A couple weeks back it began snowing here and didn’t stop for a week. Eventually, as Pittsburgh usually does fairly quickly, the snow began melting and I was able to ride my bike to work again. That 2 weeks was the longest I have gone without riding a bike since last March.
I didn’t like it very much. I missed my bike a lot. I got to see it every day as I headed down the steps to work, but It was like waving to an old high school friend, nothing new to say, just an acknowledgment that at some point we had been friends of a sort. I was shocked at how quickly Giants tires got flabby (I call my bike Giant because that’s what it says on its down-tube), when i got back on the bike I was also amazed at how quickly my legs felt flabby. But now, barring the occasional winter rain shower im back to daily riding. It feels damn good.
When i riding an interesting thing cropped up. I found that during my daily commute I would often get really angry. Sometimes it was at a specific driver who I felt had cut too close or seemed determined to make my life uncomfortable, but more often than not I was just generally surly and defensive. Far from being a relaxing roll to work I became agitated and started running all sorts of scenarios in my head about how I would brain the next lousy car driver in the face with my kryptonite lock.
I really wasn’t sure why, it’s not like I haven’t been in stressful situations before and anger is not usually my go-to emotion. Around this same time Cara and I had talked about something, I don’t even remember what but I do remember saying something stupid and being really embarrassed by it. As soon as I felt that embarrassment a wave of anger came up with it. Later a thought occurred to me; the only time I get angry these days is when im ashamed or embarrassed by something I have done. It’s a sort of defense mechanism I suppose, but really came as a surprise to me how strongly those two emotions were tied together.
Since I had become aware of the connection between my anger and shame, I made and effort to be aware for the next month, sure enough I found that the only times I really lost my temper or had a wave of wrath pop up was always when I felt embarrassed. It didn’t take me long to put two and two together and realise I was embarrassed to be on my bike! I realized that I felt like I was in the way, or holding up traffic, I was afraid that I looked ridiculous on a bike, I also felt like in a contest between car and bike that I was a powerless force on my little bike! My anger was a result of that shame and I hadn’t even realized it.
I used to believe that I knew myself pretty well, that because my thoughts and emotions were “mine” that I knew everything about them. It turns out that there is a lot going on in my brain that I have no idea of until it “comes out sideways”. So much of our lives work just like this, we react in certain ways because of our lifetimes worth of programming and conditioning and even when we are irrational we still find a way to prove to ourselves that this outburst of insanity is our “normal” way. It would be very easy to have told myself that my bike rage came from shitty drivers or the unfairness of the road system towards bicyclists, lots of movements start and are fed out of such notions. But I cant fool myself anymore with false rationalizations, meditating has taught me that if I’m feeling some unusually strong emotion for no valid reason there is something else in there pushing buttons. Perhaps an old grudge, a childhood experience, or a secret fear, something that takes a normal feeling and fans it into an out of control fire.
Now I’ve been keeping an eye on my embarrassment, I’m not trying to “solve” it or push it down, im simply aware that when I feel that flash of unreasonable anger that I need to look backwards a step or two and see the point where I became ashamed triggered it. Every single time it’s there, and in seeing it the anger disappears.
Irrationality, it appears, can’t stand the light of truth, and sometimes simply seeing the real deal behind an event robs it of all its negative power.