When I was in Seattle visiting Colleen in July 2005, she took me to a BBQ at a friend’s house one evening. The friend was a college professor, if I’m remembering correctly; I don’t remember her name but I do remember her bookshelves. I’ve since bought at least one book I flipped through there (Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things, by George Lakoff). There was another book that struck me at the time but I haven’t bought yet, but whose concept still nags on the back of my mind: In Praise of Slow, by Carl Honoré.

The concept is that we, as people in the 21st century, move too quickly. Everyone is in a hurry, everyone multitasks, everyone worries about fitting everything in. “In Praise Of Slow” evangelizes taking a breath, putting things down, and, well, slowing down. Very similar to the concept of “be here, now”.

I started riding to work this week, to slow down.

My commute was becoming stressful. It’s not very long, or even that trafficked, but I was drinking coffee and listening to music and feeling a very strong compulsion to check my email, put on chapstick, and sometimes apply hand lotion at every red light. I was filling every second of my commute, “accomplishing something,” even if it was just deleting spam.

The very first day I chose to commute on the bike, I noticed a difference. I was completely in the present, looking and hearing and paying attention. I observed my surroundings at red lights instead of fumbling for my hiptop; I noticed children in strollers and joggers and elderly Asian women dancing in the car next to me, lip syncing to words I’ll never understand.

I noticed lilacs! How long have the lilac bushes been in bloom and I’ve been too caged in to notice? Days? Weeks? Such a glorious smell, right at the turn at the end of my street, leaving for work and coming home at the end of the day….full and deep and rich. Lilacs.

I worked late yesterday and went to the gym afterwards, putting me back on the bike well after dark. Instead of just getting into my car, I had to be aware of the evening. Put in the jacket liner. Swap the tinted visor for the clear one. I passed my boss on our way to the freeway; he rolled down his window and stuck his arm out and gave me a huge flapping wave. I grinned for miles.

Even if I’m in a rush, the bike forces me to slow down. Slow down, Carolyn, put on your boots and overpants and jacket. Find your earplugs. Put on your helmet. Deep breath. Close the garage door. Slow down. Is everything for the day in the tailbag? Lock it, let the bike idle. Idle now. Slow.

Some people ride for speed, for adenaline. I ride to slow down.

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