It’s Whatever You Think It Is

Windshield bugThere’s an old joke that goes, “What’s the last thing that goes thru a bug’s mind when it hits your windshield?” His ass!

I thought of that joke (I’m not totally sure why) as the clock chimed 2:00. You see, about a week ago, I threw my back out. It’s something that happens once or twice a year, usually caused by an insignificant movement on my part. It’s been happening for several years now so I’ve come to understand that it will leave me in intense pain for 7 days. Since I did it last Friday while painting the basement of my house that was supposed to have already been sold AS-IS, I knew that it was around 2:00 when it happened. A couple of days ago I told Susie that I’d be completely recovered at 2:00 today.

When the clock struck 2:00, I thought of the joke about the bug. You see, his ass may have been the last thing to go thru his mind, but he had full control of his last thought (if you’ll allow me to anthropomorphize the little fella). And thoughts are powerful things that we often forget to take seriously until it’s too late.

Henry Ford is most often credited for saying, “Whether you think you are creative or not, you’re right.” A lot of things about us fit into that sentiment. Maybe most things do. I’m not talking about that whole Rhonda Byrne Secret thing. You aren’t going to make anything significant happen without putting in the hard work. But if you don’t start with the right thinking, the hard work won’t be enough.

My niece started blogging this week. Her first post was titled Lost on the Road to Should. In it, she hints at this same concept. We can spend our lives thinking about what we should do. All of us have had those times in our lives where we stopped thinking about what we should be doing and focused instead on what we want to be doing, or even better, on what we are doing. These are the times when we feel most alive. Can you feel me?

Zig Ziglar used to talk about getting rid of that stinkin’ thinkin’! He said we needed a checkup from the neck up. The man was incredibly corny, but his words contained powerful wisdom. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one can help you get where you want to go. And believing in yourself starts with the thoughts you have about yourself and your situation.

I believe that’s the primary difference between people who grow up in hard times who make their way out of them and those that don’t. It’s easier to blame your surroundings for your situation. But it’s not right to do so. You have to own your piece of it and do something about it. When we circle up at the beginning and end of our Back on My Feet runs, we say the Serenity Prayer. Now those of you who know me know that praying isn’t a common activity for me. But the Serenity Prayer holds the key to moving forward. It is my checkup from the neck up.

So that poor little bug, when he realized that he was unavoidably going to meet his doom, could have had his last thought be one of woe for his predicament, or, since the end would be the same, he could have gone out thinking what a wonderful time he’d had while he was here.

And me. I’ve spent all week sitting on my couch reading good books and watching bad movies. I’ve done rounds on the heating pad until I started to believe I was some of Arby’s brisket, approaching my 13 hours in the roaster. I’ve been to my acupuncturist, and my wife has massaged Deep Blue into me each night before bed. I’ve done the work. It’s past 2:00, and I’m recovered. The declaration I made a few days ago didn’t make my back better, but it set the expectation in my mind for when it would be. I don’t plan to go for a run or a long bike ride tomorrow, but I won’t spend the day sitting on the couch watching bad movies and reading good books. I’ll go back to my normal routine.

What about you?

Why I Run

Damon on the runI was reading Chrissy Vasquez’s latest blog post today. I was moved by her honesty and I really wanted to hug her by the time I finished. Toward the end of her post, she talked about experiencing the runner’s high for the first time. I can’t tell you that I remember my first time, but I can assure you that had I never experienced the runner’s high I would have abandoned running a long time ago. There are less difficult ways to get exercise. Look at that face in the photo! Does that look like I’m having fun?

The fun of running, besides being able to eat anything I want, is what happens in my head when I’m out on the streets. If you’ve never experienced it, there is no way for me to describe it that will be meaningful to you. Suffice it to say that I’m willing to wear that face over there in public several times a week in order to have that experience for a few moments during the run. 

I experienced this mental state for the first time outside of running during my bike ride across the country. As I pedaled along on a back country road one day, I suddenly realized that I had covered nearly 30 miles without noticing anything. Then that feeling poured over me as I realized that I had been in the zone for a very long time, longer than I could possibly stay there when running. I now find that I can get there on my bicycle, but not reliably. I haven’t figured out the conditions that create the atmosphere for me to get there on the bike. But when I run…

As long as I’m running alone and not racing or having to pay attention to my route, I can slip into the zone sometime during the second half mile of a run. I can stay there for 15 or 20 minutes. I don’t know what brings me out. I haven’t been able to return during the same run, which is why I hate when external things like cars or dogs snap me out. 

