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Zen and the art of pedicabbing

To say it takes a certain amount of physical fitness and stamina to be a good pedicab driver is rather banal - well, duh! But equally important, if not more so, I've learned, is mental attitude. One's state of mind on any given day marks the difference between success or failure, good interactions or bad, rides or no rides.865312-1020390-thumbnail.jpg
Channeling positive energy

In the barn, talk sometimes turns to the necessary mindset of successful pedicabbing. "If you are having a bad day, it is not the day, man," said Adam (aka Jesus), " It's you!"

Tom B. often waxes passionately on how to nuture the right attitude, the right positive energy field that attracts others to you. For him it is other-directed service and helpfulness. He'll talk about how some people are surrounded by negative energy that you can feel and  almost see. "They're like black holes, they'll suck the energy from you," he says. Sensitive to their pull, he tries to avoid all negative people - whether tourists on the street, locals, or even other more gloomy pedicab drivers. 

Tom is the kind of naturally wired guy who seems to vibrate at a higher frequency than other more laid back types and to ring with the vibrations of others. US writer Anna Quindlen, in one memorable 1980s column for the New York Times, coined the term "tuning fork people", describing herself and people like Tom. And for years I have known that I, too, am a tuning fork person. I can emit an almost perceptible tone that speaks to my mental state. At times it can draw people to me; at times it can drive them away. My husband calls it my high pitch dog whistle.

Tom awaiting his next fares
It has taken me almost 50 years, but I have learned ways to control this tone, to help shift it to the positive side of the spectrum. Regular exercise, meaningful relationships, and good sleep are key. Yoga is a new addition to my arsenal of mind control powers. Seven years ago I ventured into a new age store looking for a relaxation tape to help my then seven-year-old daugther (another tuning fork) settle at night. I was inexplicably drawn to a book on the shelf, Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now -- (this before Oprah had made it a best seller and confessed that it has a permanent spot on her bedside table.) I picked it up and read the jacket. The clerk saw me and said: "Everyone is raving about that one." 

So, along with leaving the store with a tape of nature sounds set to etheral music that could  loop in any spa, I left with a book that has given me a way to understand and control the tape of thoughts, negative or positive, that can loop repeatedly in my head.  I have become a strong believer in cultivating mindfulness and attention to the present moment. As Tolle notes, a mind that is looping too much attention on the past tends to depression; one looping thoughts of an uncontrollable future, anxiety. I have been practising the Power of Now for years, at times with more success than at others. (I.e. February RRSP season: its ability to whip up fear of future financial woes inherent in the precarious work life of a freelance writer calls upon every drop of my Power of Now --"PON" -- skills .)

I had no idea,  however, when I started driving a Kabuki cab, how this would all come together. I simply thought I was embarking on a kinda cool summer fling that would keep me fit and give me something new to write about. But I have discovered  it has given me a physical and tangible reality in which to ground my understanding of the importance of effective thought control.  Paying attention to the present moment, on a pedicab, is not just good mental hygiene -- it is life saving. If you are not completely alert to the here and now you are apt to get smucked by a tour bus or crash into a taxi cab.

The result is that six to eight hours of riding around in complete mindfulness - alert to the traffic, the people, the sights and sounds -- has been a recipe for happiness and stress reduction. The endorphins helped create that positive mood, but even on days without a heavy workout, I would come home anxiety-free, my tuning fork ringing a positive tone. La-di-dah. To-do list? What to do list! Let's eat.

The bonus has been that the more positive my vibe, the more it seemed I drew others of positive ilk to me. Like attracts like they say.

That thesis -- what you put out in thoughts comes back to you in tangible results-- is the basis of another new age dogma now making books fly off the shelves: the Law of Attraction.  One of the most hyped best-sellers touting this law is "The Secret," which also comes with a DVD. I rented the DVD this summer (almost embarassed to be seen doing so at my local video store, Victoria's amazing Pic-a-flic.) Frankly, I was appalled at the Secret's manipulative take on this universal truth, twisting it  to material ends. Use positive thoughts, it touted, and you will obtain financial success! a nice house! a fancy car! a fat bank account! 

But an ember glows in all this - fanned into a true spiritual path by Tolle, into the flames of rampant commercialism and pursuit of the American dream by the Secret: our thoughts by and large do create our reality.

And therefore, I realized sadly yesterday, my thoughts have turned to trepidation about rides again. Instead of riding three times a week, I am now riding just once a week. Three times a week was perfect - fitness kept building, and my muscles  had time to rest and heal in between. I could feel I was getting stronger and stronger.

Randy laughed three weeks ago when I told him to put me down for once a week. "It is not enough," he said. "You ll be hurting. Wait 'til you get a couple of fatties up Government..."

He is right. It is not enough. My last three shifts have been painful, hard.  I am rapidly getting weaker - a shocking finding that function-specific fitness can wan so fast when I still bike to work, walk everywhere, work out at the Y. A week ago I had a lovely (but rather portly) couple from Australia hop in my cab at the museum  wanting to go to Bastion Square. I had to ask them to get out in the second block of the Government street incline. I couldn't continue. It was a horrible feeling, for me and I think for them, too. I saw them later and gave them a free ride (all downhill) to their hotel. We laughed about aging; they gave me a nice tip. But I realized then it is not fair to rides to pick them up and not be able to do the job. And it sure is hard on my ego.

 So yesterday, the first time since June, my tuning fork was emiting a don't ride with me tone to all but the slenderest clients. And as a result I only did three rides -- and one was a business ride with my friend, conductor Simon Capet , who stepped into my rolling "office"  so we could talk details  about our up coming October performance of Dvorak's Spectre's Bride. (It will be awesome, see www.simoncapet.com.) My work and home life is now just too busy to go back to three times a week. So, with sadness, I realize it is time to draw my pedicabbing summer to a close.

But there is one more thing I must do. I must attempt the castle.  I can't call it a season without at least once trying that ascent. Now all I need is a lightweight, sympathetic cargo to come along for the ride -- two small people who won't be offended if I have to ask them to walk a block or two. My girls?...



Posted on Saturday, September 8, 2007 at 10:42PM by Registered CommenterAnne | CommentsPost a Comment

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