“Here I glide – I’ve got a light wind in my face; it is cooling me down from the hot sun. I’m breathing – consciously – in and out. My legs are pedalling – round and round – they are feeling full of life. I see beauty everywhere. Life is so simple – existing within and for this moment that I might have once only considered just to be a distant dream – just me, on a bike, and I’m in flow. Am I really here? Yes – completely.”
I’m obviously not on a bike as I’m writing this but with these words I’m trying to express something of some of the sublime and immersive experiences I’ve had as I’ve been riding my bike these last weeks at the start of my happiness pilgrimage. For me when I am fully in the moment contentment is often not very far behind. In psychology this is known as “flow”.
It can be challenging
But it’s not always like this. In fact, it rarely is. I suppose I gauge whether a day has been a satisfying one depending on how quickly I find this flow.
There are times when I get stuck wading through a mindful of crap – maybe there is some anxiety related to where I’m heading that day, how far “I need” to go, and where I might eventually stay – a focus on the future and the anxiety of what it might bring.
Or perhaps I might be worrying that I’ve left something behind from where I last camped – thinking about the past – and I am running through a mental checklist and trying to remember whether I packed certain key things. At times I might even stop to check that I have packed them – but of course they normally have been packed.
Maybe I’m just beating myself up over making what feels at the time like a “wrong” decision – like cycling over wet mud and clogging up my mud guards…for the umpteenth time – or just taking a wrong turn. I might be angry at my-self and be deriding what I see at the time as sheer idiocy.
Of course much of this is familiar to my life off the bike. In fact being on the bike for most of the day is for me like a microcosm for understanding my life more generally.
My cycling days
I’ve been starting my riding early in the morning – 6 or earlier if I can manage it. I like to travel a fairly long way each day (at least 100km) and to do so requires quite a bit of physical effort. I’ve cycled long enough here to know that if I don’t do that work early I might end up trying to do it later in the day when it is much hotter. At which point I’d much prefer to be sitting in the shade of a tree writing in my journal and pondering about happiness – mine, yours, ours.
My struggle to find flow begins if I’m not ready to leave by sunrise. I can then start to think about the future a bit too much. I tell myself I should be out on the road already and then I rush a bit more than I would like. That’s when I might make a mistake with my packing and am less conscious about where I put things. If I mislay things it can end up delaying me.
Of course really it doesn’t much matter. Not much does. And so there is some sadness as I write that despite my awareness of my patterns I keep repeating this kind of thinking – it’s my mind up to its old trick – I guess it must be serving some aspect of me in some way.
Enabling awareness to creep in
An important part of my process has been to first notice what’s happening – that my mind is somewhere in the future or the past. What’s going on in my head is part of my momentary experience but it is not the totality of my experience – I’m not my mind and all its questionable beliefs about reality. I’m also a physical body and emotional being.
My awareness process can be a slow process as I slip back and forth between over-identifying with my mind. I might get distracted by things going on outside of me – perhaps there is a lot of wind, perhaps the roads are flat and uninteresting – and my mind might loop over the same frustration, anxiety, or anger.
However, equally I might use my external environment to help me be fully with my-self. There is a particular bird call that I often hear that for some reason seems to serve as a reminder to me to be present. Whenever I hear it I check in with myself and notice where I am and what’s going on. The physical nature of the bike also really helps me to connect with my body – perhaps through noticing the breath or the pedalling often achy but not suffering legs.
When I consciously connect with these things it is much easier to find myself in the sort of flow I begun this blog post with. Once I get there – and I admit I don’t always – I can be there for most of the day and I feel at ease with all that I am. The future, the past, and mistakes do not exist, they never have, there is just now.
Growth and change
The psychologist Carl Roger’s once said that “the curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” and it is in allowing myself to fully be that I become spontaneous and vibrant. I can then connect to the abundance of creativity within. Ideas about happiness come popping into my head. Conversations in Spanish flow and connections with other souls come more naturally. I will be more in touch with my physical needs, and fulfil them as they enter my awareness, and I will take the time to stop to touch a tree and write a powerful idea in my notebook.
Even though this life I’m living is highly demanding and placing me in less than comfortable situations I’m feeling invigorated with my days, I’m learning a lot about my-self, and I’m much more content in a way that I don’t think I could be writing academic papers.
There is much happiness but not all the time – and I don’t think I’d want happiness all the time either. I want to be happy when happiness comes but to pay attention to the richness of my emotional landscape so that they can indicate what will best serve my being in this moment.
And then the emotions will all pass, like the weather.
I am still here.