In Britain – and in mainland Europe too – much is being written and said about the First World War this year, the centenary of the start of the conflict that changed the face of Europe and ultimately the wider world, forever. I wrote about that conflict and the Tour de France in an early edition of this blog. You can read it here: https://puncturerepairkit.wordpress.com/2010/09/05/who-by-fire/
But there have been other conflicts, other struggles since then. ‘Struggles?’ I hear you ask. You may have been led to believe that cycling is, for me, something akin to a Zen – like state; a mindful meditative way of being that keeps me (literally and figuratively) going. I am sorry if I have given that impression – it’s true – but it’s not the whole story.
For me there are 3 struggles in cycling. Mind, body and breath. I have to admit that this is not an original thought. ‘Ah!’ you reply. ‘White Crane Kung Fu!’
For those of you not familiar with this form of Chinese martial arts it seeks (in part, at least) to engage in the struggle to master the 3 wars. Control (at least for some of the time) of the Mind, Body and Breath. One of the reasons that I find cycling so helpful in maintaining my mental health is that it engages me effectively ( as long as I’m pedalling, at least) in these 3 wars.
Now I come back to where I began: war. Actually, 3 wars that took place in England between 1642 – 51. The English civil wars centred around the issues of by whom and how the country should be ruled – by royalists or parliamentarians. These 2 groups are distinguished by their hair styles. The supporters of King Charles 1 were known as Cavaliers. Supporters of the supremacy of parliament over the monarch were known as Round Heads; named as such because of their short hair. The Cavaliers, like the king, wore their hair long. I kid you not.
3 wars, 3 civil wars. And that is what the struggles with my mind, body and breath can feel like.
I am at war with myself.
I have written elsewhere about the practice of Mindfulness – the discipline of being in the moment, of focusing on one’s breath and body. Day after day after day it feels like skirmishes, anbushes and trench warfare in my mind, my body. And with all this….my breath persists, as stubborn as asthma.
All the good advice – ‘be kind to yourself’, take one day at a time’, ‘avoid people and activities that affect your mood adversely’ – there’s simply not enough space for it, not enough time. I’m too busy dodging bullets to have time to survive.
XLIII: The Brain
The Brain—is wider than the Sky—
For—put them side by side—
The one the other will contain
With ease—and You—beside—
The Brain is deeper than the sea—
For—hold them—Blue to Blue—
The one the other will absorb—
The Brain is just the weight of God—
For—Heft them—Pound for Pound—
And they will differ—if they do—
As Syllable from Sound—
Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)