On our most recent vacation travel, I found myself riding a bike for the first time in a number of years. I’m not actually aware of the last time I had reason to ride a bike, much less of the last time I was confronted with the opportunity. But on this trip, in this place. The bike was the predominant mode of transportation.
Bikes with wide, soft, stable tires and sprawling handlebars. Bikes with baskets, all in a soft minty sea foam green lazed about on the town we visited green spaces and walkways. On the boardwalks and in the courtyards a dozen or more bikes at one time would congregate, leaning drunkenly against each other and the walls and ground. Reclining from their toil of carrying around sunburnt and distracted tourists.
In the town we visited, people seemed outnumbered by bikes and if one wanted to engage with the community, it was by needs be on the seat of a bike.
So I rode a bike.
To dinner, a bike.
To the beach, a bike ride.
To the drug store for forgotten batteries. My bike chaperone attended and waited patiently for me to emerge and reclaim it from where it gathered with other sea foam colored squires awaiting their charges.
At times I didn’t want to ride the bike. I felt uncomfortable and slightly on the edge of running out of control on its wide, squashy seat. But I knew that like, well, riding a bike – it would come back to me how I used to love the freedom and ready transport of my red Schwinn bicycle (with curved handlebars and 10 speeds) when I was a pre-teen. Before a car, a bike was freedom to go where I wanted to go on my own terms and timeline. Now, in this vacation town, I felt forced to abandon my true automotive freedom and rely on an unsteady, wobbling progress under my own power.
I felt that at any moment I might collide with others. I felt that I needed to focus entirely on my technique and what was directly in my path lest I swerve to follow my wayward gaze directly into a tree or the oncoming cyclists – similarly careening just on the edge of control along the paths and walkways.
It was one day when I found myself alone on the bike, riding down a quiet residential street that I realized I finally did not feel out of control. I finally was not worried about technique. I was riding. I was not thinking or worrying or planning or analyzing. I was riding. The bike ride required my full-attention, yes, but I wasn’t feeling overwhelmed or out of control. I was just doing this one thing in that one moment.
Doing a new activity (or resuming a long forgotten one) can help to force us into the present. To draw our mind back from the scary, uncertain future and forward from the unsettled and unsatisfied past. It makes us focus on the moment in which we are living. Such a difficult thing these days where we feel trapped and uncertain. Desperate for change and yet fearful of what that change might mean.
In DBT skills therapy we talk about engaging in pleasant activities “one-mindfully” which means committing to them wholly. It means building a sense of mastery over what was difficult by focusing on that task without concern for the future. It does not mean just doing that which is easy, it means focusing on things that take us outside our comfort zone and force us to pay attention to our actions.
And so I rode along that quiet street and felt at peace doing something old in a new setting and from a new perspective. At one with the bike carrying me to freedom from my every day cares and stresses. Thankful for the change of pace and chance to exercise a long forgotten sense of possibility and wonder in the moment.