The American Lifestyle

Once upon a time, we believed in something that we called “The American Dream.” Over the years, coupled with the internet and mainstream society, we now have the American “Do-Whatever-You Want.” We are cultivating a sense of entitlement and selfish behavior that negatively impacts those around us.

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We see it all around us in our daily lives. More so now than what we did ten or fifteen years ago, thanks in part to the internet and social media. We are growing more interconnected as a society enabling and tolerating behavior that would have been frowned upon, tactfully corrected, or ostracized before now.

You see it whenever you are waiting at a stoplight and the car next to you is making your windows rattle because their bass is turned up as far as it can go.

It happens when someone almost runs into you in the store because their nose was buried in their phone.

You don’t notice it when you are rocketing around in your metal box on rubber wheels, too selfish to yield the right-of-way to the crosswalk pedestrian to get to your destination while never fully arriving.

We post all of our pictures and selfies to social media, but are too afraid to make eye contact with those around us, as if we have something to be embarrassed about.

For far too long each of us has been moving at a steady max speed through our lives, trying to get to where we want to be as if what we have here and now is just something to get through. “I have to make it to retirement,” or “I need to save up to buy a house,” or “I need to earn that college degree…” We dare to dream but we never dream to live.

We say that we are modern and progressing as a nation but as long as everyone remains trapped in this overrated, arrogant, fuck-you, egotistical lifestyle that owns nothing but is entitled to everything, we will stagnate and vegetate were we currently are.

 

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Exercising Patience

img_20161005_185800Today I did the 6,000 mile service on Murdock, my F800GS Adventure. Well, mostly… I still have the air filter to check/replace and adjusting the chain slack. I learned a lot in the process, but I realized a lot more in the aspect of exercising patience.

I have always been a patient person. Granted, I am only human and still have my weak moments, but it is a trait that I take pride in. Lately though this aspect of me is being tried again and again. For what reasons? I am not sure, but there is something…

In the early afternoon I headed out to the garage to begin working. Ah, but first I need a different oil filter wrench. The previous ones I bought from Harbor Freight were not the right size for the BMW filter, go figure. Harbor Freight being too far away for what should be a quick jaunt, I skip over to the Home Depot that is two blocks away. $10 later and a shiny new tool to show for it, I start unscrewing the skid plate.

Pulling off the skid plate so that it is out of the way, I move to the drain plug. I leverage all of my weight against it and it gives no sign of even moving. The torx bit I have starts to deform the hex-socket of the plug slightly. Well lets go to Home Depot again…

Pulling into the parking lot, I am irritated by the absent-minded drivers fighting over who can get the closer parking space. But I am not irritated at them… I am irritated at the negligent mechanic at the dealership who overtightened everything on my motorcycle from when I had the 600 mile break-in service done. Too late to do anything about that now except complain. A deep breath later, I come out of Home Depot with a couple more shiny new tools.

Back in the garage with the appropriate hex bit and a breaker bar, I torque on the drain plug again. Still no budge. My wife ventures out to see what I am up to, our 5-month-old in tow in her carrier wrap. I must look like a mad-man covered in dirt and grime from the underside of the motorcycle, uttering profanities under my breath. Cautiously, they both approach and my wife suggests using a cheater-pipe for more leverage. I am apprehensive at first, concerned about striping out the socket, but at this point I am desperate and have lost all semblance of logic in the furor I have stewed myself in.

Applying force again to the oil plug, gently ramping  it up until most of my weight is on the cheater-pipe, a thunderous ping fills the garage and my hands drop a few inches. My wife and daughter jump a little. The oil plug is finally loose with minimal damage to the hex socket. What a relief.

I move to the oil filter and test how tight it is. Of course, why am I not surprised? It is has been overtightened as well. At least the filter is made to be disposable. I just have to ensure to not crush it completely before its completely loosened. After a few choice words and pulling out the cheater pipe again, I unscrew the spent oil filter. It looks like a dog’s chew toy at this point.

New filter, oil plug and crush washer in place (not overtightened this time), fresh oil poured in, the oil change is done. The hardest part about it all. By doing it myself I have now ensured that I will not have to take as drastic of measures the next time around.

