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On My Feet

"Now that I have a baby on the way, maybe a bicycle would be a good thing to have..."

"Maybe instead of walking slowly it would make sense to be able to get home more quickly on a bicycle... maybe spending less time commuting would give me more time with my daughter..."

I've been walking 10,000 steps every day on average for the past few months. It's a 0.7-mile walk from the house to the train station and from there I commute 20 minutes on the train to Central Square, Cambridge where I work from my favorite cafe.

I make the commute back home for lunch around noon, then back to Central Square around two o'clock before finally heading home for the evening around six. In total, I spend over an hour walking outside every day, rain or shine.

We have a car, but we try to use it as little as possible, and I love not needing to drive everywhere. I've grown to despise driving. It's hectic and incredibly stressful on our bodies. (If you're not stressed while driving, you're either not paying enough attention to driving or you're not paying enough attention to your body.)

Fifteen years of driving and more than half a million miles have also taught me how incredibly unnatural the seated position is for our bodies, especially when we're stressed. I don't need more unnatural things stressing my body; I spend enough time sitting at a computer.

I was talking to my friend Cristian about how I commute by walking and riding the train when he suggested that riding a bicycle everywhere would be more exercise, and probably more convenient. After thinking about it for a few minutes I realized that he was right.

If I had a bike, I would have more options. I'd save time. I would be able to get home more quickly from the train station and that would mean I'd be able to spend more time with my daughter (once she's born... any day now!).

I proceeded to search CraigsList for used bikes in this area. I found one right here in Central Square. It was a black, fixed-gear bicycle in nearly new condition, exactly what I was looking for! I emailed the seller and set up a time to look at the bike the next morning. That was yesterday.

As I got ready for work this morning, I imagined myself riding a bike to the train station, or even directly to Central Square.

That's when I began to realize what I love about walking.

A bike would speed up the pace of my life, bringing me closer to driving a car. I'd need to constantly be alert, watching where I'm going and looking out for people, other bikers, cars, etc., just like I'd be doing in a car.

The world would fly by. My attention would be focused on one thing. I wouldn't be able to look up at the sky and watch the clouds, or stop to literally smell the roses.

I could, yes, but I probably wouldn't.

The motion would be more mechanical and less human. I wouldn't be able to feel the muscles in my legs, and my feet, and my hips and think to myself "those muscles are designed for this motion," because they're not designed for a bicycle, or a car; they're designed for walking.

I love my daily walks. They're not an inconvenience at all, but a refresher. I love getting a whiff of air that smells of flowers and closing my eyes to smile inside, or smiling at a baby as he rolls by in a stroller.

I love the way the world bobbles up and down in slow motion with each step I take.

I love that I can instantly pause and capture a photo of the Earth.

I love being able to read, or not, when I'm riding on the train.

I love smiling at the dogs and following the butterflies with my eyes until they disappear behind a wall of green leaves.

But really, I love being able to take a deep breath of air and smell the earth, to be able to take my huaraches off and walk barefoot and feel the damp earth under my feet.

On a bike, I'm not connected to the earth in the same way. On a bike, my body is just the engine to a machine; I'm only half the equation. But on my feet, I am the machine and the engine. I'm the complete package. It's all natural, as nature designed it.

Would using a bicycle save me time and let me spend more of it with my daughter? Sure, but what good would that extra time be if acquiring it meant she would spend time with a more stressed out daddy?

What good would teaching her present-mindedness be if my mind was always focused on something else, always hurrying here and there as if right now wasn't good enough?

It's so easy to go astray, to make choices with the best intentions in mind only to have those choices take us in a direction that leaves us worse off than when we started.

When it comes to time, the choice that contributes to mindfulness is always the best choice. Mindfulness slows time and gives us more of it. I feel most mindful on my feet.

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  1. Raam, I left this email in my inbox since you published it because I wanted to comment, but because of the relentless bombardment of my daily routine, I am just getting to it.

    I wondered what this all meant, getting drawn to a post about how you are taking action to keep your life at a slower pace, yet I barely have time to reply days later.

    A few years back I purged out most of what I thought was unnecessary and really slowed down the pace of my life. Over time, slowly, I notice little things like you mentioned smelling the roses, catching all the details, all going to the wayside.

    Congrats on catching yourself as you pondered adding a bicycle to your daily life and remembering to keep the priorities in order. If I am not mistaken, you are the one that mentioned functional minimalism or something very similar. Just enough to accomplish whatever have set before you, it seems to me walking and the train get it done for you.

    Enjoy the sights, smells and sounds 🙂

    • Thank you, Miles. When we listen closely, nature always leads us to the things we need. I often find myself reading things, or learning things, exactly when I needed them.

      For me, the big insight here was that it’s so easy to get pulled into justifying why we need things, when in reality they might just make our lives worse off.

      I wrote about Practical Minimalism in the past, yes. I believe that minimalism for the sake of having less stuff is silly. What we choose to keep in our lives should serve a purpose, it should be practical. Getting rid of all your warm bulky clothing when you’re living in a place where the temperature goes below zero is not practical. Likewise for electronics: I own a laptop because it helps me get all my work done. I own a smartphone because it helps me digitize receipts, letters, maps, calendar, etc. It’s an extremely practical tool in my life. 🙂