We are living in strange times. So much has changed in all of our lives in such a short period of time. I could never have imagined the current state of our world. Maybe that was ignorance or short-sightedness or naivete´, but the events of the last couple months have me working to find my way in this new reality. Partly by necessity and partly through this process of feeling my way, I am doing a lot of things differently. Within these changes, I have found myself struggling to discern the difference between self-compassion and weakness or laziness.
I believe in listening to my gut and in being patient and compassionate with myself, but I also believe in self-discipline and determination and dedication. I believe in living courageously. Where is the line between these values? Are they dichotomous? How can they coexist?
The changes in my life and my habits extend beyond the bike, but I find so many metaphors in cycling (I’m writing a whole book around that.), that the bike is where these are most evident for me.
I’m still riding a lot. I have over 1,100 miles for 2020, so far. I generally ride five days out of seven. But I am doing it differently. Maybe it is okay because I am still putting in the miles, but it does make me stop to think whether I am being honest with myself. How much of this is related to COVID-19 and being socially responsible, and how much of it is losing my edge?
For me, my “edge” is my dedication and commitment to do what I say I am going to do, to live courageously and to push myself. Cycling is the major manifestation of it at this point in my life.
I have an index-card file (old-fashioned, I know!) of cycling routes I have constructed in every direction from Andale, ranging from 15 miles to over 100 miles. I have ridden all of them, mostly alone, some of them hundreds or even thousands of times.
In all honesty, I have felt myself becoming more constrained over the last few years, even before COVID-19. This has mostly been related to multiple scary close calls with chasing dogs. (And I LOVE dogs! Just not irresponsible people who let them run unsupervised. But that is another post.) There are some routes I have avoided completely since a particularly harrowing canine encounter. It feels like I have narrowed my “safe” options a little more in each of the past few years. I have told myself that there is no point adding to my stress if I can have a more enjoyable ride by playing it safe.
This year, in the midst of the pandemic, I have made the decision to do shorter loops on my longer rides, so that I can stop back by my home for bathroom and fluid breaks, rather than stopping in public places. For example, on Sunday, I rode 26 miles for the first loop and 25 miles for the second loop. Somehow this feels both safer and more socially responsible. I ride without a mask, alone on the road or occasionally with Kenny. The more I read and hear about the ability of asymptomatic individuals to carry the virus, the more important it seems to wear a mask when I am around people. So, it seems wiser and more courteous to be more self-contained on my mask-free rides.
But, is that the truth?
Is it just fear? Is it getting soft or weak?
And, whatever it is, what all is behind it?
I have pondered several possibilities.
- Fear. There is certainly fear involved. This is not just about social responsibility, although that is part of it. But, is it simply that I am letting fear dictate my choices? I don’t believe in living my life from a place of fear, but, if I am genuinely (and justifiably?) fearful, is it smart to listen to it? Is that self-compassion? Is that trusting my instinct to keep me safe, or is it being a wimp? The line between the two seems blurred to me.
- Uncertainty. It is impossible to plan anything right now. Everything feels uncertain and in question. Maybe that is why it feels safer to stick to known, safe, chasing-dog-free routes that are close to home. The uncertainty of the world is overwhelming. Introducing additional unpredictability feels like too much.
- Weirdness. Grocery shopping feels so weird right now. Increasingly, it seems like the only appropriate thing to do is wear a mask, just in case we could be asymptomatic, but infectious. Or to help other people feel more comfortable. This is just one more thing to worry about on the bike. Putting a mask on a sweaty face (after pulling it out of a sweaty jersey pocket) sounds unappealing. Not wearing one into a small-town gas station seems rude, if not reckless.
- Fatigue. Is it just that I am tired, not so much physically, but emotionally? The world feels heavy. Life is more complicated. We have all had to accept a lot of loss in the last couple of months. Maybe I am just exhausted by that and want to minimize my potential for more loss and stress and trauma. Does it just feel easier not to have to cope with apprehension around what I might experience out on the road in farther reaches, even though that sense of adventure and possibility has been food for my soul in the past?
- Wisdom. Maybe I could take a more positive perspective. Maybe my reluctance to venture farther from home, to stop at small-town gas stations, to road-test routes where I have had previous serious dog problems is rooted in the wisdom of lived experience, replacing the perceived invincibility of youth. It is true that I have had many close calls with chasing, even snarling, dogs. I have had bottles thrown at me. I have been run off the road by a semi. I have been blown off the road by wind. It is possible that all this has accumulated into wisdom that has compelled me to shed the perception of invincibility that I carried through my younger adult years. I never really considered myself to be a risk taker, but I have ridden and/or run many thousands of miles alone, often in remote territory and in unfamiliar cities while travelling. For most of my life, this has just been what I have done. But maybe I now recognize the fragility of life, with the accumulation of loss of people and animals over the years, the recognition of how fleeting my son’s childhood is, the sense of foreboding that comes with realizing that I am likely in the last half of my own life. Maybe this translates to wisdom, to taking chances when it is smart and to avoiding them when it makes sense.
