Zen And The Art Of Bicycle Repair

smallest bicycle 1
Cute, sure, but locking it up is a bitch.

I like my bike.  It’s my mode of transportation – in many ways.  It gets me to and from work.  It also takes me out of my head or it gets me thinking about things that the D-Day din of my mind doesn’t normally allow me to ponder.  It whisks me away from the hot air of my brain to the cool breeze of swirling air about me.  It’s my little bubble of transcendence that gives me the rush of being around others and yet the peace of solitude…except with honking and the occasional rude gesture thrown in for good measure.  It’s not a long ride to work – thirty minutes each way – but I am not a speedster.  I gave up the dream of participating in the Giro di Lombardia long ago.  I often have middle-aged women with flip flops, droopy hats and one-speeds with flowery baskets whisk past me, smug yoga mats slung to the their backs taunting me as they disappear into the horizon ahead of me.  I get it – I am not that fast.  But I still enjoy the ride.

Lately, my bike has been showing wear and tear.  It recently went through a tune up, but now the back tire is loose.  The head light and back light batteries are fading. The once fierce and piercing illuminations now barely cast enough light to read the instruction booklet on how to replace batteries. One pedal is cracked and threatening to fall off, hanging by who knows what pedals hold on by. The bell, once bright and clangy, has caught more rainwater than a frontier town bathing barrel and sounds like a dying cat.  The chain is chunky monkey and the tires are getting flat. There is rust creeping around the edge of the frame from repeated exposure to the elements.  Changing gears sounds like a machine gun firing into a wind tunnel.  People hear me before they see me.  A stutterer hiccuping on a jackhammer on a runaway subway train.


Tooling around on a beat up bike isn’t too bad, but it will start to worsen.  I can already feel it in the performance and I worry that it’s going to zonk out on me when I need it most – through a snowstorm or when I am in a rush or when trouncing over countless potholes.  And for this cat, one who did better in home economics than shop class in Grade 7, even I know it’s a good idea to get a bit of an overhaul on the ol’ bird.  Keep the machine lubed up and loaded up and ready to rock the rocky roads of the city.  Be the Mad Max of Bad Ass Biking.  Siphoning air from other mislaid bikes and shaming couriers with my two-wheeled kung fu.  Step up my game and start taking the street hard, now that winter is coming.  Get ready for when it turns unexpectedly.

Now, one of the things I have been ruminating about lately on these bicycle rides is the cyclical nature of not only recovery, but of life in general.  The idea of budding, sprouting, blossoming, reserving, etc. is something that speaks to me as of late, and was the reason I shared the video of Don Coyhis recently. It just made sense to me, and shifted my recent thinking into a different gear as of late…which is what I needed as of late.  The sense that a dormant or rebuilding sort of phase had never entered my consciousness in my short 2+ years of recovery.  I held a false ideal that things could only improve steadily over time, with the occasional hard left here and there, but with no real snowbanks in sight.  What I have experienced of late is that my view of things have been wrong.   And it’s been active in how I have been feeling as of late.

Thinking of twerking.

I have been a man of emotional slender means lately.  Certain things I have always done in my recovery life have started slide slowly -some of the meat and potatoes kind of stuff, slurping on gruel instead and wondering why I have felt hungry.  Physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, I have been feeling a sense of being off.  I have been ignoring the clear signals that my body, mind, emotions and spirit have been transmitting to me.  The buds of my existence need and want to close up and bear down for the cold season, and I want to play like it’s summer harvest.  Party like it’s 1999.  Ego has been playing too long in the sandbox, and my unmentionables (now mentioned) are getting a wee bit sandy. Uncomfortable, indeed.

Like my bike, there are the tell tale signs of neglect in where I sit today.  I am not so shiny and illuminating.  I am rusty in some of the things I need to do, as they have been exposed to the harshness of pride and fears.  Things are out of balance.  Stuff rattling around that shouldn’t be rattling around.  Finding it difficult to put both feet on the pedals and move forward without stumbling.  Flat, all around (I wish I could say the same for my belly).  The clanging noise from within – old thoughts getting caught up in gears and ratcheting my mind like some Steampunk novel flying saucer.

Summering up in Nunavut. They know from seasons!

