There is a German word, weltschmerz (literally world pain or world grief) that roughly translates as a general feeling of gloom with regards to life overall, and weltschmerz sometimes perfectly describes how I feel when I’ve been overwhelmed with negative things.
In life, we magnify what we focus on, and it is a sad side effect of cycle campaigning that we will often point out the failures, the mistakes, and the very slim chances of getting things right. If that is what we focus on, it’s only natural that it will seem big and important to us. All-consuming, even.
And let’s be honest here – there’s a LOT wrong with cycling on public roads in the UK and no amount of prettying up will disguise the fact that we, as people on bikes, are often handed the dirty end of the stick.
Here’s where free choice come into it: we can choose to shift our focus elsewhere. We can choose to look away from that which is wrong. I’m not for a moment suggesting ignoring the ills of society, and I’m certainly not advocating walking away from cycle campaigning.
Well, actually I am, in a way. See, sometimes, we need to recharge our batteries. Sometimes, we need to ignore (even if only for a short while) the wrongs around us, and focus on restoring balance within.
Right now, it’s late January, which means – being in the northern hemisphere – it should be mid-winter. Except, it’s not and spring has started, even if hesitantly. We can rage against climate change, and how pollution from motorised transport is one of the major contributing factors, but that won’t alter the fact that spring has begun quite early.
So I suggest you get on your bike, and go for a ride.
Most people aren’t as fortunate as what I am, and don’t live in a rural location. When living in a town or city, it can be more difficult to spot the signs announcing the start of spring, but they’re still there. You just might have to look a bit harder, is all.
Now down here in Devon, we’re used to daffodils blooming in mid-December in certain places, so generally they’re not a good indicator to go by. There are other, far more reliable signs. On the rural part of my commute, there’s one particular spot where the snowdrops blossom up to two weeks before they do so anywhere else on my commute. When I see the first snowdrops, it always makes me smile, as to me, that is the start of spring.
I was amazed when they started blooming in mid-January, and was cautious to accept that spring had actually begun, so I kept looking out for other signs, and sure enough, there are plenty. Some trees have since started sprouting buds, while I’ve even seen the beginnings of leaves on others. In the places where the daffodils tend to bloom at the right time, the first yellow flowers have started appearing, and I expect it won’t be long before the primroses are in bloom, too.
But it isn’t limited just to plants – the blackbirds have become noticeably friskier, and yes, in parts of Devon the first lambs were born a few weeks ago. There can be few things more enjoyable to watch than excited lambs frolicking in a field.
Here’s my advice: get on your bike, and go for a ride, even if only through a local park (but ideally through the countryside). Don’t turn it into a training ride, and don’t go fast. Instead, go slow, give yourself time to look around, to stop often, and to savour the experience. See the signs of life returning to the hedges and meadows, and do stop to smell any flowers you encounter.
Accept that there is much wrong with the world, most of which you cannot do anything about, then stop worrying about it. Be present. Smell the air. Feel the wind, and if it rains, surrender to it, accepting that you will get a soaking.
You’re alive, and despite what cycling on UK roads sometimes feels like, you’re safe. You live in a civilised country, free of maniacs with guns. You’re not being bombed to smithereens by some foreign invader, you have clean water, hot food and a warm, dry bed available, and you get to cycle through one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world.
Sure, there’s a lot wrong with the world, but if you change your focus, you will see there is far more that is right with it. Go on. Get and your bike, and go and find the magic. It’s out there, waiting just for you.