I am nearing 50 and it’s not uncommon to see people my age indulge in feats that are, for lack of a better term, symbolic of a ‘mid-life crisis’. I also fell victim to one such impulse recently when I decided to go on a 250 km bike ride from Goa to Karwar and back with a bunch of biking enthusiasts a decade or so younger than me. What seemed like another proof of my entry into the ‘crisis club’ turned out to be instructive like nothing I have experienced in a long time. Here’s what I learnt that a 100 books couldn’t have taught me about life.
For millennia, men and women have repeatedly thrown themselves into danger and in harm’s way. I have always wondered what drives people to do this. As I cycled the last 30 kilometres under a scorching sun, I repeatedly asked myself why did I embark on this excursion? It wasn’t the coolest thing to do on a long weekend in a place like Goa which had a whole lot of relaxing indulgences to offer. As I drew closer to the destination, I realised why I said yes. To me, life is only worth the effort as long as it provides a challenge. Overcoming it, both mentally and physically, gives meaning to my life. It gives me a sense of achievement like no other. Every person has his or her own purpose which each one fulfils through chosen indulgences. Acknowledging them and being conscious of them galvanises us into action and helps overcome the obstacles that stand between us and our goals. Being unaware of the purposes that drive you can be disempowering, leading to a meaningless life.
I have been a respectable athlete in my younger days and so have maintained a reasonable standard of fitness all through. However, a 250 km bicycle ride doesn’t necessarily fall in the routine things I have done in a long time. Simply put, prior to this, I had never ridden a bike at a stretch for more than 75 odd kilometres. Anything less than that would have been a breeze as it lay within my comfort zone. However, 250 km km was certainly a challenge. At first it looked a bit daunting but breaking it down into smaller, byte sized goals made it look achievable. I set myself smaller targets and rewarded myself when I achieved them. This way, I kept myself motivated all along. In life too, one must aim sufficiently high. Too low an aim will rob you of a sense of achievement whereas setting too high an aim may make it look unachievable.
We started early to avoid the April sun from scorching us. It was a still morning with not a hint of breeze. As I laboured up the numerous ghats en route, I realised the meaning of mindfulness. Every pedal was deliberate and a conscious effort to propel myself forward. One was completely ‘in the moment’ and not once did a thought about the recent past or the impending future cross my mind. It was just one pedal at a time and every part of my mind, body and soul were fully aligned to the task at hand. Life presents many distractions as we go along. It’s only an unwavering focus that can propel us towards our chosen goal.
Often, we compare ourselves to others and either gloat or fret about our relative successes or failures. While I pedaled my way through on that hot and balmy summer afternoon, I was passed by a number of people headed in the same direction but everyone traveled at different speeds. If I had entered into competition with every passing being, I would have exhausted myself in no time. I realised that competing with my own self, and not with others, was what took me closer to my goal. The competition I had to win was with my own fatigue, both mental and physical. This is true for life as well. The aim should be to win against oneself and one’s failings. Every such win would make you a better human being, propelling you towards the final destination (which is not death but ending up better than what you started with). Competing with others can wear you down and prevent you from reaching your goal.
As I look back at this seemingly irrational and impulsive act, I realise how simple indulgences like a bike ride can teach us precious lessons of life. While I plan my next irrational act with another long weekend approaching, I am sanguine that whatever I do this time around would also be as rewarding as the last one. Where are you headed? Would be glad to hear about your learnings. Have a great weekend.
Originally published at www.linkedin.com