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Cycling Metaphors for Life

This week's blog has been written by University Chaplain, Harriet Harris

I have come in from a dreich bike ride, in which low-cloud turned into full-on rain, and my rim brakes were no longer keeping me safe. ‘When the brakes start to fail…’ I thought, and I realised there are many lessons for life that I learn on my bike. Here are just a few.

 

When the brakes start to fail, it’s time to turn home

Photo by Mark Harris. Dreich ride with all the emotions!

Actually, I was enjoying the ride despite the rain, and would have kept going were it not for the intensifying cold, and the brakes getting slippery. And if the brakes start to fail, it’s time to turn in before you injure yourself or someone else.

I’d like to say that I apply the same principle to work. But, paradoxically, the harder I work, and the more tired I get, the harder I find it to stop. We can become so tired with work that we lose our sense of when is a good time to stop, and we keep glancing at emails and messages into the evening or weekend, or re-reading email trails because (actually, I don’t even know why!), or returning to half-written paragraphs to finesse them a bit more, or planning the next day’s work just to get ahead.

This is a sure sign that our brakes are starting to fail: we are too tired to say ‘No’; too tired to set boundaries and stay within them.

So it’s time to turn home, to turn inward to some inner replenishment. After all, when we are newly back from some truly restorative time-off, we know how to stop work and start play, but we forget how to do this the more depleted we become. So when the brakes start to fail, take it as a sign to turn in, not as a sign to keep peddling.

 

When every wind is a head wind!

Hah! This has happened to me in the last two weeks, on the 26-mile commute to work. When battling against a headwind on the way in, you can often take solace in the expectation that you will have a friendly tailwind helping you home. But not if the wind-direction changes midday! Then it feels so unfair: all that hard work only for more hard work.

We cannot choose the wind that blows for us, only how we respond to it. In my more dramatic moments, I think of the Consolation of Philosophy, written by a Roman statesman and philosopher, Boethius, when he was facing unjust execution. Boethius was consoled by Philosophy, whom he imagined as a female visitor (Sophia, Wisdom incarnate). Sophia asked him why he would celebrate the highs in life but not accept the lows: the wheel of fortune turns and sometimes we are at the top and sometimes at the bottom; and when we are at the top, someone else is at the bottom, and vice versa. A double-headwind for me, is a double-tailwind for anyone travelling the opposite direction. Sometimes, the wind will change direction in my favour, and I’ll get help both going out and coming back.

 

Glasses of gloom and rose-tinted spectacles

My dreich ride yesterday was made bleaker by my grey-lensed goggles. When I switched to brighter lenses, actually lemon- rather than rose-tinted, I had a whole brighter outlook – it was quite an eye-opener! The lenses through which we look out on the world definitely affect our mood. The takeaway point here is not that we should wear artificial lenses(!), but that metaphorically speaking, we see everything through some lens or other, and once we realise this, we have more choice about the lenses we use.

 

Photo by Mark Harris. If I hadn’t stopped to look, I’d have missed the promise of sun in the distance.

Blinkers and Vistas

When Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France in 2012 he was asked what he thought of the French roads. He said, though I’m not quoting exactly, ‘Well, they’re just tarmac aren’t they? I’m not looking at any views when I’m racing.’ Sometimes we need to wear blinkers: they cut out distractions and help us to focus. If Wiggins hadn’t put his blinkers on, he wouldn’t be a champion. So much depends on the purpose of the ride: if you are riding to race, you know where your focus needs to be. If you’re riding in dangerous terrain, likewise. But there are many rides where we can afford to stop and take in the view. I admit I don’t like being asked to brake when I’m in full momentum, but the views are a large part of what I remember at the end of the day, and building up memories is an important thing to be doing right now.

So I would not say ‘we are never too busy to stop’: Wiggins was too busy to stop – until the end of the race. A burst of focus is fine for 15 minutes, 15 days, or the length of a grand tour. But not 15 weeks, 15 months or 15 years. Non-stop busyness puts us in a state where we no longer know how to stop, our brakes start to fail and we are heading for a crash. So remember, if you feel the brakes starting to go, it’s time to come home.