There comes a point in every ride, no matter the length or strength, when the numbers fall away and it’s just me and the trees and the streams, clouds and curves of each road and every thought that doesn’t have the legs to keep up with me.
I call this ‘exercising the demons’.
This guy that I hang out with, whom we call The Mighty Fack, gave me a cool print one time created by musician, poet and bicyclist Ben Weaver that says “If there is a corrective action/ it is to always ride a bike,/ breathe more fresh air,/ use your hands to make things,/ go wandering,/ then come home & tell about it.” This strikes me as solid advice, mostly because it’s all too human and we could all use a little more human in our lives. So, let me tell you about demons.
In a nutshell: they want to undo you, subdue you; they are both the agents of Chaos as Destruction and the Tyrants of Order, they wish to unbalance you, destabilize the front wheel and chuck you ass-for-kettle into the ditch. Paradoxically enough, their impetus is to preserve you, to protect you against all of the seemingly malicious things and people and circumstances in the world. I didn’t say it is a good approach, it’s just what they do.
Here’s the real catch though – these demons are you: sure as the twist in your back, your preponderance for headaches, your inability to sleep more than four or five hours at a time, or your desire to flame out at every shittycomment on Facebook is definitely YOU. Demons are the manifestations of our worst selves, all the stuff that leads to poor life decisions, keeps you stuck in crummy relationships, keeps you regimented to the point of paralysis and seems to cause good things to burn up in your hands. You.
Chances are also good that while you see how they manifest in your life, you see the havoc they cause, youdon’t really know what they look like. If you’re like me, you really REALLY want to see them. For the longest time I wanted to kill them – and why not? They seemed to be the main cause of all the terrible things that happened to me.That’s the trouble though – see above: they aren’t the cause, you are, because you ARE the demons. You destroy and stifle your own life: with habits formed because you thought they were protecting you – yup, your anxiety, anger, anal ordering of your stuff, mistrust of others, inability to commit, which manifest as everything from generalized angst to back pain and insomnia to being a big shit all come from your tricks to cope with stuff; that is, to bury the pain instead of getting to the root cause. And those skills, those habits? Those are demons. Real ones – strong, persistent, self justifying, monsters of the mind and heart.
Know how I know? Because I have lots.
But here’s the thing: I don’t try to kill them anymore – first, because I discovered that they’re hydra, cut one head off and two more grow, and, second, because they are me and, quite honestly, I’m not interested in killing myself.
Buddha teaches compassion – kindness like a concerned parent gives to a hurt child. Not just to others, but to ourselves as well. Killing demons? Not so kind. So?
Things have been tough lately – lots of family things linked to the difficulties of age and sickness, lots of personal things surrounding art and feelings of what it is to be successful. And I built demons long ago to cope with these things, to scurry me into a protected tower while they raged in the wild against an unfair world. ‘I’m not understood’ and ‘It’s not fair’ are classics and really very powerful. But they also cause resentment, doubt, anger. Sound familiar?
Here’s the ticket: life, in no way or shape or form adheres to these feelings. On the other hand, life, actually IS thesethree things: impermanent, imperfect and impersonal. That is – things will change, things will never match your idealized view of how things ought to be (because goDAMNit you deserve health wealth AND power!), and that has nothing whatsoever to do with you.
And so, have a cup of coffee with your demons: go for a bike ride and listen to them – like a parent listens to a child though, don’t let them just rage, but reel them in. Tell them you care, that you understand they are hurt and then, in an act of real compassion, ask them what they want. Know what? Chances are they just wanted to be heard. Then they take a deep breath, sigh and say ‘thanks, I feel better’.
Are they gone? Hell no. They’ll be back, but maybe you’ll be better at not letting them throw you in the tower while they either destroy the world with chaos or tyrannize it with order. Demand balance. Ride your bike. Think and breathe. Let the demons rage and try to keep up – they need that. See the trees. Be there. Just for a bit. Meditation comes in all forms.