- Hormones. Pedaling and pondering on Sunday morning, the possibility occurred to me that hormonal changes, like lower testosterone (Yes, women produce it, too.) associated with perimenopause could be contributing to my need to minimize risk. (I have been thinking a lot lately about menopause, in general, and plan to do a fairly extensive review of the literature around it, both for myself and for an idea I have for my coaching practice. Stay tuned, if you, too, are a perimenopausal woman.) This is just speculative pondering at this point, but maybe hormonal changes are producing more risk aversion in my life. Or, is that the very definition of losing my edge? Hmm.
I don’t think I have come to any solid conclusions through writing this post, but I believe there is value, not just for myself, in sharing my struggles because I know we all struggle. I know we are all living in a scary, uncertain and previously unimaginable time right now.
I know others are scared of this world, of COVID-19 and of the social and economic changes that it is bringing.
I know others feel the stress of uncertainty. When will we get back to “normal”? What will “normal” look like in the future? Will the kids have school and sports in the fall? Will we be able to take vacations this summer? Will it be safe to see the older adults in our lives or for them to see their grandkids?
I know that I am not the only one who finds it hard to relate to other people from behind a mask that conceals a smile or other facial expressions. I find that people are less inclined to make eye contact while wearing a mask. Is that because of self-consciousness or because we are all scared of each other right now? Maybe it is a little of both.
I know I am not the only one who feels fatigued by the heaviness of this world—the result of fear and uncertainty and accumulated loss. We have all had to give up traditions, vacations and habits that have been deeply engrained in our lives, that we never could have conceived of abandoning so abruptly and in such volume. Something as seemingly small as the Western social convention of shaking hands now sounds dangerous and has a questionable future. Even as we have become desensitized—“Oh, now school is cancelled. Now Biking Across Kansas is cancelled. Now we might not be able to travel to see family. Of course, I can’t get a haircut.”—the losses, both micro and macro, add up and weigh on us.
I also know that many of us do gain wisdom as we live life. Generally, this is good, but it may cause us to rethink long-held patterns and to look back wistfully on a more carefree time. Confucius said, “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” I wrote those words in my very first volume of quotes in 2001, but they feel truer than ever now. Our earned wisdom through lived experience feels unquestionably bittersweet, and sometimes more bitter than sweet.
I also know that I am not the only perimenopausal woman who may be feeling her way in the world, as her body changes and takes her mind and feelings along with it. Men experience hormonal changes, too. Testosterone levels decrease as they age. They may have similar feelings of risk aversion. I have recently determined to take a more proactive and positive approach to menopause, which is why I have planned a campaign for knowledge on the topic and a curation of the fruits of my study to share with others. It feels like I a way that I can contribute, while helping myself.
I am a thinker, so I contemplate these things more than a lot people do. But I believe that others are experiencing similar feelings, and I hope my ponderings can help some of you feel less alone and maybe can help you approach your response to these feelings with compassion, patience and self-love.
One of the reasons I love to read and write nonfiction is that I believe we all have so much to learn and to teach through sharing our struggles and what we learn through them. As I said, I learn and experience so much from my bike saddle that has far broader application in life. The issues I address in this post are not exclusive to the bike. My experience on the bike just helps me analyze and come closer to understanding them and to be able to articulate them in a way that may reach others.
I have noticed risk aversion and weariness and fear when it comes to my business, my job, my relationships, just being out in the world.
If you are experiencing a sense of wanting or needing to hunker down or to stay closer to home or to minimize exposure of any kind in the world, know that you are not alone. Even as I try to tease out the truth from the myth from the excuses, I am also committed to being compassionate, yet disciplined and patient, while still striving for excellence.
Maybe excellence doesn’t have to look the same as it used to look. Or maybe it doesn’t have to look the same right now. Maybe it is okay to pause a bit. Maybe it is okay to put in the miles, even if they are “safer” miles right now. Maybe it is enough to honor that I am not just curling up in a ball and shunning life.
I think all of us are still trying to figure out what this pandemic will mean for us and how our world will change. Maybe that is where the patience should come in.
Do any of these ponderings resonate with you? Have you resolved them in your life? What do you think—is it self-compassion to acknowledge and respond to our fears by taking “safer” action, or is that giving in to fear and losing our edge? I would be interested to know your perspective on this topic.
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