So for this hombre, it’s a matter of either prattling away with what I have, and hope for the best, or to pull over to the side of the road, strip down the parts and see what’s there. Or missing.  Take some WD40 to some of the pieces.  Replace others. Air some of the frame out.  Scrape away the rust.  Eat a handful of semi-stale trail mix while I watch the sun dry up the moist bits.  Chop wood and fetch water.  More importantly, it’s a good idea to let others who have been where I am check things over.  Make sure all the parts are still there, that I haven’t put the flux capacitor in my lederhosen by accident instead of on the brake lines.  Let The Mechanic fine tune what He needs to fine tune.  Leave it up to Him.

Why now?  Why do I have this internal trembling that is guiding me towards taking the bike into the shop?  Taking myself into the unknown and seeing what’s there? My bike is alright still, isn’t it?  I’m alright still, aren’t I?  Nothing wrong with the framework, just a few things to take care of.  Preventative maintenance.  I can’t fully say why I am at where I am at.  Cycles.  Seasons.  Ego.  Laziness.  Seeking validation from the external, and not the internal.  All of these things apply in one form or another.  I spent a lifetime ignoring the warning signs from within me – what my body needed, what my mind needed, what my soul needed…all ignored because I was too wrapped up in my self to listen to anything else but the cacophony of me.  And now I get to hear things loud and clear.  And I have been listening to myself yelling for the last month or so.

I realize I am saying a lot and saying nothing.  My modus operandi lately, and a result of a muddled mind.  I’ve been having a hard time trying to think of what to say as of late, as my mind is scattered.  Lots of fuzz and static.  Emotionally tapped out. My spirit is flagging.  Unnourished…a problem my body doesn’t have, although my diet is making me want to punch myself…if I had the energy to do so.  But these are things to be examined, checked over and given proper treatment for.   I have the tools at my feet to not only inspect and pick up, but to use.  Like a boss. And use them I will.

Yup - me and cousin Zeke readyin' to do some planin' and sawin'.
Yup – me and cousin Zeke readyin’ to do some planin’ and sawin’.

Recovery isn’t just about not drinking.  It sure starts that way, and for me, it was all about not drinking at the beginning.  But once I saw that it was in the manner, thinking and experiencing of life and living, and my connection to the Creator that mattered most, then the idea of recovery shifted dramatically.  It wasn’t about putting a bandaid on my cravings, it wasn’t about distracting myself or coming up with projects to keep me from thinking about drinking.  It was seeing that it was a journey.  A journey travelled by millions, but still unique to me.  That’s because I am unique to me and me alone.  As are you to you.  And in this journey I will have my seasons, my cycles of being and being differently.

I have to listen to the voice of conscious contact within me that hasn’t steered me wrong yet (except when I don’t heed it).  I know that for the last few months I have not been heeding this body and soul sense, if you will, of what I need to do for myself to move into a new season. And today, this day, I choose to heed what the Creator asks of me.   And I am very excited to do whatever it is I need to do to bring that bike back to basics, to get it up and running and where it can shine on. Get me through another season out there, with the hills and rain and roadkill. Put tassels on the handlebars to spruce things up if I want.  Tape an old hockey card on the spokes to flick and click around when I ride, like when I was a kid.  Turn my face up to the sun and warm myself as I take in the scenery.

Recovery isn’t a one size fits all, fresh-from-the-factory ride.  It’s an all-encompassing experience that will test the body, mind and spirit.  It will feel like it’s faltering at times, or that it’s not performing as well as it used to, but it’s ok. The ride continues.  The true test comes in how I maintain that ride.  How I keep an eye for certain things, how I care for it, protect it, and ride it like I stole it.  And for me, it was like I stole it – as I received this bike through Grace. Bestowed and undeserved.  But still given.  So my job is to check my bicycle.  See that it’s working even if roughed up a bit.  As it often is and should be.

So I’ll be in the shop tomorrow, getting a tune up.  Not sure how long it will take. Might take some time. But look for me if you want.  My name is Paul.

 Just ask for Paul.

15 Comments Add yours

  1. REDdog says:

    The very act of self-reflection is proof of a willingness to change, the courage it takes to exhibit the ambivalence that seems to dog that process in all it’s faltering glory is proof of a man determined…seek and you shall find, ask and it shall be given…God’s luck in the tune-up shop mate, enjoy. REDdog

  2. furtheron says:

    “Recovery isn’t a one size fits all” – now that is the biggest understatement of the year!

