Cycling in Sydney Australia
Tibetan Buddhists have a place in their world view, the Bardo Thodol, the ‘intermediate state’ of approximately 7 weeks between what we conventionally understand as death and (re)birth, also known as the Bardo of Becoming.
In truth, there is no absolute ‘death’ or ‘birth’, or a ‘real’ Bardo Thodol, but rather an ongoing process or mindstream. But we ‘conceptualise’ what we conceive as meaningful stages in the process (as we do with existence generally), sometimes far too firmly, as though the label we apply to a ‘thing’ is ‘the thing itself’. How we conceive these stages really depends on our perspective, wide or shallow. I try to see my life from a ‘universal whole’ perspective. My favourite philosopher, Alan Watts said: ‘You are an aperture through which the universe is looking at and exploring itself.’ Carl Sagan, my favourite cosmologist said: ‘We are a way for the cosmos to know itself’. Same same. We are more immortal regenerating scarf wrapped Time Lord than ‘one life wonders’ who appear and then vanish into eternal nothingness. Certainly our ancient atomic ‘stuff’ is recycled after death and indeed we shed and gain atoms constantly and interdependently in the biosphere, such that there is really no absolute and coherent ‘body’, much less a concrete and coherent ‘self’ or ‘I’, but rather a stream or continuum. I like to think that this coming and going obeys the law of conservation of energy - it cannot be created or destroyed but it can be transformed.
But life has lots of intermediate states and bardos, the imperceptible changes we undergo from moment to moment, waking and sleeping, and between significant periods in our lives.
I am in a bardo state at the moment. I have ended 5 1/2 years of life and work in Darwin, and the change has been necessarily abrupt (as to invite a ‘death’ analogy). And I have mourned it. But I am still very much alive (as to rebut the death analogy, and to call into question the whole ‘idea’ of death). I certainly hope there will be a new working life to come, although you hear these stories of 50 year olds being thrown on the employment ‘scrap heap’ because they are, suddenly (and it creeps up on you) ‘too old’. I also hope that there will be new or reforged social connections. This period of my life is pregnant with both uncertainty and possibility. But I have a strong sense of feeling ‘suspended’ or floating and not being quite as ‘connected’ as I was. With my ‘past life’. And not being connected with a future one yet, either. Waiting for the phone to ring. For ‘something to happen’. It can be an uncomfortable feeling, of being exposed and vulnerable.
According to the Tibetans the first experiences of the mindstream in the Bardo relate to attachments to the previous life and the later experiences, the karmic quickening of the life experience to come.
After I left my work in Darwin I went to Nepal, trekking and climbing for 5 weeks. I love the ‘idea’ of mountaineering and with every course and guided climb I am incrementally developing the technical proficiency required to climb more safely. I do need to be fitter and quicker, the ultimate safety skills. You need to move fast at times. Because snow and ice warm up in the sun. Which is why you have those ‘alpine starts’.
My time in Nepal was very much an opportunity to reflect on my time in Darwin, from a distance, letting it go and attachments and memories formed there naturally dissipate. Till they acquire a fond, curly haired, fuzziness (with a delightful, joyful laugh perhaps). That ‘did I even have a holiday’ feeling. Ultimately (ie *death), of course, with no brain to retain processed memories (unless retained some other way) they pass away completely. Like last night’s dreams. Like not recalling what happened at the end of a particularly heavy night on the suds. Your brain was too busy getting your inebriated self into the taxi to also process the memory of your getting into said taxi. Although, like some dreams, you might be left with a vague impression of something of that character happening. And you grab at it, like a bubble. Which then maddeningly bursts.
And so it is Monday morning at 5:30 am in Wollongong. I am lying in bed in the quiet house I grew up in. The sky is perceptibly lightening and I am feeling exposed and daunted. It will soon be time for me to rise. For what seems an eternity I have been planning a cycle tour to Melbourne. Now the departure day has arrived. I could just stay in bed. Go on Tuesday. But I have to go. I have to ‘move’. I have to push past inertia and open myself to the next part of my life. I have to leave this bardo and ‘become’. Again.
I decide on getting up over the Illawarra escarpment via Cordeaux Road on the approach to Mt Kembla and Harry Graham Drive across to the junction with Mt Keira Road and Picton Road. The cicadas are registering about 70 decibels on the app on my phone soon after turning into Cordeaux Road. After Mt Kembla pub the road starts to steepen. I don’t have my climbing legs or lungs (I will ride them in) so there are frequent stops for a minute or two at a time. After Mt Kembla Village I do some judicious ‘snaking’ using the whole road before it levels off somewhat after the moto-cross circuit. I crawl past the jumping, buzzing, flying riders doing their tricks. At the top of the escarpment I get off the bike and walk 200m to a lookout for a late morning look at steamy Wollongong nestled next to the ocean and the steelworks to the south. I pass a group of younger riders who have come up Mt Keira Road. One of them asks me if I have come ‘up the hill’ from the Mt Kembla side and calls me a ‘legend’ when I answer affirmatively. I am glad there were no cyclists to witness the meal I made of getting up there. But thanks guys.
Picton Road is not a great cycling experience. The verge is ‘mostly ok’ and separates me from the howling, zooming cars and trucks, many of which are headed for the Hume Motorway. At one point there are roadworks for about 500m or so and I choose to navigate them, on both sides, in preference to the road which is enclosed by concrete barriers. Happily, there is a mobile coffee and snacks truck parked in a rest area after the end of the works and I grab a very chewy, leathery steak sandwich (have it with sauce). The cook, as he hands it to me, blithely says that I can ‘fix him up’ after I have finished, seemingly forgetting that I paid him when I ordered minutes earlier. He laughs when I point this out to him, and I wonder if I’m the first person he’s invited to pay him again. I wonder if it works occasionally.
Once you get past the intersection with the Hume, the traffic drops off and the countryside opens up towards the delightful township of Picton (where you can get a can of Diet Coke for $2). It is hot. The air temperature is over 30 degrees but the gauge on my watch has it at over 35 on the road and topping out at 42 by the end of the day. I ask the publican at the Picton Hotel how far it is to Bowral. 50 kilometres. But he assures me it is ‘flat’ with a hill at the end. In fact, as I find out next day, Bowral is over 500m higher than Picton. I have a couple of beers in front of a picture of Parramatta’s last game at Cumberland Oval in 1981. A 20-20 draw with my beloved Manly. I aim to finish the day at Bargo but settle on the Tahmoor Inn instead, 9 kilometres further down the road from Picton, after putting in 800m of ‘up’ from Wollongong. The room I am given has not been made ‘up’. Not given to complaining (although I should have in hindsight) I choose the bed that has not been slept in and turn the pillow slips inside out and set the air conditioner to ‘Antarctica’. As if in compensation I have a perfectly cooked T-Bone for dinner. The maid is very apologetic next morning when I explain that I have not slept in the other 2 beds and why it is that they are unmade.