Cycling empathy

“Selfless awareness is the state we’re in when Nature or art or music creates a sense of wonder.”  –Deepak Chopra, Forward to Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life (NVC)

“Empathy: emptying our mind and listening with our whole being”–Marshall Rosenberg, NVC

Cycling has been a path into the greater world that has opened up space for me to live, learn and breath.  It’s enabled me to give up the stories I clung onto, and build up empathy.  Cycling works a lot like music or poetry or visual arts in this way.  It encourages us to be present to both ourselves and to the ‘other’ dimensions of the world, the material, the numinous, the interrelations.

Though the bicycle is an extraordinary tool for exploring the external world, what’s also interesting is the way it shines a spotlight, very subtly, on our own being.  As we cycle more and more, we discover that our powers are small and limited, but at the same time they are strong and sufficient.  And when we apply our focused selves through the instrument it is amazing where we can go and what we can achieve.

It’s a long journey!  And it is both a social and a solitary one.  Sometimes when I go somewhere the simple goal of returning home is a monument. You’re out there in the weather, that relentless summer sun, digging into the breeze, looking deep within yourself to muster up the strength to get back home.  Adrift and alone in a precarious situation!  We have to measure our energy stores, use our planning faculties and read the topography of the land.

It’s exciting to stretch your limits little by little.  Like a yoga class, we work into those postures gradually.  We recognize the form when we see it in our teachers and classmates, and we know we can picture our body getting there.  But it takes time and continual practice. Once we put our minds eye on the destination we begin the process of figuring out how to get there. It can be as basic as cycling to work or school or the grocery store.

I’ve experienced several disruptions in my cycling life, but each one has been particularly useful.  When I started driving a car somehow I dropped cycling.  I loved the range motorized transport brought me and the scale at which I could view the countryside.  But when I came back to the bicycle I found the intimacy and detail wonderful.  All of a sudden it felt like I lived in the places I was moving through.  The way the bicycle opened my whole being to listening in a way and activated all my senses.  It’s a mystery the way the world becomes incorporated into our being, but from what I can observe, a lot of that process is happening directly while cycling.

“What is true is that the world has a great deal to tell us…”  –Cormac McCarthy in Nautilus

The social part of cycling for me is about the communion we can build with other people.  Cycling is a lot like a community of artists, or scientists, or any profession, wherein the practice is a joint learning enterprise.  There is a collective knowledge and experience that forms the cultural foundation and shapes the education and expression.  Cycling culture reminds me of the way Luther’s reformation re-introduced congregational singing of vernacular music into church services, therefore enlisting the broader community in an active role in shaping the spiritual scene.  When I participated in the Slow Roll 505 ride in Albuquerque, or the Iron Horse, it is like being in the middle of a church choir song in nature’s cathedrals.

And so I keep circling back to our cycling traditions, the faith in its power to restore our  empathy with individual selves, our families and communities, and all of nature grows stronger.  In Barry Lopez’s interview with The Sun magazine in December 2019, he suggests what our present situation really requires is attention to stability and justice.  “Who provides stability in the chaos of modern life?  It is people living in a prayerful way” (The World We Still Have, p. 15).  In a metaphorical sense I recognize the force cycling brings into my daily life.  It is so plain, mundane and ordinary and beyond compare.

Morten Lauridsen on the writing of “O Magnum Mysterium”

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