Lance Armstrong completely changed my perspective on cycling. Not because he is an inspiration of what a human can accomplish when they set their mind to it, which is true, but because of one line of one of one of his books, “It’s not about the ride”, which my husband recommend I read. I would not otherwise have read it – professional sports and athletes are really not my thing, but I had started road-biking a couple years before, so had gained a new appreciation for the sport and for him, the name with which it is so synonymous. I both loved and hated cycling – I found it to be often times grueling. Living in San Francisco, hills were everywhere and made every ride challenging. Even understanding that the terrain was difficult, I often had the thoughts that I was doing something wrong…that I should not be so hard…that I wasn’t in good enough shape…that I hadn’t been riding long enough…you name an excuse for why something might be hard and I thought it while pedaling out of the hills of Sausalito to cross back over the Golden Gate bridge to San Francisco. And then I read the book.
I often think to myself, when reading a book or a newspaper – “oh, this is why I’m reading this today” – something will answer a question that recently came up or spark an idea for my own writing. This was the thought that I had when I read the couple lines at the end of one of the chapters that was telling about an interview that he had with a reporter after one of the stages of The Tour. The question was around what kind of pleasure he got from biking so hard and for so long. He said that he had been perplexed by the question, and then he responded, “I don’t do it for the pleasure. I do it for the pain.”
And then I understood cycling. And I didn’t berate myself anymore when I my legs were burning or I started to feel nauseous or I wanted to cry when pumping up a huge hill. A cycling friend of ours, who had road-raced during college, confirmed this again when we were talking about the quote and he reiterated, “if you don’t enjoy suffering, you have no business cycling.” I had never thought of myself as enjoying suffering before, but as a long-distance runner, I realized that part of me sort of did. Perhaps not enjoying the suffering in the moment, but enjoying the feeling of having pushed through the suffering to complete something anyway. The whole ‘that which does not kill me” thing.
I have been reiterating this experience (the transformative effect of the quote in the book) for years now to other cyclists or often, to other people starting out who say things like, “I don’t think I can cycle, this is too hard.” But only the other day, did something dawn on me…as I was speaking with a fellow-mother friend of mine at a particular low point for me. It was an end-of-day, “I don’t know what I’m doing oh my god my daughter is 3 and I don’t know if I can make it and I’m feeling bad because I don’t think I handled it very well today” kind of days. I heard myself talking and the analogy was so clear. “This is just like the cycling quote!” and I explained. “If you don’t enjoy suffering, you have no business being a parent!” I continued and it was true and funny and we had a good laugh and it was exactly what I needed.
And my perspective on parenting changed just like that. I don’t mean to sound mellow-dramatic, but it really hit me at that moment – how I resist the unpleasant moments (it’s hard not to resist a 20 minute, 130 decibel melt-down at a public pool. I could tell the lifeguard felt that he should somehow get involved – a child screaming that loud activates something within those trained to save lives.) But it pulled me out of the “why did I ever choose to become a mother?” moment because I realized I was just pumping up a big hill. That everything has its ups and downs. Parenting, I think, often has some doozies thrown in there, like the big hill you are pumping up and just as you crest, you see that it’s followed by another hill. By the third one of these, you kind of feel like throwing the bike down and stomping off the road, i.e. giving up. I actually did this once – a lifetime ago – in high school – when a girlfriend and I decided we were going to start cycling for exercise. I pulled out my what seemed like 100 pound Schwinn, which was about the same that I weighed then, dusted it off, and away we went. It was an incredibly windy day, and I don’t think I ever really knew how to change the gears on my 10-speed back then, so I had a moment – I tossed my bike to the side of the trail and walked off saying it was too much, that I couldn’t go on. My friend remained calm and in a half-sympathetic, half “oh brother” kind of way, reminded me I didn’t have a choice, and if I wanted to get back home, I better get back on the bike. Right. And such is parenting. Breaks. Good nutrition. Lots and lots of water. Bouts of suffering followed by intensely joyful periods. Pretty much the same.
(ps – if you are thinking there’s something more to my ‘suffering’ to transform and that this term might seem particularly interesting coming from a Buddhist, I think you are right and I think there’s another blog post about this in the near future. But for now, they are the same).