Musings on Bicycling and Buddhism

Monday, March 11, 2013

Cars and The Cave

The Bandit Man has excellent ideas, this began once again from one of our conversations - I went one related direction whilst his thought pattern went another in Leaving the Cave Behind.

Cars and The Cave

The conversation began with the comparison to cars and caves. And while I happily point to the Bandit Man to speak his piece in his own way, my tangent went in the direction of Plato, rather than our species' anthropological history.

In Plato's Republic, to relay in brief (in case it's been awhile since you've read it), our reality is compared to shadows on a wall. That we as humankind, dwell in a cave - chained together, facing the back wall of the Cave. The entirety of our perception is the shadows we see cast upon the wall before our eyes. We cannot turn around to see the source of the shadows. We do not know life outside the Cave.

From Plato's perspective - from the perspective of those who followed Metaphysics - this world of ours was only ever a reflection of a more pure world, where the true root of all concepts, all perceivable things comes from. (On a side note, if you've ever read Neal Stephenson's Anathem - this perspective on metaphysics corresponds to the Hyalean Theoric World from the novel.) We have no access to this pure realm of absolute concepts and definitions, we can only perceive small snippets  blurry forms as insubstantial as the shadows upon the Cave wall.

So where do the cars come in?

Cars are rather useful. They get us places, they get us there fast. Ambulances often make the difference between life and death after an accident - getting there swiftly to save a life. We rely upon the vehicles of our law enforcement and fire fighters. Vehicles are part of our society and are useful tools.

But sometimes they're not.

Sometimes our cars are Plato's Cave.

Traffic, fumes, parking spaces and all of the drama and frequent time sucking that goes along with it. For some of the trips the car is not the tool for the job at all. And that's where it becomes the Cave.

Shadows Upon The Wall

Surrounded by metal, plastic and glass one is shielded from the world, from the noise, from physical exertion. There are blind spots. You could be on the phone, as just about every single cab driver in the greater Boston area is all of the time, and neglect to really check for oncoming traffic because of the phone in your hand. (We don't have hands free driving equipment as mandatory in MA.) Perhaps your car can update you on Facebook statuses, and there's always music.

It's not as though you can really chat with the people around you. You're boxed off, a horn blast or a certain finger gesture often the best communication you'll receive. But is that really communication?

And is it worth it to sit in traffic for an hour if you're going less than 10 miles? Public transit doesn't cover the distance so you have to drive, right?

There's another tool for the job actually, and you might like this one.

But beware, it's not a Cave. It can't be.

There's no cushion between you and the world here. This is getting up, removing the chains on perception, turning away from the shadows upon the Cave wall and walking out to see the sun. Maybe for the very first time.

This is a bicycle.

And it doesn't mean you have to bike every day, come rain, snow, sleet, or asteroids. (Although some of us do.)

It's a way to move you and your perception. My bicycle and I were Metro-West commuters, 12 miles each way, each day - and I got to work faster than sitting in traffic, faster than the bus, and I didn't need a gym membership.

Now that's escaping the Cave.

All I ever really needed was the sun and the sky, and the wind on my face. Unfiltered, no windshield, no metal cave to restrain me.

Life outside the Cave has been learning to love transit. It's not the daily grind, it's a bike ride that happens to be to work, or wherever else my legs take me.

Would you like to step outside of the Cave?

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