It starts with the slowdown.
Then the heaviness follows. It feels like I’m wearing bricks for boots. The wobbling then ensues.
Then a look downwards confirms it—a flat tire. Damn.
I was riding back home from work a few days ago, backpack filled to capacity with groceries. Winter early blackness and bleakness tarred the sky. It was misty raining. There’s never a perfect time for a flat, but I wasn’t keen on stopping then and there.
Flats are nothing new to me, having been riding daily to work for years now. It’s part of doing business. It’s like greasing the palms of the maître d’ at Chez Grande Pamplemousse for a quiet corner table to conduct business. It is what it is. I learned to fix flats a while ago, as I was tired of wasting time and money taking it to the shops. So that means I lug my kit around.
I repaired my bike like Cooter fixin’ the General Lee for the Duke boys and off I was. Five hundred meters later, the slowdown started again. The heaviness followed.
Flat again. Damn again.
I didn’t have time (nor another spare tube) to fix it all up again. I was late picking up my boys. So I did the pump-and-ride dance over and over again until I relented and did the walk of shame to the caregiver’s house.
In the morning I replaced the tube. On the way to work it got flat again. After work I hobbled to the local bike shop and had them replace the tube. The pros would take care of business. A smile and a nod and off I went. About five minutes from home it went flat again. I was past frustrated and into the land of grenades-as-flowers and Molotov cocktails-as-juice-boxes. It seemed the universe was speaking to me, as subtle as a quarterback sack. After an exhausting search, I found the source my frustration—a shard of glass the size of my patience up until then. Small enough to reflect my ire and also to carve tiny holes in inner tubes.
I patched up my tube, inflated and in the morning, I found it flat. Again.
I replaced that one, which worked fine and it got me to work. After my shift, I found that my tire had held up while I was away!
But the rear tire was now flat.
Five flats in two days.
It’s laughable now, even though at the time I was dropping enough F bombs to make Glengarry Glen Ross look like a children’s school play. But there was a point in the midst of it all where I made a release. It wasn’t about pressing the rage button over and over again. Experience has shown me that it doesn’t work very well. Getting apoplectic has rarely paid dividends for me. Having seen this scene play out many times in the past, I decided that when it came to my bike situation, it was best to switch gears (pun intended).
As I rode home last night, I began to think about the connection between my bike dilemma and my emotional one. More specifically, I thought about one thing: air. Obviously the inner tube is filled with air to keep the tires up and to keep the bike in motion. Uncomplicated, Fisher Price mechanics there. I find it astounding that just a little bit of air is capable of keeping the weight of all that steel and me (who isn’t exactly built like a horse jockey—more like horse) while I am coasting at 40 km/hr or faster. That air is the only thing between me being able to fly down the streets and avenues of my bustling city and me taking the walk of shame to the nearest shop or subway station. It is the foundation for motion and being. It is simple and yet profound.
I see the correlation between air and breath in a larger context. I find that when I take meaningful and mindful breaths, through my nose and out my mouth, I am more grounded. When I take pause to just breathe and exhale out negative energy and to halt knee-jerk reactions, I am more buoyant of spirit. The ride is free from a dulled and deflated journey and as smooth as the skin as one of those handsome dudes on triple-action razor TV commercial.. I can navigate the treacherous stuff easier than if I am flattened and grinding into the dirt. When choose to take in deep, nourishing air, I am girding myself for the sharp items which will eventually pop up and potentially pop me down to size.
Pema Chödrön talks about taking three deep breaths when the pang of shenpa strikes us. Shenpa is the Tibetan Buddhist term for attachment and craving, but more along the lines of triggered response to something that irritates us. Shenpa is what gets me in trouble. It is my ego getting inflated and telling me that how dare someone talk to me like that or don’t they know who you are? It’s what provokes me to delve into arguments and into other self-serving acts. I try to fold this practice of deep breathing into my day, and when I feel the sharpness of shenpa jabbing me on the side like a shard on my tires, I try to remember to take those three breaths. They move me away from the surface tension of pride and into a deeper place of serenity. Breath serves to keep me moving in a positive direction, and away from my lower self.
It’s not always easy to take those breaths when the exhilaration and self-righteousness of a good tongue lashing is perched on the edge of my lips, but it saves me from making amends later. Or lashing myself with guilt. Taking the time to take the time brings me closer to a more meaningful place of existence. One of less friction. It’s what keeps me afloat when the path is littered with potential landmines. Even the smallest amount of debris can sideline me.
I told a few people about my bike woes, and they all said that I had the patience of Job. I don’t. I was at a point of rage-tossing my bike into the nearest river at some point, but I needed to see that it wasn’t the reaction which would help or serve me. I kept breathing, I kept the air in motion, I kept expanding my lungs and my emotional growth as I moved towards the setting sun, knowing that tomorrow was another day of change and discovery.
As long as I have breath in me, I will keep moving towards the light.