    There are as many types of recovery as there are as many recovering alcoholics/drinkers.

    Different folks different strokes

    I’m waiting for the opportunity for a little injection of new energy into my life/recovery – I know it’ll come along it is out there just waiting for me to recognise it

  3. Hi Paul, glad to hear you’re “rolling” in the right direction (hee hee)! You didn’t ask for it, but I’m going to give you my take on what I’m reading.

    When I am out of sorts, and I finally identify that I am OFFICIALLY OUT OF SORTS (capitalized because for me this usually takes way longer than it should), then I know I’ve got to get back to basics, because, inevitably, if I am out of sorts, I am skipping steps somewhere. I also know that the more out of sorts I am, the more in my head I am, and I need to get to a meeting, listen to another alcoholic, and, most important, to share what’s on my mind and in my heart. That last part is particularly difficult for me, for all sorts of ego-driven reasons, but the worse I feel, the more I need to do it.

    I just heard a woman share yesterday, and she has several decades of sobriety, “I come to meetings and talk about what’s going on with me because that is what I’ve been told I need to do.” I sat in awe… a woman with more sobriety than I can even imagine, and she is still doing those basic things that I struggle to do, and my last drink was in WAY more recent memory than hers! This tells me that these basic things are what we need, no matter how much time we accrue, no matter how many accolades we receive, no matter how good or bad life becomes, it all comes back to the basic, simple things we learned those first days:

    Don’t drink. Pray. Go to a meeting. Talk to another alcoholic. Take suggestions.

    It really is that simple!

    I am praying for you, Paul, and I look forward to the post with your epiphany, because I know it’s coming soon!

  4. Another lovely post. I like what you said about recovery not just being about not drinking – this something I am only just starting to take in.

  5. thirstystill says:

    Your bike metaphor is fantastic! I also love my bike, and I rely on it, so I know that if I don’t keep it in good nick, after a while riding starts to feel like I’m pulling a dead body up the hill behind me. That’s a pretty good fit with how I’m trying to do this being sober gig. You mentioned before, and for me it’s certainly true, not drinking is only a small part of what needs doing. I need to pay attention, and yes, that’s a bit like bike maintenance, as you can’t just let it pile up and do a whole lot of it later. So enjoy the time in the real and metaphorical shop, scraping rust and fixing wheels, paying attention to whatever it is that needs attention.

    Thanks for all the support you freely share. I hope you feel that coming back to you if that helps you get things in order. (On a more literal note, please make sure your wheels are not loose when you’re riding!)

  6. Paul, this is such an encouraging post, and for me, address a lot of questions that have been building like brick layers in my mind. I can’t get rid of them so my only choice is to confront them and figure out what my sobriety means to me. In the beginning, I chose to stop drinking because my mother got sick. My health was also spiraling out of control; like the decisions I made when my brain wasn’t in control. But since it’s been almost two years since I made that commitment, I’ve grown quite fond of being this way. Yet, now, I feel like I’m hitting a point where I want to learn and grow more as I continue to find myself closer to my sobriety and God. You mentioned the Creator and that is an extremely important part of staying sober.
    Just as the seasons change, we too will bloom; only to fade away and change into a different shades at different moments in our lives. When we are rusty and clanky, we only need to take a few steps away from ourselves and admire how far we have come. Try to figure out where the next few steps will be and always realize that this isn’t a sprint or a race. The most important part about the journey is the journey itself.

  7. bernasvibe says:

    Oooo I didnt’ see this post until now..I’ll come back to read it..When time permits check out my last post@ Best Moment Awards..I nominated YOU

  8. Thanks again for sharing. I love the metaphor!

  9. Lisa Neumann says:

    Yes, it’s all in the maintenance. Forget the occasional bump in the road. It’s bumpy. Suit up for a bumpy ride.If memory serves me you let it break down once. Once is enough! the Love in you is smarter than your ego.

    For what it’s worth who cares how you got here. You’re here. Whatcha doin’ about it? Going in for a tune-up. I love it.. Absolutely love it.

