Pedaling With A Purpose
It’s a well-known secret that the sorry fate of most eagerly purchased ellipticals is to end up as a glorified clothing hanger. And we don’t mean for just the clean clothing. In having pondered this life’s mystery at length (what else do social workers do in their spare time), I have come to the conclusion that one potential reason for this is the futility of the activity of pedaling on an elliptical. The idea of working so hard and getting nowhere fast, seems to go against the nature of man. Recently, my husband told me about a new invention. It’s an exercise bike that serves as a washing machine as you pedal. (I write “you” assuming that as soon as you found out about this wonderful invention you already put it in your online shopping cart. Who wouldn’t, right?). Seriously, I thought it was quite brilliant- a way to get past the futility of the stationary bike by incentivizing people to save money through pedaling the power needed to wash their dirty clothing. This really takes us full circle since now that the bike is being used; it produces clean clothing instead of holding dirty clothing.
As a therapist and as a human being, I am constantly in contact with existential questions- my own and my clients. These questions include things like, “where does meaning in life come from? What makes all the pain worth it? Why is it that some people can find meaning in anything and others find meaning in nothing?” All these questions point to a fact- that humans need more than the meeting of their physical needs. We need to have a reason to go on.
A former teacher of mine, Rabbi Zilkovich, once spoke to the class about the idea of man’s insatiable hunger as a sign of his Godliness. He said, “When a dog is full, he stops eating, there is no further reason to consume. When man is full from a long meal and the waiter brings out the dessert menu, he says, “I guess I’ll try the chocolate cream pie.” Why is that? Man has something in it him that can not be filled; that is always striving for more. Here we hold the dialectic of using that force to move forward in the search for meaning, while recognizing that it can not reach a state of satiation, for by definition it is infinite.
Victor Frankl, in his acclaimed book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” states, “Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.” There is no generic answer as to where man will find the answer to the meaning he seeks; but it is by taking responsibility for creating that answer that man has the best shot.
So we ask ourselves- what am I doing to bring meaning in to my life? At what points do I feel most fulfilled? Is it when I am connecting with friends? Hugging my child? Writing a poem? Sitting in nature? Teaching a class? Cooking for my family? Volunteering to help the needy or sick? Praying? Meditating? Singing? Cooking myself a nice lunch and setting it up on the plate in an appealing way? Exercising? Reading? And if I don’t know then it is my responsibility, and only my responsibility, to find out.
Some are not bothered by the question of where to find meaning. That’s ok. It doesn’t mean their lives don’t have meaning. In fact, it may mean they’ve figured it out without the struggle. But if you are one of those struggling with this question and living in that pain then don’t get distracted by looking around at others- stay focused on your path and your responsibility to create your life in a way where the question is being answered.
In the past few weeks so much of the world as we know it has changed, as we adapt to the reality of the recent Carona virus pandemic. In a sense our lives have slowed down. We are no longer rushing to get our children on to the school bus by 8:03 because schools are closed. Many of us are working less because most industries have been affected. We are socializing less to try to prevent the spread of the virus. We are not entertaining and not even buying or ordering as much food as usual because supplies are limited, and we are wary of germs. All these changes are slowing the natural pace of our lives. The pace that on a regular day gives us the elliptical promise- “keep pedaling and you will find what you are looking for.” But now that the bikes have stopped or at least slowed down, what do we see when we look around? We see we are left with our families; the people who matter to us the most. We are left with ourselves; to face ourselves and the ways in which we handle stress. We are left with time to think and pray and focus and breathe. And I start to wonder if maybe we will find that our search is more readily satisfied in this new space. That maybe the meaning we seek in all that pedaling was really here all along, right next to the bike, but couldn’t be seen or heard through the whir of the pedals.
I’m curious what we’ll find.