Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Liminal Bicycle

I ride the line
At the end of the year, I observed myself riding the line comfortably, in between the bike lane and the motor vehicle lane, balanced and easy. In this space between years, between day and night, between stretches of blacktop on smooth paint, I found myself gliding along without a care. My mind free of worries, my body empty of woes, my heart doing its job without problem, my lungs respiring easy and smoothly. In between. Spinning and balanced. Gliding along. 

From this space, I looked forward, and saw nothing to stop me from taking any turning I choose, no barriers to imagine what I might do or where I might ride. My tires and bicycle were perfection in motion, silent and smooth. I just spin in that moment, in this liminal space, and know something vital and real that must be held and felt to be known. To be in between is to have the opportunity to feel this, and know it, if only for the duration of a bike ride.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Cyclists as a Non-anxious Presence in Traffic

Observance of signs

Exploring some of the underlying themes of this blog

Humans are easy to manipulate. Push on our common buttons, and we react predictably. Marketers and sales people, artists, cartoonists, filmmakers, journalists, politicians, doctors, pastors, police, traffic engineers, and help desk technicians all understand this, and use it to their particular ends constantly, causing us to be bombarded by all manner of stimuli designed and intended to bend our behavior to particular ends which are most often not of our own origination, creation, or will. All aspects of behavior and opinion are fair game.

The science of this has honed these methods to an effective, sophisticated, and often subtle level. I suspect that the combination of pervasiveness, effectiveness, familiarity, and intensity, applied to hungry, angry, tired, lonely, overworked, overstimulated, distracted, smart phone addicted populations, leads both to unawareness of it happening, along with apathy toward it, and acceptance of it.

The negative forms of it, used for negative ends, are the easiest to rail against. Unfortunately, they also seem the easiest to employ and the most effective in practice. Gaslighting and bullying were elevated to a winning strategy in our most recent presidential election. When you see the power of appealing to fear and anxiety, and your polling data show that by doing so you can can cause fear and anxiety to feed on themselves and make your message even more appealing, just about any message can be substituted for facts. That's the world we voters made, and we have to live with its consequences.

On another hand, recognizing the phenomenon of this manipulation, and working to understand it, in both its positive and negative aspects, seems to me like an underlying theme of this blog from the start. A theme which I only just recognized recently. The source of this recognition was a discussion I had at church, in which the pastor described the meaning of a term I don't think I have heard before: being a "non-anxious presence". Just hearing the words fired off a cascade of associations and reasoning in my mind. The religious context for the phrase is something like, amidst the overwhelming worries of the world, when the inevitable events of life strike and fill us with anxiety and fear, someone trained to be a non-anxious presence can be a powerful force for surviving what may feel like an unsurvivable event by being present there next to us in that moment. Someone named Edwin Friedman seems to have been a proponent and elaborator of this concept, via something called Family Therapy.

All interesting, I'm sure, but relevant to this blog, and specific to the italicized tagline of this post, I felt or realized suddenly that much of my thinking, feeling, and blogging has centered around the idea of trying to be a non-anxious presence in traffic, while riding my bicycle. Grabbing some of the bullet points from Friedman and Family Therapy illustrates the point, on a bicycle, in the middle of the maelstrom of vehicles:
  • Being self differentiated
  • Being non-anxious
  • Being present with those one is leading
  • the capacity to separate oneself from surrounding emotional processes
  • the capacity to obtain clarity about one’s principles and vision
  • the willingness to be exposed and be vulnerable
  • the persistence to face inertial resistance
  • the self-regulation of emotions in the face of reactive sabotage
Based on a brief reading of the above-linked articles, I would probably modify the meaning of "being self differentiated" to embrace my understanding of emotional intelligence, mood mirroring, and mimetic desire, but the basics resonate with my experiences of commuting by bicycle, as well as my thoughts or asprirations on doing it right.

Simply, and I've written variations of this so many times it's curious I didn't encounter "non-anxious presence" sooner, I think that displaying calm, rational, non-anxious behavior in traffic on a bicycle can be a very positive influence, both personally and on others.

