Friday, October 01, 2004

Lessons from the Saddle: Part 2

The first lesson from the saddle (please go back two posts), could be summarized approximately like this: The more that you strive to do better, the more that you can expect to meet resistance. That isn’t exactly how I said it then, but it will do.

A second lesson is emerging from my cycling; it’s related to the first and perhaps is a corollary of it: At some point, most activities shift from being mostly fun to being mostly work. In the end the work brings its own rewards (i.e. fun), but it can be damn hard just the same. Nevertheless, you’ve got to do it. It’s the only way.

Although I have been thinking in this direction for some time, my thoughts began to jell a little more when I read Freelance Monk recently. In one of his blogs, Monk discusses his waning interest in karate. Although he appreciates the benefits, he dithers about continuing. (Dear Monk: I hope that I have summarized more or less correctly.) I think that he has to weigh the work against the rewards and make his decision. In his case, the rewards may not compensate the effort; I don't pretend to know.

Although I said that my thoughts have begun to crystallize, you may find me wandering a little in this blog as I haven’t exactly nailed my thesis to the church door. I’m not one hundred percent crystal clear yet, but getting these thoughts down will help.

Many things are fun when we start them. When I first got back on a bike early this summer, I was hooked and wanted my own bicycle. Of course, the first few rides on our spiffy new bikes were tons of fun as we began to discover where our legs would take us. The more that we ride, however, the more work it becomes; it isn’t pure fun any longer. There’s still fun to be had, but it’s more of a mixture now. That’s because the more that we ride, the more effort we tend to want to pour into our endeavours. We want to go a little faster or to stop for breathers less frequently. Isn’t that how you build fitness and endurance after all?

That’s when it becomes work. Almost everything become work at some point. In our case, we need to keep exercising, and, being human, we want to keep improving. You may want to play hockey (or any other sport) because you enjoy it, and maybe you’re good at it. But do you enjoy the practices, the drills, the travel, the early mornings, and being soundly defeated by hated rivals? Probably not a lot. You do however still enjoy many aspects of the game: the thrill of scoring the winning goal, or the joy making a good play that nobody else might notice. You work long and hard for your moments of reward, but in the end the momentary snatches of fun make the mountain of preparatory work all worthwhile.

Isn’t life like that? You slave at your job to earn enough money to enjoy a home, provide for your family, or take nice vacations. You work at your problem-relationships for the breakthrough moments of blissful understanding and communication. You exercise and watch your diet to improve your fitness level and quality of life. At the end of your labour comes the reward.

In my case, my rides all too often are sweaty grinds that I choose to endure for their benefits. For example: I almost always feel some sort of endorphin afterglow. Don’t mistake me altogether; I still find a degree of fun in the process of cycling. On some days, for example, both nature and my body converge to be at their best, and it feels good to be alive and riding the trail. Other days are cloudy and windy outside, and my body groans, creaks and protests during every blessed leg pump. And, life being life, it’s more often the latter rather than the former.

That’s what you do in this life. You revel in the good times, but you grind your teeth (or pump your legs in this metaphor) and just keep on pedalling when the trail get windy or bumpy. The pedalling is more often hard work than not, but you pedal for a reason. You pedal for a loved one; you pedal to earn your degree; you pedal to pay the mortgage; you pedal to feed and clothe your family. Your efforts are indeed mighty; it’s bloody hard slogging sometimes, but in the end there is usually reward (i.e. fun). In my example, it’s the endorphin afterglow, health benefits, being outdoors, coffee and lunch overlooking a beautiful lake, time to think, being with my loved one.

What are you pedalling to obtain? Maybe you’ve yet to discover your passion and aren’t really pedalling very hard. When you do find a reason to pedal, the going will be very tough at times. It usually is. The reward at the end of the trail, however, is worth it, and there are also some blessings to be savoured along the way.

I didn’t write this blog to promote exercise, but that’s certainly one application that you could make. Whether it’s exercising, blogging, knitting, or taking a class, go proactive for goodness sake. Do something. Work at something so that you can obtain your reward at the end. Life is passing; don’t let it pass you by.

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