Mornings can be harsh and brutal ecospheres, especially Irish ones.
The bitter morning air may creep below your duvet and nip at any potentially vulnerable skin. The legs may feel it, the shins, the ears and the nose… all being wickedly brushed with the crisp and cold early hour air.
It can be tough to rise, especially if you’re like me. The snooze button has been a cosy ally and a profound weakness for me over the years. I have wasted many an hour upon giving into temptation and closing my eyes again, falling back into a dream and prolonging the day ahead.
I’ve recently gone back to college to study after spending a decade in the workforce. The stressful, snoozing, morning habit is one I’ve been desperate to kick.
So, to my exaltation, I have.
Once that alarm sounds my eyes stay open and the curtains get drawn, I may lay in bed for a further fifteen minutes but my eyes are wide open absorbing whatever light filters through my window.
Arise brain, arise with the morning light!
I live a thirty-minute walk away from my college — or a forty-five-minute drive… Rush hour traffic is horrendous here in my old, Irish city of winding roads and narrow hills.
Driving is out of the question, as is walking, since the sky loves to rain round this part of the world.
Cycling! For the first time in my life I’ve been commuting consistently on a bicycle.
As a kid I always wanted to cycle to school but we lived a bit too far away, the roads were a bit too dangerous and it just never happened.
As an adult I’ve always walked or taken public transport, or occasionally driven.
I know them all well.
The rushed walks in the rain through empty city streets, delivery vans parked up outside restaurants and cafes, men hauling cases from trucks and empty beer kegs being stacked outside pubs. The occasional plume of cigarette smoke rising out from a doorway, texturing the air. Or, the jammed underground stations, slowly stepping your way down a staircase shoulder to shoulder with thousands. The dusty, sooty air, the morning coughs, the sneezes and the body odour trapped in steel people carriers shooting through underground pipes. The condensation covered bus windows. The open newspapers and fingers poking at mobile devices. The soundless, sleepy heads, ensconced in earphones. Or, the traffic, the morning radio, the perennial impatience as you watch the clock tick closer to your expected arrival time. The stress of slow moving vehicles and the waiting eyes on red lights.
I know them all well.
Let me say this; I prefer to cycle.
The joy I’ve realised with this new development is a sigh of monumental relief.
Upon planning this new routine, I knew it had to be correct or I wouldn’t enjoy it and possibly quit. So, I bought the gear. The comfortable, weatherproof, cycling clothing. Everything necessary from head-to-toe. Gladly, I’m not one of those multi-coloured cyclists who seem to unnecessarily dress like they’re cycling the Tour de France… I managed to purchase gear that makes me feel un-foolish. I got the laptop backpack with rain protection, the back pannier for my change of clothes, and of course, the quality bike which I had already.
Getting out of bed now is a different story. It’s strangely easier to motivate myself to wake and climb onto the bike straight away than it is to wake and get in the shower. I’m very lucky to have showers at my college right beside my locker. So, I’m up and into my cycling gear and straight on the bike.
Then I’m out the door.
Nothing will wake you up faster and remove grogginess than peddling your way through the fresh air into an alert state of being.
As you approach traffic jams at standstill, you’ll see gaps at which you can squeeze through without causing any danger, because there’s no way in hell I’m sitting around in traffic if I’m on my bike!
Up hills to break a sweat and downhills to calm and feel the rush of freewheeling and the wind filling your lungs. Wear a neck protector though! Mine comes right up past my nose to caution against any air a bit too cold.
It’s a wonderful and thrilling feeling to glide past a hundred cars who are motionless. You can sense and feel their stress and agitation — it’s palatable. And the smooth physical movement of cycling is such a profound antidote to that stress. The experiential hue of your mornings will change dramatically.
Upon arrival at college, I lock my bike and head straight to the showers where I can freshen up and finish with a nice cold shower just to cool the sweating body down and further instil a delicious state of awake and fortitude. I then dress into my clean clothes, put my gear into my locker and stroll up the staircase toward the cafe to pick up a nice cup of morning brew.
I’ve been dancing a somewhat difficult dance with anxiety since I was a teenager. The difference I feel now in the mornings is like night and day. The winds of clarity flow freely through my mind as I step up the staircase of my college, past hundreds of faces, not questioning whether they’re looking at me or not, not staring to the floor out of fear of eye contact and a possible exchange — no — I simply walk with lungs full of air and a mind wide awake, open and unafraid.
I don’t cripple myself with inquisition nor do I strangle myself with insecurities.
I just walk — with spiritual weightlessness — pick up a coffee, and head to my lecture.
An exhale of relief and my hand to my chest with gratitude. What a joy...
I recommend cycling, for so many reasons. For health, for well-being, for weight loss, for carbon emission reduction, for speed, for frugality, for fun, for fitness… but mostly, most beautifully, for that feeling of a heart and mind free of anxiety and stress. For that feeling of being unafraid to initiate a conversation with someone, being unafraid to enter a room full of people, being unafraid to make real eye-contact and unafraid to smile genuinely.
Be unafraid. Be free. Get on your bike and cycle to work.