I decide on tightening the chain drive next. After 6,000 miles it has a lot more play in it than what it should. I begin on the adjustments, only to realize that I need to slacken the axle safety bolt first. I do not have a big enough wrench, so its back to Home Depot.

This time I can only be frustrated with my own lack of foresight and not thoroughly reading the directions first. I had planned ahead, but not fully so, in buying a set of wrenches that I assumed would be enough. The only downside is that most sets like that only go up to a certain size. Sure enough, I needed an even bigger wrench.

Getting back to the garage, guess what? The new wrench still isn’t big enough. At this point, I have to laugh. The afternoon is gone, friends are coming over, and I have no choice but to put my work on hold. But I managed to get this far…

The day’s events undoubtedly flustered me more than usual, all because of external factors that I had no way of being aware of or could not control. I was flustered primarily because I took a mechanic’s negligence personally, when for him it was a very impersonal thing. It was just another motorcycle. I was impatient in having to go through the growing pains of learning how to do the maintenance on a new motorcycle.

To realize these aspects is the first step in exercising patience. You cannot be patient if you never take the time to slow down and realize why you need to be patient for. In this case, I needed to be patient as I learned the correct tools I needed for my bike as well as being patient with circumstances that were predetermined 5,400 miles in the past. Being bogged down with anger and frustration in the present moment never helps you get through that hardship any faster. In fact, it actually impedes things.

Be mindful and realize what you need to be patient for…

 

Forced Sobriety

Like most of those in their early twenties, I developed a connoisseur-like passion for alcohol. This was facilitated by both my social life and personal interests (homebrewing became one of my many hobbies). I never considered myself as an alcoholic, but as passions lead to habits, how much separation is there really between the two?

Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you see it) for me, I was forced to start a nine month medical regimen in order to be deployment-ready at the hands of the military. The medical treatment precludes me from drinking unless I wish to take on more permanent liver damage. At least for women at the end of their nine months have something to show for it… That was seven months ago.

Once I reached about halfway through my treatment, I started having some interesting realizations of the situation. For me, curbing my drinking habits was easy as I had no physical dependency on alcohol. What was harder to break was the social habits of it all.

The muscle memory that I had built for drinking was pretty robust. Getting home from work? I could no longer have a beer and talk about my day to my wife. Hanging out with friends? Good luck finding a refreshment other than booze or water. Going out to dinner? No meal is ever as good when its beverage pairings are limited to various sugar waters.

Social gatherings remains at the top of all of this however. My drinking habits were a reflection of my friends’ and vice versa. What all started out as a mutual enjoyment slowly became the primary driver of what made the gatherings fun and interesting. That does not necessarily make the gatherings bad thing, but you do seem them differently when you are on the outside looking in. Makes you more aware of the group dynamics. What I saw was, in a way, a reliance of sorts. Why? Because its so much harder to be interesting and original when you are sober. I am just as guilty of it as anyone else. It also might be that I cannot use the excuse of alcohol whenever I say something weird too.

So are habits to be considered akin to alcoholism? I am no medical professional, but I can see a logical argument for that. I see it as a dependency of sorts, but not the sort that is associated with clinical alcoholism. To realize this sort of dependency, you must first break yourself of it.

Understanding Motives

When was the last time you actually paused for a moment and tried to understand someone? Truly understand… I do not mean in the sense of cause and effect; they did [that] for [these reasons]. I mean it in the sense that a person’s actions are a reflection of a cumulative causality based off of their life experiences, their upbringing, their relationships, and what they are exposed to.

Going about our daily lives, the people that we come across are living in their own. The disheveled mother blocking the aisle, the inattentive cashier at the grocery store, the aggressive driver that cut you off in traffic… How often have you paused to think of what is possessing them to act in that way? What drives their story?