I have done most of my running this year with Back on My Feet. As a result, I’ve missed those moments in my special state of mind. I ran solo on Sunday morning, and it wasn’t until I read Chrissy’s post that I realized what was so great about that morning run. 

I chase that state of mind in lots of ways. I think I have brief periods during meditation. If I could practice Tai Chi enough, I think there’s a chance to have a group version of the experience. I’ll find the conditions required to get there on my bike now that I know it is possible. Wherever I find it, I’ll savor it. But for now, that’s why I run.

How Often Do You Notice What’s Missing?

Lake MichiganI meditate for 20 minutes most mornings right after I get out of bed. I sit in my ugly brown La-Z-Boy recliner and practice mindful meditation using Insight Timer. This morning I got up and went for a run first thing. It was the first solo run I’ve had this year. When I got back, I was too hot and sweaty to sit in my La-Z-Boy, so I sat in a lawn chair on the deck to meditate. That’s when it hit me that something was missing — silence!

I love living downtown. It’s walkable. It’s vibrant. The neighborhoods are more like the one I grew up in. But downtown is never quiet. Over time, we all become accustomed to the noise and don’t notice the trains, and traffic, and sirens, and animals and insects that create the background noise to our lives. Sometimes though, I get a sudden feeling that something is missing. When I have the time to consider the thought I can often come up with what it is. That feeling led me to realize that I’ve been missing silence. Then all of the silent moments I had during my 45 days riding across the country went flashing thru my mind. I really missed the silence then.

All of this is a long way to say that there are often things missing in our lives that have  been missing for so long that we can’t identify what they are. We just recognize a feeling of loss that seems generic. There are no generic losses. If you’re missing something, it is something specific. Examine that feeling. Sit with it in a quiet place — as quiet as you can find anyway. When the loss becomes more specific, follow it. Find out when and where you lost it. Then go back there, even if it’s only in your mind. Revisit what you’ve lost. Just like I went out and found some silence.

Remembering to be Present

Someone very close to me told me the other day that I came back from my cross country bike ride a nicer person. Before I could thank her for that compliment, she said, “but now you’ve become mean again.”

I was really hurt by the comment. I didn’t respond. Instead I went silent and took time to contemplate her statement. Sometimes, often times, the people around us see things that we overlook about ourselves. I took this to perhaps be one of those times. After thinking about it for a day or so, I realized that she was right. I was mean again. I had lost that connection with the moment that I’d enjoyed during my 45 day trek across the country.

Just as importantly, I had begun to reflect what was coming to me from others. People caught up in their day-to-day activities aren’t as nice to one another as people having an unusual experience. When I rode across the country, I became an unusual experience for everyone I encountered. They responded with kindness and generosity. I didn’t exchange harsh words with another individual during my entire trip. Now that I’m back, my interaction with others is no longer unusual. I’m part of their routine. As such, they treat me with the same ambivalence as the other people they encounter. 

After being the catalyst for kindness, I took this routine treatment as aggression and responded with aggression. The end result was a cycle of meanness that was unintentional. I started paying more attention to the present moment. I started making every interaction I had special, unusual. Not surprisingly, I stopped feeling aggression from the people around me. If you find a way to get into the present moment, every interaction is unusual and the people around you respond to that.

Commit to a Path

I receive an email from Chris Brogan every Sunday. In it he talks about some topic of interest to him. I didn’t get to read it yesterday. This morning I’ve been cleaning up things from my bike ride absence. As I worked my way thru emails, I came across Chris’s. The title: Commit to a Path. Here’s his opening paragraph:

Over the last few years, Damon,  I’ve invested a lot of effort in the area of rework. I’ve changed every aspect of my life in some way, from what I eat, to how much I sleep, to my relationships, to all aspects of my business. In all cases, I’ve pursued improvement and growth, but also clarity and a more integrated approach to my goals and the path required to get me there. I want to help.

Wow! That sounds just like what I’ve been doing over the past few years. I found that clarity on the road from LA to DC. I’m trying to figure out how to integrate it into whatever I do next. I have also noticed, like Chris has, that many people don’t take the time to enjoy themselves. They don’t even enjoy the things they do for enjoyment. They’re too busy flailing around from one thing to the next.

Everybody slow down! Running this stoplight won’t keep you from getting caught at the next one. Movement may look like progress, but sometimes progress comes when you’re being still.

Spend a part of your day going slowly. I bet you find something there.

