Click-click. Mounted and coasting away, guilty of dishes undone and emails unsent. How can I ride from these things that need attention? Partly ashamed while also indignant, it’s all too much, so I shift out of the saddle to outride the tendrils of anxiety.
There’s something exciting about this moment. Am I running away from something, irresponsibly tuning out the things that need attention?
A familiar right turn after a brief effort uphill and I’m coasting, awakened by morning air upon the skin and surrounded by the familiar whirring sounds below. My socks read “DISCO”, a curious headline for a ride…
The sun crests over the mountains as I reach the highway ascending to the distance. “Angeles National Forest”, reads the sign, a familiar sentry. So starts a 16 kilometer climb away from the busy streets of Los Angeles.
We don’t actually enter a place the moment our body arrives, says soil philosopher Wendell Berry. Instead we acclimate slowly, attuning to the pace, sounds, and environment around us. We are not the independent, self-sufficient beings we think we are: we’re in flux, dancing, constantly forming to the world.
The Austrian self psychologist Heinz Kohut talks about a complimentary phenomenon: we deceive ourselves with the idea that we have one “self” that moves independent and undisturbed through the world. Instead our bodies are always dependent, always adjusting between different selves and ways of being-in-the-world. “Dasein!” exclaims Kohut’s German neighbor, Martin Heidegger. Be where you are.
It’s easy to see ourselves as gods in the world—mountain movers, river shapers, self-important email responders, chaos-orderers—but it’s more true that chaos orders us.
Long shadows blanket the mountains as the sun continues its climb. I'm struck realizing that the ecosystem cares for itself. No gardener waters these trees, no person feeds the bears or squirrels. Yet life abounds. My lungs open up, energized and relaxed.
At Clear Creek the grade levels, revealing a world of silent grandeur as the Valley sparkles below. Taking in the light, I tune into the peace of the forest as birds greet each other. The air is teeming with life, an invisible, chaotic microbial world. In the next moment I will carry this ecosystem home, back to work, back to the city.
How do we survive this feeling that everything in our life is manageable? That emails need replies, that dishes need doing, that people need our attention? Too often our answer is a tighter grip, a power-drunk on ourselves with illusory control.
Sometimes though, when the body opens up to the pace of the road, my grip relaxes.