011

Yesterday I Rode My Bicycle Home as Easy as Possible

Sometimes it's not easy to ride easy

After the slow ride into work in the previous post, I planned an easy ride home. Not easy as in "as little effort as possible," but rather, with my mind at ease, acting as my support crew and coach for expending just the right amount of effort to achieve balance and flow. Are grace, ease, harmony too much to ask of a bicycle commute? I've certainly known their opposites while doing even simpler things.

You should have seen me as a kid trying to figure out exactly how to hammer in a nail. Pick up hammer, pick up nail, start nail into board, then hit it as hard as possible with the hammer, right? Wail on that thing! Pull that hammer way back over your head and slam it down on the nail, right? BAM! BAM! Wrong, of course, wrong wrong wrong. Hammering a nail is mostly technique, letting the hammer do most of the work, using just the right amount of power to guide it up and down, but not an excessive amount which is just wasted energy and yields poor technique and bent nails. Hammer easy, hammer with a clear mind and confidence that its weight and shape will cause the nail to go in soon enough, and don't rush it.

Let it hammer.

I think a lot of that hammering too hard and sloppy was the result of a mind not at ease: not confident of technique, anxious about dad or friends watching, wanting to perform well, wanting to succeed, wanting to finish the job at hand in order to be free to go shoot hoops with friends and so not paying enough attention, all of which was self-defeating. Go easy, kid with the hammer, go easy.

Also, not "easy as in slow". Slow is not necessarily easy, particularly extremely slow which is hard, but compared to a consistent pace at a smooth cadence, slower can be physically harder in some ways, less smooth, and the spin clears the mind. But with a high in Phoenix of 111F today and yesterday, accompanied by an ozone pollution advisory, riding easy was no small challenge. I opted to clear the head with a meditation on toad and cricket.

Sitting in a meeting today, I observed a cricket hopping and crawling along the floor between my feet. Here in Phoenix, most of our crickets are a tan or brown color, which took some time to get used to, as I was more familiar with black crickets. Seeing it creeping silently across the carpet like that, I was reminded of my inexplicable affection for the cricket. Recalling my post What is Tough, What is Strong?, I thought that perhaps I had failed when writing that to reflect sufficiently on why I felt so disgusted by the death of a cricket, of all things. If they had used a fly in the commercial I doubt I would have minded, for example, and a moth flying into a flame barely registers. What is my thing with crickets? I started to wonder as I started my easy ride.

Which led me onto toads. Like crickets, I have an inexplicable affection for toads. Specifically, in the distant past, I lived in an apartment which was graced by a toad who lived in dirt near the edge of the grass under the stairs. We called him Mr. Toad, and I checked up on him every night after work, right around the time the sprinklers came on, and he would head out for some adventure, and I presume dinner, in the grass.

I always viewed Mr. Toad's existence in that setting as rather fragile, contingent, miraculous even: like thinking that crickets were always black, I always pictured toads splopping in the mud near a pond, splashing through weeds and chasing water-loving insects, yet here was Mr. Toad perched on a tiny patch of grass in the middle of a brutal dry desert land. That was one of the reasons I checked in on him regularly, to reconfirm the miracle, to reshape my mental form of "toad", and also just to check in on what the old boy was up to.

One night the neighbor's cat tried to eat Mr. Toad. Bad idea for the cat. I think my warty friend was a Woodhouse's Toad, although I didn't identify him specifically at that time. It was a bad idea for the cat because toads have parotoid glands behind the eyes which excrete a poison called bufotoxin, and whatever type of toad this was, it almost killed that poor curious cat. It couldn't move and was obviously very sick, with foam coming out of its mouth. It survived until morning, when they took it to the vet, and after what was I'm sure an expensive and by that time uncertain treatment, it pulled through, and never molested another toad for the rest of its life.

Mr. Toad bought it eventually, though, at the hands of the vicious boys from the neighborhood who slaughtered him sadistically. So cruel. So pointless. Such a human thing to do. Smash the toad under the stairs because he didn't eat enough crickets, or the one particular cricket that was blamed for waking them up at night, something like that.

All this by way of a meditation on cricket and toad, to distance my mind from the heat, the ozone pollution advisory, and the post-work decompression, to try to ride easy at a smooth pace with just enough effort to feel something like floating or flow. 

Let it toad.

Before picture, from back in March

Yesterday, as seen on the easy ride

Was it a successful attempt, did I achieve a new personal record for a bike ride home from work with a mind at ease? I would say that the initial 1/6 of the ride was spent with a busy mind decompressing from a raucous day at work. The next 3/6 I would say went spinning by meditating on toad and cricket (a great name for a pub, by the way). The final 2/6 felt like something similar to a mind at ease and unbothered by the heat or an overabundance of aggressive 03 (ozone) around me, while spinning at just the right pace and a level of effort that I could sustain for a long time even in the heat, given enough water, of course, and shade, and centering meditations on cricket and toad.

Let it ride.

Yesterday I rode my bicycle home from work as easy as possible.



  1. I am impressed with how you think. It is a rare person indeed who challenges themselves to set personal records in the "ease of mind" category. So smart. I also achieve my most peaceful states while on the bike (as I imagine many cyclists do). I'm going to copy you and see how far I can take it.


  2. We are out of sync. My day yesterday got a little scary due to an unplanned incident on the road. I got lucky THIS time.

  3. You are a perfect Dudeist priest candidate.

  4. RANTWICK I smile to think of how far you might go on the ride easy theme.

    Steve maybe we are in sync: it's certainly not easy to ride easy when the curs are slobbering on your legs.

    Oldfool, JRA abides.


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