Musings on Bicycling and Buddhism

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Weighing In: The Year In Review

The last thing I wrote here in 2010 contained this:

Goal: 2,200 miles by 9.24.10
Miles ridden to date: 2,072
Miles left to goal: 128
Days left: +87 over

Upon moving to Waltham in June 2010 and acquiring Charlie bicycle I had set for myself the goal of riding the "equivalent" distance of a Tour de France by my birthday of that year.  (More on that whole thing here.)  I had never been a cyclist commuter of that distance before, roughly 12 miles each way to and from work, depending on the route I took.  I needed a concrete goal and thus was born the (somewhat arbitrary) distance and time goal.  By December 20th, 2010 I had not yet reached my goal and had gone well beyond my allotted time for said goal.

As I was writing that post it began to snow. And snow. And snow, and snow - if you were in New England last winter you'll know what I'm talking about.

Enter 2011.

I moved to Somerville and things started to change.  I started biking everyday no matter the weather.  I past the next two thousand miles and the next two thousand miles without the struggles and drama that defined my first two thousand with Charlie. Switched to fixed gear despite the nervousness.

But without that struggle, without that ridiculous distance, without the mistakes, the getting lost, things constantly breaking because of my ignorance, the drama and the crushed expectation, without these I would not be who I am now or where I am now.  I might not have cultivated the spirit to take on the weather.  I might not have the ability to laugh at myself when I am splashed with gross puddle water.  I might not know the untold joy of biking these streets.

I could not have done it without all the help and encouragement, thanks everyone!

We've gone six thousand miles.  We've helped others learn how to bike and the joy of biking here.  We've found some folks who love bikes too!

Here's to ten thousand miles!  Here's to another year of adventure!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

This space is not yours

When you're pedaling down the road you are constantly pelted with the feeling, or the sneaking suspicion, that - this space is not yours.  I pay the same taxes to maintain these roads as the car people, I am as bound by the rules of the road as the car people;  I have as much legal right to this street as they do, but the point is made amply clear by many people on the roads, this space is not yours.

When you use cloud computing or external services for your personal situation and use (things like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, even this Blogspot), you're borrowing it from another, on their terms.  So still, this space is not yours.

At work, everything belongs to the company (so unless you own the company), this space is not yours.

Renting a dwelling place or for your place of business?  This place is borrowed too.

Ever take out a loan for anything (car, house, education)?  Then what you make is not yours either.

Why did and do people Occupy?  Because increasingly, for more people, in more walks of life since anyone alive can remember, it has come to pass that this space (digital, real estate, financial, etc) is not yours.  The decisions are not yours.  Why Occupy versus some other methodology?  Solidarity.  Community.  Trying to find hope.  Trying to make a point with limited resources.  Trying not to get brushed off as an inconvenient truth.

We were promised a space, a place, to pursue life, liberty and happiness in the Declaration of Independence (which of course is not a legally binding document) by the people who fought against not having the space or decision-making power of their own.  And what have we done with it?  We have created those same iron shackles (because, let's face it, debt these days- personal and national- is just that) ourselves.

Whatever Occupy means or meant or will come to mean in the history of this nation, the world or humankind, that I do not know.  What I do know is that at this time of the year, where regardless of one's faith inclinations or lack thereof, you can't escape the unified call of "peace on earth and good will toward men", to be found anywhere and everywhere it seems.  

Peace on earth and good will toward humankind (not using older gender biased language) doesn't start from anywhere but our own behavior. When we place the highest value on human life and make decisions accordingly, when we strive to empower the individuals in our lives things grow and change.  When we are honest about and make the effort to effect our own inner transformation (call it human revolution!), we begin to move in the direction of this call.

It shouldn't be just one time of year.  It should be every day in every way.  On New Year's Day the year feels fresh and new, ripe with possibility, our hearts cry: Anything can happen!  Anything is possible!  Let's make every day New Year's Day.  Nothing will change unless we start thinking outside the box!  Instead of pushing the intent of this space is not yours what if we understood we all depend on each other for our very existence and acted with the honor and kindness appropriately accorded to these profound bonds?

Happy Holidays from Jessie and Charlie the Buddhist bicycle!

Monday, December 19, 2011


Hat tip to Oscar's human Ryan, who saw me delighting in the general sentiment and awesomeness of this piece of clothing.  (And here I am wearing it.)

