I'm a bull.
In personality, in force, even in star sign -- a bull, through and through.
It's a good thing, this bull strength of mine. It propels me, pushes me forward fearlessly. I'm not the brightest kid in class, but no one works harder. I have never lacked for effort or energy or bravado. Nostrils flaring, tail high, I will charge to the front, take the lead, impose my will.
Bulls get noticed. Oh yes. I will dominate your conversation and run roughshod over your nuance like soft blades of paddy grass. A bull. Strong. Direct. Or, as a mother of mine once put it, shockingly devoid of tact. A bull. Just wave the red cape and off I go. Indeed, if success = force x mass, I'd be unstoppable. But it doesn't, and I'm not...
I'm on a bike on the streets of New York. It's dipping past sunset, the natural light completely gone -- not that you'd notice, here in Midtown, Times Square, sucking down kilowatts by the truckload and drawing tourists like moths. I've zagged east on 53th to dodge the worst of the mess and am pushing south on Second Avenue when I stop at the lights at 23rd.
Street biking in a city is a paradox -- connecting you intimately to the living, breathing energy of the streets, the flow of traffic, the sights and sounds you miss from the sidewalk or car; and isolating you, alone, on your two wheels, propelled by your own weight and strength faster than you could alone, hyper aware and intensely internal.
It's night and it's hot and I'm late -- to hug goodbye a dear friend before she returns to Singapore, for a date after, and still I need to pack for a work trip and prepare the apartment for guests and there's a Post-it with a dozen to-dos I need to tick off before I go and I haven't eaten and it's hot, damn hot and the light just won't change and I can feel it building.
He's heading west on 23rd, another cyclist, and as he passes he throws a bottle toward a trash can and it misses and bounces into the street, and in a fleeting instant I call out. It wouldn't be unusual for me to yell something sharp, cutting, a comment on his aim, something snarky about the environment. But it's been a strange long day, and I'm in that space I sometimes frequent, where I'm both myself and observing myself at the same time, present but not, a few steps behind my consciousness.
What comes out is "ALMOST!" and I say it optimistically, as if cheering him on, as if the effort were Herculean, warranted, divine. And a funny thing happens. He screeches to a halt on his bike, turns around, grins, and says to me, "Right? So close!" And then with a smile retrieves the bottle and deposits it in the bin.
He peddles off and something shifts subtly, not for the first time. I've learned this lesson before, and before, and before -- in failed relationships, in failed jobs, in failed arguments. We progress and evolve in the pattern of a corkscrew, or a pig's tail, moving forward, tracking back but not all the way, advancing a bit more, tracking back but not all the way, etc, repeat, continue.
I flash back two years to Burning Man 2012, Tuesday morning, and Ari and I have spent all night in the ER in Reno. A dominatrix friend had come to the Playa for the first time, an intention set to explore the deeper meanings of her sexuality, and within the first hour crashed her bike and split her labia so severely it required the hospital. (Yes, it can be like that, the universe and intention and the dramatic ways our bodies try to get the attention of our minds). When we walked in, 4 a.m., dressed for the occasion, the nurses had run to me, assuming the bright red streaks across my forehead were blood, not paint. And now here we were in the late morning, in Ari's car, sleepless, driving back, she wheelchaired through the airport and sent back in sadness to California, the two of us shell-shocked and in awe again of what can happen in that community. And he turned to me, this man, as close to a brother as I know, and implored me to move from my head to my heart, to embrace service, to put less attention to my intention, to ease back and see what comes forward.
The light changes and I'm moving again. My head too kicks into gear and the lessons, the much-experienced and much-repeated lessons of softness, of listening, of allowing for space and my mother's exasperation and my own oft-repeated line to others that they're never as strong as when they let go -- it all is coming to me and I'm deep in those moments of epiphany and suddenly there's a THUNDEROUS SCREECHING and it's me and my back tire is locked up and the bike is sliding into traffic and it sounds like someone has plunged a crowbar into massive iron gears that are grinding to a halt and somehow (brute strength? bull strength?) I manage to keep the bike upright and slide to a stop, shocked and unharmed.
The mudguard has come loose and slammed down into the frame and locked up the tire. And as my heart is pounding and my mind still unsure about being fast or slow and what was the meaning of that bottle on 23rd and why now for Burning Man and broken vaginas, suddenly yet another biker appears. He was ahead of me earlier, heard the sound, stopped to come back to help. And he's checking in with me to see that I'm fine, to ask if I need help, to make sure the bike still works.
I dislodge the guard and the bike is fine and I thank him for his concern and he is gracious and patient and bikes off with a smile, and I can't help but relate this act of kindness to my recent act of not yelling something aggressive, of not being a bull, and the night is hot and I'm tired and late and it would be so easy to take a shower and ignore the packing and just fall asleep and wake up slowly but instead I charge ahead.
Three mornings later I'm in the basement gym of a Chicago hotel. It's been 48 hours of florescent lights and air conditioning and conference food and trains and plains and taxis and giving a presentation and shaking hands and making nice and I'm fighting a cold and powering through a workout and sweating like a madman when a tall, elegant woman walks in to this massive gym and now it's no longer just me. She is calm, and elegant, her energy is powerful and as she gets on the treadmill she is walking slowly and steadily uphill, stretching, each step careful, pronounced, her limbs long and lithe, serenity leaking out of her in palpable rays.
And I am bouncing on the treadmill and sprinting for two minutes and hopping off and throwing weights around and grunting and jumping back on the treadmill and the sweat is pouring and she? She is walking, calmly, slowly, steadily, in perfect form, nearly gliding. I'm looking, out of the corner of my eye I'm looking, I notice, but there is work to do and I keep going.
Afterward I collapse in the empty studio to stretch, and shortly she too is there, unlocking a closet, extracting equipment, introducing herself. She is the yoga teacher, she's noticed me, had to fight the urge to give me some advice, to slow me down, to have me notice my form. She comes to me with a yoga block, and for the next 25 minutes, as her students filter in, she is giving to me of her time, her energy, her presence, guiding me through stretches, radiant in her presence, asking nothing. She's working to help open my hips, my shoulders, my breathing, in a voice that is sure, soothing, trusted. She is gently allowing me to let go, showing me how hard I'm fighting to hold on, and the freedom and ease that comes from having the mindfulness to release.
And as I wander back upstairs to my room, to a shower, to the weekend with friends and family, I am thinking about the bike a few days ago, and the Playa a few years ago, and hopeful that finally, at last, this time, the lesson sticks. Yes, man, be of heart and of service, be strong but not forceful. And I laugh about an old joke about two bulls on top of a hill, one old, one young, looking down on a field of cows, and wonder about the view going forward.