  10. I don’t know, Pauly. I don’t think that conscious contact has ever steered you wrong. Even when you didn’t heed it. It kept steering, right? But, I always forget that. Or think sure, my Higher Guidance will show me the right way, but I’ll still somehow blow it. But I know what you meant. Trust me, it’s not my Higher Power I have trouble trusting. My problem is I don’t completely trust me. I still worry about “doing it wrong.” Forgetting the fact that my missile’s guidance system has a trajectory-correcting computer attached to the girl’s basket on my bars. I waste a lot of energy trying to anticipate decisions, somehow thinking I’m smarter now then when the time comes to act. Puts a lot of stress on me, thinking that whole “Intuitively know” stuff won’t apply to this hot chestnut I’m tossing around. In the meantime, I’m over-steering like a drunk navigating a New Year’s Eve checkpoint..
    Point is, I eventually get it. Whatever challenge the Universal Forces of Remedial Spirituality present, I eventually manage progress. So why do I still freak out? I’m really asking. I want to say because I’m an idiot, but I’m trying ween off the negative self-talk these days. If I KNOW that eventually I’ll “get” whatever is vexing me, why do I still fret about if I’m okay now?
    Fax my secretary with your answer, Pauly. I’ll be in my office, worried about if I’ll be able to deal with it.
    Brilliant work, again. It’s one of my life’s consistent pleasures. So thank you.
    Okay, now put on this ridiculous bike helmet so you don’t smash your brains like a watermelon against the bumper of a Buick Regal. And then pedal like the Devil’s after you. You crazy, crazy kid, you.
    More love than you know what to do with,
    Your bat-shit crazy uncle,
    PS Really fun gremlin hunt this week. Zeke. The Nunavut summer home. And just the idea of my old opium dealer twerking made me barf a little in my mouth. Kudos for that.

  11. Al K Hall says:

    Amazing post, brother, and hats off to you for being so honest. i think it’s important to show others that recovery isn’t one long pink cloud, that just because we’re sober doesn’t mean we’re immune to shit.

    For me, i liken my sobriety not so much to a machine but to a romance. My pink cloud was like the initial stages of a love affair where the other person can do no wrong and life looks shiny and new.

    Unfortunately (or not), that period gives way to reality and we have to start learning how to live with this new person in our lives and we have to learn how to deal with issues and problems (relating to this new entity or not) in our day to day.

    There are growing pains and there are times that other is not as ‘hot’ as he/she was at the beginning. That doesn’t mean love has left. The relationship is evolving. Learning how to treat these growing pains is what ensures me that i will be with sobriety for the rest of my days, no matter how i feel about it at the moment.

    i’ve made a commitment to my sobriety that i could compare to a marriage pact. ‘Cheating’ is off the table. Divorce is not an option. “i don’t drink no matter what.”

    So what’s left when times are tough and ties are thin is to talk to my sponsor, to talk with another alcoholic, to go to a meeting, to read some literature and to remind myself that the way i feel today only speaks for today because i know in the long run i’ll still be sober.

  12. Mrs D says:

    I don’t drink no matter what either. Never will. Said to my mum the other day that even if I was told I had cancer and 1 year to live I would not drink again. Why would I want to waste the last year of my life by being numb? One thing also that this brilliant post makes me even more aware of is that everyone’s alcohol story is so very different. No two are the same. the drinking bit is different, the ‘bottom’ or ‘point of change’ is different and the recovery is different. We can compare and share and empathise and sympathise and learn and witness but we are all unique. Our drinking and recovery is as unique as we are. Complex, fascinating and real. Thank you xxx

  13. Ti ho nominato per il The Versatile Blogger Award… Spero ti faccia piacere!

  14. Hi Paul! I see the badge! Congrats on being Freshly Pressed! And yet another amazing post! What can I add, nothing really. I totally agree that sobriety is not just about not drinking and believe there is alway room for growth. I still do the same things I did in the beginning, maybe some with less intensity, but if I feel squirrely, I adjust and do more cause I know I am lacking somewhere. I have to live it, and practice it every day, because it is out there always waiting. And I don’t mind, it’s well worth it! Great post and I love your analogy as always.

  15. Paul – I love your writing and your ability to find the words to talk about your recovery. You provide me hope and the courage to carry on.

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