I surpassed my mileage goal for the year on my bike today. It’s not unprecedented mileage–nothing I haven’t done in previous (though not all) years. Yet it feels deeply significant this year. It is a tiny bit of success in a year characterized by a sense of failure, disappointment, loss, sadness, fear and a host of other negative feelings.
Over the past several rides, I have pondered the concept of sacred space. I am keenly aware that the bike is that for me, and I have become more and more convinced that we all need our version of sacred space in our lives.
I believe that what constitutes sacred space is unique for each of us. For some it will be a traditional religious space, like a church or synagogue or mosque. For others it will be an object, like rosary beads, or a holy book. Nature is sacred space for some, and it certainly overlaps with the bike for me. Riding an indoor trainer doesn’t even come close to power of an outdoor ride to lift my spirits and touch my soul.
Regardless of the particular manifestation of sacred space for an individual, I think there are certain elements common to all such spaces:
- Sacred space evokes a sense of awe—not necessarily every moment, but frequently. It provides an opportunity to connect to Something Greater than we are. At least at times when in our sacred space, we feel the presence of our Source Energy, protecting us and encouraging us to keep going, amid the inevitable challenges that life presents. We feel less alone, if only for fleeting moments. I feel this on my bike when the Kansas wind pushes me from one direction or another and when the sun warms me. I feel it when I can see for miles and am reminded of the vastness of the earth. I feel it in a sunrise, blossoming with possibility and in a sunset, bathing the landscape with beauty.
- Sacred space immerses us in gratitude. Connected to the sense of awe we feel in our sacred space, gratitude emerges spontaneously as we experience the magic that happens there. We recognize that having sacred space and the freedom to be in it are gifts. I am fully aware of the privilege it is to be able to ride my bike. So many gifts are involved in creating that privilege—health, drive to ride, freedom to ride, a nice bike and good gear, reasonably safe roads. Sometimes I am overwhelmed with gratitude for all the gifts that coalesce to allow me to partake of the sacred space of a bike ride.
- Sacred space gives us hope. It can help us peek out, even from dark holes, to see that there is still good around us. We are generally uplifted when we are in our sacred space, granted a much-needed break from drudgery and struggle. So many times, Kenny and I have said, “If life were just as simple as bike ride . . ..” Some bike rides are hard! But they are usually (though not always) simple. We turn pedal stroke after pedal stroke, over and over again, grinding into a headwind, resisting the push of a crosswind or sailing gleefully with a tailwind. We know we will reach our destination if we just preserve.
- Sacred space helps us to be better humans. This can happen in a lot of ways. In part, it is because of what sacred space helps us to release, and, in part, it is because of what sacred space gives us. When I got on the bike today, I was nearly nauseous with a swarm of anxious butterflies in my stomach. After about six miles, I noticed they were settling down. After a couple more, my stomach felt calm. Several miles later, feeling warmed by the sun and moving vigorously in the tailwind, I felt happy. I had released what I needed to release into my sacred space, and I was picking up inspiration and hope and the courage to persevere once I got off the bike.
- Sacred space inspires us. This can happen in what feel like beneficent lightning bolts, or it can happen more subtly. It can feel exciting, moving us to create, to contribute, to give back to the world. I write in my head when I ride. I solve problems. Even if some solutions elude me, I get a little closer to finding answers, or at least I get off the bike more open to creative solutions than I was when I got on it.
- Sacred space creates a sense of community, even when we are alone. I ride by myself almost all the time, just because that is what life offers me, but I still feel a sense of camaraderie and community with every cyclist I encounter. I met and briefly rode with another cyclist yesterday. I didn’t know him, and we only rode together for a mile or so before I turned south to head home, and he continued east to return to Wichita, but, in that brief span of time, it was clear that we understood each other, and it felt good. We both recognized what a gift it was to be riding in sunshine, with temperatures in the 60s, in late November. It was a brief, but powerful, exchange of positive energy.