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Overdue books.  Laundry that piles up in the corner.  Clothes you've been meaning to donate.  Purchases you made and meant to return but it's past the return date now.  Boxes left over from when you moved in that you haven't looked in since you packed them.

We all do this, sometimes things linger and we don't have the time, or don't want to deal with them.  Sometimes we used to want them and we don't know how it came to be, but we don't want them now.

Or maybe we just outgrew it, existentially or, perhaps literally.

In Japan (and other places), part of the New Year's tradition is to completely clean the house and everything in it, to refresh, to start anew.  I think it's a great idea, and Charlie does too as he rolls along with that new bottom bracket that had been needing to be cleaned, refreshed, and ultimately replaced.

But it's more than just cleaning house on the outside.  We perhaps ought to take a good look on the inside too, and see what needs work there as well.  Perhaps there's some change that's long overdue.

Have been pedaling around singing this song a lot:

We talk about world peace at this time of year, even though many of us are the most stressed.  We engage in New Year's resolutions, (exercise and diet!) it's all part of that same cleaning house philosophy.  Buddhism teaches the truest, most lasting, and most empowering change comes from within.  "So if you want to make the world a better place take a look at yourself and make the change."  Every day can be New Year's Day, we have that kind of capacity within us.  Why wait for December 31st to get going? Why not start today? because chances are some change is long overdue.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Character Flaws

Charlie doesn't talk much, except when his brakes squeal once and awhile. He's got a few character flaws, if you will - most of those are parts that have needed to be replaced.  His most enduring quirk is his front brake cable.  When the weather changes sometimes the right pad has been known to seek an unending embrace with the wheel rim and only relinquish with considerable force.  This cable keeps needing to be adjusted, with such increasing frequency that it may be time to replace those brake calipers at last.

People have character flaws too.  I myself am described as quirky by those who know me best.  But with people, unlike bicycles - whose parts can be replaced when they're flawed, such a thing is not the case.  When part of a person is quirky or flawed or not yet completely developed, you don't just get to switch out that part for a new one, for an upgrade, or the better brand name.  People are made out of more than that.

Perhaps I talk too much?  Perhaps I eat too slowly?  Perhaps I take too long to get to the point?  I know my flaws.  Perhaps I can't stand the sound of someone cracking their knuckles.  Perhaps I answer the question, how are you? - literally and not just with a socially constructed reply.  I know my quirks.  But there are still plenty of things I don't know.  This journey, this life, this exploration of all things that make a person who they are - is never ending, never over.  And that's part of what makes life great.

The Bill of Rights tells me my government has promised that it shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech.  But what about the people that we spend our daily lives with? Have they made this promise? No they haven't.  So it's up to us to find the balance.

If we all listened half so well as Charlie, listening - we might see that some people are struggling so hard, with every fiber of their being, that their words today - be they excessive, awkward, clumsy, or few - are just the transition to the next step in their growth.  We might see that they really are doing the best they can today (everyday). True and lasting change comes from within, comes from internal volition. So rather than say shut up and do your job because they're not changing and growing on our schedule; rather than supplying what we think they lack because they just don't get it fast enough; what if we listened?  What if we listened and left space for people to be who they are and grow into who they will be?  Made space for that internally motivated change to ripen.  One might look calm and confident on the surface, but it just might be that they're fighting with the core of their very being, all while keenly aware of their faults, flaws, and quirks - trying to grow and change and do more with the parts they started off with than one would have thought possible.

My bicycle is more than just the sum of his parts.  More than steel, aluminum, plastic, rubber and alloys.  To me he is joy on wheels.  People are more than our flaws and quirks. One definition of humanism states that it is an outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.  Humanism reminds us that we're more than the sum of our a parts, but still- never perfect - and as such always able to grow.  And sometimes, most of the time perhaps, people need to grow - and maybe they need help growing (that's why Buddhism exists in the first place).  The people in our daily lives may not have promised us freedom of speech, so it's up to us to find the balance.  When to speak up for ourselves.  When to listen.  But always to keep in mind we each need to grow. Sometimes that might mean saying, look - I'm doing my best today, maybe it doesn't live up to your expectations but I'm growing, I'm moving - let me say my piece so I can grow.  But the start is listening.

Charlie's a good listener, he's a great listener actually, for almost six thousand miles he's been listening.  What about the rest of us?

Creative Commons License
Tour de What You Will by Jessie Calkins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License