Musings on Bicycling and Buddhism

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Earthly Desires and such

After having read a few things, about ladies and gentlemen, and the ways things relate between us - and having some conversations (although not with this in mind); some thoughts began to brew.  Ever since I became more active in the cycle-verse; I've noticed some differences, and not just in the dress code.

Here in the cycle-verse, there are a lot fewer ladies.  We seem to be the minority species, from company headquarters, to group rides, to people writing about bikes - there don't seem to be as many ladies.  And the lens through which we are viewed, and view, is quite interesting.

Speaking to one bicycle lady at a lady's ride recently, she remarked that we're more pieces of meat than anything.  Reading comics of the great Bikeyface, we get a poignant and light-hearted perspective.  Following the Lovely Bicycle, one encounters helpful advice and beautiful images.  The voices of the lady cyclist are definitely out there, there just aren't as many of us.

So in an industry dominated by the gentlemen-type half of the species we notice some differences, which I suppose is how the rest of this thought tangent evolved....


Some time ago a friend introduced me to the writings of Yashar Ali, in the Huffington Post.  He primarily writes about gender and gender relations.  I was not a Women's Studies major, although I had plenty of friends who were, and took a few classes - so I am somewhat familiar with the academic approach to this subject. (And this tangent lacks academic rigor!)  In one of his articles about neediness, he takes the stance that women bear the brunt of carrying, what he calls in another article, the stiff upper lip of our relationships.  He writes that women are socially conditioned to put their needs on hold, or just swallow them without ever asking for these needs to be met.

Pause:  Taking a moment to talk about the difference between having needs and neediness.  Some of this is reflections from another article on A New Mode by Eric Charles.  Having needs, e.g. food, air, water, a place to live; these being some of the most basic and obvious needs shared across our species.  Although, depending upon who you talk to many more things are necessary on the most basic level (e..g. a bicycle, love, chocolate?). Neediness, something you're allowed as a child, but not as an adult in an ideal world. Neediness (as I use it here): inability or unwillingness to self-validate, seek worth and identity outside one's self, judge value from external sources, define self by an outside source (e.g., one's partner).  

Press play button: What Eric Charles points to in his advice column is building a self that is strong and confident, that does not require another person for identity and sense of value, a stand alone spirit, if you will.  What Yashar Ali observes occurring with women, is that they (we) don't want to be seen as needy and so they remain silent, devaluing themselves in the process.  He points out his impression that men ask for what they need, straight and simple; yet somehow the equivalent for women makes them needy...

In recent conversations with ladies in my life on relationships, especially those that have come to an end recently - I've seen some common trends; a pattern in my generation?  Putting them all together we notice a feeling of onesided-ness, that the one doing the breaking up had extended comfort, understanding, and met every need and want of the other - often being shook off, or ignored when presenting a completely understandable need to be met in the relationship.  (And in case you're wondering I'm drawing on conversations undertaken with folks in all sorts of relationships, not just heterosexual ones, although those have been the majority.)  

Earthly Desires are Enlightenment

There is an idea in Buddhism compressed into "earthly desires are enlightenment".
Simplified and yet somehow long explanation: Early Buddhist teachings sought to eliminate all desire, primarily through ascetic practice - as desire was understood to be the root of all pain and suffering.  Over the course of time the Buddha's teachings evolved, from a simple "just get rid of it", to something deeper.  In short and simple terms, we need desire - it drives us to eat, sleep, procreate; the species wouldn't survive without it.  It's rather necessary; but what do we do about it, because honestly it is a rather unruly thing and makes us do all sorts of things that are rather not that good for us (and that is of course, putting it extremely gently).  So another idea out of the later Buddhist teachings (Mahayana), is that each and every life, regardless of our circumstances, has within it the inherent, completely endowed, capacity for Buddhahood, i.e. the equivalent capacity to be a Buddha as the Buddha (see also: mutual possession of the Ten Worlds).  It's frequently dormant and has to be activated or awakened ("Buddhanature, activate!"?), that's were a practice comes in but that's a different story.  The idea goes, because of this fundamental Buddha capacity, i.e. Buddhanature, each and every part of our lives, even the gristly, yucky parts - even pesky desire- has an enlightened capacity to it.  That doesn't mean we run rampant across the known world justifying crappy behavior.  There's a lot of self discipline and introspection here, its tough.  (But I suppose anything really worthwhile requires a bit of work.)  We learn through going through life, making mistakes, introspecting and challenging ourselves to grow fundamentally as people to be aware, truly awake to the nature of our lives; and to cultivate those better desires, and when we do completely mess it up, to find the enlightened capacity of our desires; and so our lives grow.

Press play button: So we need our desires, they drive us to do the necessary life stuff, to keep on living, to maintain our species - on the most basic level.  They make us try to improve our circumstances, strive to better ourselves.  Our needs have an enlightened capacity, especially when we are aware, and not just reactive.  When your partner is needy (be it true neediness or just presenting a need), there are many possible replies; which are often reflective of  how things are with you (i.e., your life-conditition).  We can be, perhaps we have been, perhaps we are - the sort of partner that cannot self-validate, that requires another to have an identity, who's needs must be met before the other person's can even be heard, who cannot or will not face the difficult things head on.  (Or been with this sort of person.)

Needs to do mean neediness, there's a difference.  As women (and men too I suppose, but I'm not going to be presumptuous to claim to know what it is to be a man, as I am female.) we must express our needs and not fall silent due to fear.  If you are strong in your own existence, not an island, but have a stand alone spirit to know yourself without depending on others -  know that if that person cannot hear you, or will not hear you, when you state your needs, then this is not the right person.  Yashar Ali points out that some relationships go on for years because one party is just waiting for the other to become the person who can give back, it is a rare change to encounter.  Many of these ladies I have spoken to ended relationships where that was just the case, and for many of us it didn't take quite as long to catch on as before, we're learning.  And that person will be alright, there are plenty of people in the world who will wait for them to become a giver, and sometimes the role reverses (see How I Met Your Mother episode about being kept on a hook).  Not settling for less is constantly driven home in Eric Charles' columns.

Bicycles and Life

As lady cyclists we don't have to dress-wearing, dutch bike riding, basket wielding, high-heel donning riders if we don't want to, or we can be.  Ride your bike, that's what matters - and here I'm using this as simile for life.  You cannot be told who and how to be, it is ultimately your life - and yes there are many, many places in the world where women have little to no say in their lives, that's for another post altogether - stand tall, be yourself.  Needs have an inherently enlightened aspect, dare to know yourself, dare to move beyond fear and say it like it is.  (Even wear cowboy boots if you want.)

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