That's all I have on this for now. More to come, I hope, as I learn more, and gain understanding from other riders out there, about how smiling, waving, and keeping calm and open no matter what, might help.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Shine Light and Speak Hope

"Camel's Red Leaves" by John Randall Nelson

This week, a friend of mine of the opposite political persuasion from me strongly suggested that we should "leave politics out of it" when discussing many topics which don't seem to be essentially political. For example, I guess we could agree that love, poetry, relationships, our dreams and aspirations, our inner family workings, and many other subjects, might be obvious examples. He was talking about more contentious issues, though, that he feels are just overly and needlessly politicized. I thought it over for a second, and said, "ABSOLUTELY. Let's promise each other to leave politics out of it, from here on out."

You see, I hoped that he would recognize immediately that I was agreeing because "let's leave politics out of it" surely can't mean "let's leave your politics out of it so that I can inject my own political agendas." Who would agree to that? Rather, what I was saying to him was more along the lines of a positive agreement that I know he doesn't want to be subjected to my politics any more than I want to be subjected to his, so let's agree to exclude those agendas from discussions where they are unwelcome, unnecessary, and distracting in order to focus more objectively and constructively on the actual, factual issues at hand.

Bicycular elements often feature in Nelson's pieces

What, then, do we mean by "political" exactly? It would seem best to define our terms, particularly that one, since I have experienced it being misused so often,  particularly in a work setting. "That's political" or "it's just office politics" and similar utterances are often devoid of any particular connection with actual politics, and more often than not usually just refer to something uncomfortable, misunderstood, wanting to be avoided, or unknown.

"Political," to paraphrase the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, refers to the organization of a State or part of a State; public life and affairs as involving authority and government ... belonging to or taking the side of an individual, organization, etc.; supporting particular ideas principles, or commitments in politics; acting according to interests of status and authority in an organization rather than matters of principle.

Put that way, due to the recent election and its results, a huge portion of our media exposure currently, both news and social, falls into this category. So, consequently, conversations propelled by recent media exposure seem inevitably to gravitate to the political. And my friend was right, bringing this focus to many topics is just distracting and often misleading.

Agreeing with him, I said back, "Good, let's make a pact to not talk politics, and to exclude political agendas or undercurrents from as many other subjects as possible. Instead, let's just shine light and speak hope."

Words on art

Straightforward, expository language that centers around facts which could in principle be proven or disproven is often a clear test of leaving politics out of it. On the plaque above, there are a few phrases which are potentially political in that they connect with topics which meet the definition above. In addition, the context of the plaque itself offers the possibility of politics entering into the discussion: public art, bicycles, bicycle paths, transportation, discussions about these either immediately or soon thereafter fall into the definition above. 

However, one can also imagine standing before this striking red steel tree with the portal to Camelback Mountain and the little bicycle touches, and making a focused attempt to shine light and speak hope. To leave politics out of it.

I absolutely LOVE the idea of looking at the phrase "..and where they meet almost a billion years of history is missing, lost to erosion," discussing it, and keeping politics far away. Get a mainstream geologist on out here. Talk about stratiography and geological dating, and really dig into this. Ask the geologist to walk you through the science of it, slowly, luxuriously reveling in the unrolling of data, hypothesis, and reasoning. It may be impossible for the human mind to reckon with a billion years of fullness, but there, right there between the red rock and the granite, that's a billion years of emptiness, of missing time, just gone. Here's why. What do you think? Wonderful.

View at sunset looking west from the vicinity of the red steel tree

I truly believe that trying keep politics out of it is going to drive my friend bonkers. I doubt he'll be able to sustain it. Even better, I'm imagining him exploding in a paroxysm of politics while I keep shining light and speaking hope. "Dude, take it easy," I'll suggest to him. "Let's go for a bike ride, look at some sunsets, take in some public art, think about billions of years and ancient civilizations that rose and fell right around here. And leave politics out of it."

Apolitical tree shining light and speaking hope