Monday, July 4, 2011

Cycling and Navel-Gazing

Yesterday as I started my commute home, I rounded the corner and was hit with a hellacious headwind. I hadn’t been paying attention from the climate controlled environment in my office and I was unprepared for it. Not usually being daunted by the wind, I just put my head a bit lower and starting pumping. At some point I usually find an equilibrium where a bit of increased power to the pedals overcomes the headwind and progress continues steadily. Yesterday, however, the wind was stronger than I thought and it was very effectively catching my swollen panniers, acting as a perfect drag on my efforts. Unwisely, perhaps, I just amped up the wattage a bit and tried to keep going at the same speed. I was only able to keep this up for a handful of blocks when I realized that starting an effort like that 30 seconds into my ride was unwise and further, no matter how undaunted I was hoping my courage would be, that wind was a serious and unrelenting force. Quickly I was forced to give up. I stopped pedaling, huffed and puffed a few big breaths and hung my head down in exhaustion. As my eyes re-focused, I realized I was gazing at my own navel.
Now, navel-gazing got a bad rap in the 70’s as legions of middle-aged men decided to abandon wives, jobs, mortgages and commitments to “find” themselves, which reportedly involved a great deal of navel-gazing. Of course, these guys weren't literally staring at their navels, they were getting high and driving red sports cars while trying to pretend they weren’t getting any older. They were actually getting older, although they certainly weren’t getting any wiser, but that was initially besides the point. Somewhere along the way, however, all that short-term fun with convertibles and blondes had to give way to the unrelenting reality of settling paunch and rising hairlines. From there, it was a quick re-direction from recreational drug use to meditation, EST and the aforementioned navel-gazing.
If they had actually taken the time to really focus on their navels, it is possible they would have been struck by the awesome process of life, from creation to birth, to the severing of the umbilical cord leading to that very belly button, and from there in an inescapable journey from toddling infancy to adulthood to the inevitable decline as their bodies broke down. They might have taken the time to reflect upon that journey and the community of family and friends that makes that process possible and worthwhile. They might have come to realizations about meanings and purposes of not only their lives, but all of the lives around them. Or instead, they might have decided that navel-gazing was less fun than riding around in that convertible. I don’t really know. I wasn’t there.
What I do know is that none of that went through my mind as I gazed at my navel and caught my breath. Instead, I realized that my own navel was inappropriately cushioned by excess poundage that was not helping my pedal my bike. That staring at my navel was dangerous and stupid while I was rolling down a busy city street with high winds. So instead of any more navel-gazing, I just started pedaling again and made my home in that hellacious wind.

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