As you may (or may not) know, I sold my 1982 Chevy Chevette diesel car back in May, and have since been riding my bike (probably of a similar vintage) to work. My place of employment is only 3.6 miles from my house, so it's a nice ~25 minute bike ride there and back every work day.
At first, I disliked it. I hated that I had to leave my house at least 35 minutes before I was actually scheduled to work (bike ride + changing + cooling down time). I kept thinking, "Man, I can't wait until I own a car again." It felt like the wind blew against me every day (both ways), and that my out-of-breath-ness and physical exhaustion at the end of each ride would make for a miserable summer of biking back and forth between home and work.
But my misery didn't last long. After one week of riding back and forth, I decided to add my iPod to my daily ride. What a difference! The time seemed to go by quicker, I didn't notice the burning in my thighs as much, and the overall experience was considerably more pleasant. After a few days of using the iPod to listen to music on my ride, I switched to listening to free podcasts of classes (mostly UC-Berkeley classes). Even better! Not only did the time pass quickly, but I also got to enrich my mind every day.
Somewhere along the way (and the shift was almost imperceptible), I realized how thoroughly I enjoy my daily rides. It's at the point now where even on my days off I usually go for a ride, and feel "off" when I don't. I have a great time on my rides now, even when the wind is blowing against me (although that still dampers the enjoyment quite a bit). Even as the days have become hotter, I am getting to where I am less and less sweaty and tired at the end of my rides. I feel like I breathe better. I feel greater endurance in physical activity. I feel more alive.
Which brings me to mindfulness. I have been trying to live every aspect of my life more mindfully, being aware and feeling the moment as it comes. Not only that, but trying to become more fully aware of the fact that the actions I take (good or bad) have a slow, building (or tearing down) effect on my overall quality of life. I have started reading my Bible every day again (for the first time in about 7 years), and rather than trying to evaluate each and every reading for it's immediate and obvious value to myself at that very moment, I have instead been trying to focus on "the big picture". Never mind the details, how does this daily reading seem to effect everything in my life? Obviously I can't say for sure whether things have just been going well for me by chance or if it is a direct result of my daily reading. But one thing I do know: since I began reading my Bible again every day, my life has become better. Most notably: more peaceful. I get angry less, wallow in self-pity less, and have an overall greater sense of calm about my life.
And this is where mindfulness, bike riding, and reading the Bible all tie together: as I actively attempt to do things that I can see little immediate benefit from, but which should theoretically improve my state over the long haul, I find that not only do things get better over the long haul, but by extension also in my day-to-day life. By practicing mindfulness, I am better able not only to do those things which may improve my life, but also to become aware of how my life is improving (even if I don't know exactly how what I'm doing is improving it).
Best of all, adding good things to my life seems to have something of a snowball effect. As I become happier, I find I am better able to practice self-discipline in other areas as well, and doing that in turn makes things even better.
Now, I'm not saying that riding my bike and reading my Bible have made everything rosy and wonderful. I still get depressed, I still feel horrible sometimes, and I still get urges to do things that I shouldn't.
But my life is better. And this little fact shows me something important: life can get better. And not only can it get better, but what I do matters. The amount of hope that these two facts give me for an even better life in the future makes me feel... well, much better.
"Since I am afflicted and needy,
Let the Lord be mindful of me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
Do not delay, O my God."
P.S.: thanks, Mom.