“No human being, when you understand his desires, is worthless. No one’s life is nothing. Even the most evil of men and women, if you understand their hearts, had some generous act that redeems them, at least a little, from their sins.” – Orson Scott Card, Speaker for the Dead

The disheveled mother is fraught with worry on how she is going to take care of everything at home while the husband flushes his paycheck down with alcohol? The inattentive cashier, pondering how he is going to make ends meet this week because he just had to buy a new set of tires in order to make it to work that day? The driver, on his way to the hospital to see a family member for the last time as they lay on their deathbed. We never really know unless we ask. But when do we ask anymore?

To truly understand someone does not excuse them of responsibility for their actions. Understanding is not the right term… Empathy. To feel empathy for their actions… We focus so much on cause and effect relationships that we never attempt to understand the deeper meaning of their actions. To feel empathy for another.

When we fail to understand the motive, we no longer feel empathy towards others.

For the Love of Mindfulness

utah-dirt-mountains-editI have always felt indignant towards the culture that predominates what we call modern society. I have never fully felt a part of it. As much as I would try to fit in, there has always been a layer of resistance. That resistance, I think, is because of the negative connotations given towards mindfulness.

Modern society is built upon materialistic aspects. We want more, in less time, and in stronger doses. When you start throwing around terms like “mindfulness” or “meditation” the instant bias towards some Eastern hippie fairy-dusting is thought of. These terms are contrary to our so-called “modern” society. The things that we are exposed to we do not really need. Rarely do we fully ponder what exactly we do need or not. We are simply told.

If we were mindful about the things that we buy, the places we go, the media that we watch, we probably would not pay heed to even half of the things we currently do. Witless critics are quick to label it as ignorance. Really it is only a better quality of perception.

Mindfulness debases the profits to be had with a completely docile society. To be mindful is to know the rules of the game.

Those who exercise mindfulness are seen differently. You may have encountered them throughout your daily business. They are the quiet ones. Never saying much, but when they do, their words hit like sledgehammers. They keep to themselves, observing, learning, seeing through the facades. To try and see the deeper meaning of things has never meshed with most people.

I love mindfulness for the control and discipline it gives me over my life. In cycles, I will feel that I am slipping because of the external influences that I am exposed to. Realizing this is more than half the battle. It easily labels the sources of conflict that I face. Sadly, I have not encountered many of those who practice mindfulness regularly.

 

The Great Escape

We each have our own vices that we escape to. These vices either distance ourselves from the reality of the problem or empower us to keep on facing it. Some vices are better than others, depending on the person; what may work for me may not necessarily do the same for you.

Riding is one of my vices. Writing too. For others it can be things such as knitting, cooking, cleaning, smoking, alcohol, or drugs.

Riding remains the most effective for me however. Riding has been dubbed “the lazy man’s zen” for this reason, a reason that most do not understand but they gravitate to it any way. Wouldn’t it be funny to tell a die-hard Christian Harley rider that he’s actually taking part in an ancient Eastern practice? I think so. There is a certain mindfulness about the turns, the road conditions, your speed, your braking, your throttle… the list goes on. There is a point where all of these things come as second nature, but to really ride you are completely immersed in the whole experience.
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Its a fun play on words to say that I enjoy riding and writing as both words sound similar when you say them. From here on I will be switching between the two words so keep up.

Writing is a means of escape as well, but for different reasons. Riding clears my thoughts while writing helps get them in order. I am still coming to terms as to whether writing empowers me more than riding. Right now it seems they both just offer me a means of escape from existing but through different means.

Why do I escape so often? Because life I live, through all of the external factors influencing it, is stressful. Western societies are some of the most stressful in the world. More, harder, faster, stronger… All for the sole reason that the persons to the left and right of us are doing the exact same thing. Its a continuous loop that the only way to break free of it is to be aware of it.

Unfortunately though, there is no completely escaping it. As great as it would be to simply drop all responsibilities and obligations in order to start fresh, the ripple effect that that decision would have would be earth-shattering. Some people have that luxury of being able to make that hard choice. For me I have too many people that depend on me. Not that is a bad thing, but I cannot let my choices impact the safety and well being of those that I care about.

No one can completely escape the stress enducing factors unless they want to go live as a monastic. Admittedly, the idea of it sounds fairly enciting. So how can we balance the stress and the escapes? Right now I really do not have a good answer. Hopefully that answer will come later on.