Ten Days Later

Since I finished my cross country adventure 10 days ago, I’ve been staying with my son and his boyfriend in DC while waiting for my wife to come and pick me up. She arrives today — Yay!

As I’ve interacted with the people of this bustling city, I’ve noticed some changes in my perspective. I’m guessing they won’t be permanent but I hope some vestige remains with me as I go forward. I wrote about the grandeur of our nation as I rode across it. The magnitude of the landscape made me feel how small I am in the grand scheme of things. Imagine how small the everyday annoyances seem in comparison. People, we take ourselves too seriously. We are so busy rushing from place to place and task to task that we never, or rarely, take time to live in the current moment in the current place. In the end, it’s only those current moments that matter.

I quipped after my Lake Michigan ride that life looks different at 12 miles per hour. I think I’ll make that my new motto for life. As I strolled thru the crowds of Washington listening to the locals complain about the tourists, and the tourists complain about the locals, and all of them complain about me, I felt like an alien. I was the only one who wasn’t in any hurry. I had no particular place to go, and it allowed an interesting perspective on all the people who did. I watched people stampede over one another so they could stand on the Metro platform waiting for the next train. I watched people cross streets against the light so they could wait at the next intersection for the light to change. I watched people rush to be first to enter an exhibit where they waited for everyone else to enter before the tour guide began his speech. Each time I laughed.

Now I don’t want to get all mushy or preachy about this. As I said, this sentiment isn’t likely to last long once I get back to my daily grind. I do want to throw the reflection out there for you to ponder. You aren’t likely to get a chance to spend 45 days in a singular pursuit like I did. If you do get the chance, take it. If not, take a little time to consider your current moment. It’s the only one you have.

TransAmerica Bike Ride Thoughts

I have so many thoughts about this adventure. The biggest is that I’m glad I did it. Even though it was 30 years later than I had originally intended, the timing turned out to be perfect. You may have a similar forgotten dream that it’s time to revive.

Our country is vast, and it’s beautiful, and the people are extraordinary. Seeing it all at 12 miles per hour gave me a new perspective.

The total cost of the ride (from first pedal stroke to last) was $2418, which is $53.73 per day or $0.83 per mile. I rode 2949 miles, which is 72 miles per riding day or 65.5 including rest days. My plan was $50/day and 65 miles/day.

I was chased by dogs only a half dozen times. Most dogs responded to a yell and a hand fake. Those that didn’t generated a big adrenalin rush that allowed me to escape. I rescued one turtle from the road, chased 2 deer down the C&O Towpath, and finally saw a live snake on my last day. I never saw a live armadillo or possum or raccoon, but I saw many of each.

I had 4 flat tires, or changed the same flat 4 times, depending on how you want to look at it. I wore out a rear tire and had to discard a moldy water bottle. The chamois came unsewed from one pair of riding shorts. I bought new gloves because one of the two pair I took was causing numbness in my left hand. I also replaced my air pump because the one I started with turned out to be a piece of crap.

I ate a lot of high calorie, low nutrition food along the way. In the first 2300 miles I lost only 6 pounds. In the last 650, I lost 10 more. I blame the Appalachian hills for that difference.

I met some incredibly wonderful and interesting people who helped me along the way. My thanks to:

  • Mike in Amboy
  • Ray in Flagstaff
  • Tim and Tari in Edgewood
  • Helen and Kyle in Amarillo (and Chad at the Bike Shop)
  • Moni in Oklahoma City
  • Larry and Terry in Tulsa (and Ronnie for connecting us)
  • Jean in Joplin
  • Stuart and his kids in Springfield
  • Mark and Sue in Rolla
  • Jason and Beth in St Louis
  • Thom in Vandalia (by car)
  • Dora in Terre Haute
  • Barb, Doug, and Jeff just outside Plainfield
  • Bill, Christine, Jeff, and Mark in Indianapolis
  • Jess in Columbus
  • John, Mike, Barb, and Marty in Wheeling

Extra thanks to the people who pedaled with me for a while: Jeff outside San Bernardino; Jason leaving St Louis; Thom in and out of Vandalia; and my new friend Urs for most of 3 days from Columbus to Smithton.

Thanks also to all the people who sent me encouragement here, on Facebook, LinkedIn, email, and text messages. I didn’t respond to all of them, but you should know they helped.

Special thanks to Alex and Joubert for putting up with me in their apartment while I reintegrate.

And extra special thanks to my darling Susie, who loves me enough to let me tilt after a few windmills.

So, as president Jeb Bartlett liked to say in The West Wing, “What’s next?”