- Sacred space reminds us of who we are and what we can do. I think this has been the biggest key for me this year. I have felt like a failure in so many ways over the past many months, but I met my mileage goal for the year, and that feels good. Cycling has been one of the few arenas of life where I have experienced a sense of accomplishment this year. I knew I wanted to complete the century route on the BAK Bicycle Rally over Labor Day weekend. Even though neither Kenny nor any of my friends rode the long loop, I went by myself, without hesitation, (and met another cyclist in Sterling who finished the ride with me) and completed 104 miles. Like my mileage goal for the year, it was not the first time I had done that distance, but it felt sweeter than ever—probably than even my first century in 1999—this year because so much of life off the bike has felt so unsuccessful. When I get on my bike, I feel stronger and more powerful and more capable than in any other role or place in life. Cycling, although I have loved it for a long time, has become more crucial than ever for my mental health and overall sense of well-being. It is so much more than exercise or a hobby. When I face challenges in other areas of life, I can recall epic rides and remember what I can do, what I have already endured. I find comfort in my identity as an endurance athlete and carry that endurance mentality with me into the rest of life, drawing on it for confidence and courage.
Cycling checks all the above boxes for me. My bike is my most important sacred space. But your sacred space may look very different than two wheels on an open road. It doesn’t really matter what or where it is. What is important is how it makes us feel and who it helps us to be in the world. And I firmly believe that we all need some version of sacred space. I don’t know what I would do without mine. That said, I am poignantly reminded, just by looking around, that I could lose it in an instant. There are no guarantees in life. That makes each ride an even more valuable gift. It is more difficult to ride this time of year, with shorter days and colder temperatures, but I prioritize it as much as possible for all the above reasons. I encourage each of you to honor your own need for sacred space and to make room and time for it, as hard as it can be in a busy and unpredictable life. My meditation cushion and yoga mat are supplementary sacred spaces since I can’t ride every day at this point in life. I am grateful for them, too. My sense of accomplishment in those spaces is mostly about consistency. I have meditated every day for over four years, and I have done bedtime yoga (along with yoga at other times most weeks) every single night since April 1, 2021. Both are vital aspects of my self-care, and both meet the criteria I outlined above, although my bike is the ultimate sacred space for me.
A question I ask myself on the bike is, “How does this help me to make a positive contribution in the world?” The answer to that is still unfolding, and maybe it always will be. Besides helping me to function better and to be more stable, I decided that part of my current obligation to express gratitude for the gift of my sacred space of cycling is to share the insights I receive while inhabiting that space. I felt inspired to write this post, and I hope doing so will make a bit of difference to someone. It is really important to me to make a positive difference, and I feel constrained in my ability to do so under my present circumstances. So, I have a responsibility to use what I have. And, thankfully, my time on the bike is something I have right now.
I worry that this post may seem a little cryptic—alluding to a very difficult time of life, without elaborating or providing details. That is not my intent at all. The fact is that our stories often involve other people, so we have to be mindful of how much we share. I hope that by being vulnerable enough to share that I am struggling and finding life really hard right now, someone will read this and find strength in knowing she is not alone in feeling battered by the crosswinds of life. I hope that someone else will read it and know that, even if he has tried his very hardest to make good decisions, things still go wrong sometimes. It doesn’t mean he has made bad decisions. Maybe he can release a bit of shame and guilt and regret because he knows this happens to other people, too.
I’ll admit to picking up a heavy dose of cynicism over that past 18 months. I do not believe platitudes like, “Everything happens for a reason,” or “It’s God’s plan,” or “Everything is unfolding in perfect timing.” But I do believe that we all have a choice to grow through our tests and trials, and I am committed to doing that. Writing helps me process, and I hope it helps me give back to the Universe by supporting others on their journeys in some small way.
I am grateful for the sacred space of my bike. It is hard to get off of it and go back to the rest of life after a ride, where I can’t control other people’s actions or words, but I can look at the bracelet I wear with the link from a bicycle chain and remember again who I really am and what I can do. That helps me endure.
I have seen this Reno County road sign on dozens of rides this year alone, but it really spoke to me today.
I took the fact that it caught my attention today as a sign of hope from the Universe. I am not in victory yet, and I don’t know exactly what it will look like, but the idea of achieving some version of it spurs me forward and instills even more gratitude for my sacred space. I hope you know what your sacred space is (If you don’t, start paying attention to where you experience the characteristics I outline above.), and I hope you honor your need for going there. Doing so will be a gift to all of us because it will allow you to contribute to the greater good, to put positive energy into the world and recharge yourself to keep moving forward even when life is hard.
When we recognize the gift of sacred space in our lives, I believe we have a responsibility to go there as often as we can and use the growth we experience there to add value in the world.