I have a new bike. It is fabulous. I think it is one of the greatest bikes every created. Did I mention its fabulous? A Trek – lightweight, responsive, pads on the handlebars on which to rest the pads of my hands. I’m in love with this gorgeous bike. When I ride, I feel like all the cobwebs of burdens, uncertainty, self-doubt, and fear are blown from my mind away in the wind as I sail down a hill. Pumping my legs up the hill is another thing entirely, but the focus remains so intense that I have a feeling of bike-induced meditation. It is a wonderful experience.
In Greenville, SC, we have a new “rails to trails” bike path, named the Swamp Rabbit Trail, in honor of the former Swamp Rabbit train that cruised the same path. This is a 14-mile-long path that has slight inclines and gorgeous sites as the trip takes you from Cleveland Street (on the south side of downtown) back through the breath-taking Falls Park in downtown, meandering through an older section of town, winding among trees and along a small river, along the backside of Furman University, and then onward and slightly upward to Travelers Rest, SC. On warm evenings, and Saturday mornings, the trail is filled with bikers, runners and walkers, strollers, dogs walking their owners, and families. People that appear to have never ridden a bike before are precariously teetering on pedals that push their knees to their chins. Finding a bicycle that fits can be a challenge in itself. I love the whole scene.
Several weeks ago, my husband and I were riding the trail, but we decided to take a detour. Hundreds of runners were participating in a local marathon. 26+ miles. I’m not a runner. I like my bike. The runners deserved their space and dodging bikes can be difficult on the 20th mile of a marathon, so we headed off the trail and up Hunts Bridge Road. Sometimes, when you ride, you encounter mean-little-hills. These are not the lengthy heart palpitating inclines that will make your legs burn with pumping, but a simple mean-little-hill that will lure you with its short length, but bite you as your breath comes in ragged wheezes and you realize that the hill might win. Mean-little-hills are almost always a surprise, even if you’ve ridden them before. I’m not crazy about riding on 4-lane highways, as this one is, so I got off on the cracked and gravel-covered sidewalk. Not a good place for a lightweight trek. A new lightweight beloved trek bike. On a mean-little-hill.
I noticed immediately, however, if I shifted my attention to the sidewalk right in front of my bike, I didn’t fear the hill so much. I could stare at the two feet or so that was directly in front of my tire, and the “idea” of the hill went away. (was Plato speaking directly to me?) This was not about beating a little hill, but it became the process of peddling through the two – three feet that were right in front of me. And I also noticed that with that kind of focus, I didn’t notice the hill part. All I saw was that short amount of cracked sidewalk that, with this kind of focus, would allow me to miss the particularly deep cracks and huge rocks. Hmmm.
This felt like an analogy to life. If, on a day-to-day basis, I focus on what I need to do that day, and not what the longterm scary goal is, I don’t notice that the goal has not been reached that day. I only notice that I’m doing what needs to be done. On that day. In that hour. In that moment.
This is referred to as mindful living. I haven’t actually looked it up, so I can’t see that is what anyone else calls it. But it is what I call it. It is paying attention to the person to whom you are speaking at that moment. Sincere undistracted attention. It is finishing the creation of one quiz for my history class. It is writing the next 2000 words of my book for today. It is making that appointment that I wrote in my daybook that I will make today. It is being present in my mind while I hold my grandchild, talk to my son, or read a book.
Just watch the sidewalk in front of you. The rest of the hill does not have to be conquered at the same time. You won’t even notice it is a hill. Because your daily bites and successes can come two – three feet at a time.