88 Temples

88 Temples

In the author’s note for Live or Die, Anne Sexton apologized for the order of the poems, arranged as they were, in the chronological sequence in which they were written. She conceded “that they read like a fever chart for a bad case of melancholy.” She then quoted the French author, André Gide, who said, “Despite every resolution of optimism, melancholy occasionally wins out.”

The book that unfolds is an internal struggled rendered in verbs. She has to will herself to live, and the indifference of her family, the nagging feelings of abandonment, shade every poem in the book. It’s a document of anguish and occasional triumph. Yet each page groans with the postscript that she committed suicide not long after she finished the book. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Live or Die in 1967, posthumously.

Among the many things my graduate work in English challenged me to do was to figure out my literary heritage. Who, among the canon of poets, was my father, my grandfather or grandmother? I was in New England in part because it had proven to be such a fertile territory for poets. It was the spiritual home to the Confessional Poets, among whom Robert Lowell (arguably the movement’s founder), Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton were pivotal figures. Sexton was my maternal muse, Plath the aunt I couldn’t wait to see. Lowell taught a workshop in Boston and counted Sexton and Plath as students. Because I couldn’t study under any of them, I studied with a classmate of Sexton and Plath, Don Junkins.

The Confessionals inspired in me a kind of fearlessness to write about subjects close to me, about events so intensely unique and personal that somehow the universal could be discovered within. They could walk through the city square, naked, at the height of rush hour, with the calm of a bomb technician.

This time last year Bicycling Magazine green-lighted a feature I pitched them on going to Japan and following the route of the Zen Buddhist 88 Temple Pilgrimage, a walking tour around the island of Shikoku. At the time, I told my editor, Gloria Liu, “I just need one day to get sideways. I need to be separated from the group, lost, bonking, the sun going down and faced with the choice of eating fish heads … or continuing to bonk.”

She surprised me and said, “We want to know why you want to follow this tour.” Although I ignored the signs, this was my first indication that I was about to write a feature very different from the one I pitched.

That story is out now. It appears in the March issue of Bicycling. It has the headline, “Ride Free,” and is tagged “the confessions issue.” Well this is one helluva confession.

I’ve heard from some of you who have read the feature already; thank you for what you have shared.

This is a chance for me to publicly praise Features Editor Gloria Liu and Editor-in-Chief Leah Flickinger for the attention they gave this endeavor. It was Flickinger who could see that I was being evasive and attempting to write around what I was actually wrestling with during the trip. As a result, it’s no ordinary travelogue. Liu deserves a week on Tahiti for the lengths she went to tease the story out of me. She made herself vulnerable to me, giving me reasons to trust her as I worked through the feature’s toughest passages. Hers was a generosity of spirit that I will treasure for the rest of my days.

Not too many months ago I told a counselor, “Look I was never a very good bike racer, but I was a bike racer. I know what it means to suffer, to work hard. I’m not afraid of the hard work.”

Somewhere between my Confessional Poet lineage and bike racing emerged my willingness to look at myself mercilessly. This is easily the most honest thing I’ve ever written, and for that, it scares the hell out of me. It is also a prosecution with no defense.

Bicycling took a big chance with me on this feature. The writing and editing of the piece was so intense I didn’t give myself room to think about how unusual it was for a bike magazine to want an author to go deeper, more personal.

Brian Vernor, the man behind the lens who can be credited for creating Rapha’s storied black and white look, joined us on our trip to document the experience. The photos here are outtakes from his many images taken during the trip.

Writing and editing this article has been a lot like a bike race. I’ve suffered through the process, on two occasions getting off the phone with Gloria only to break down and cry, and not because of anything she did. The process has not been the least bit fun, but on reflection frequently exhilarating.

I’m amazed and humbled by Bicycling, Flickinger and Liu. I’m wowed that they would go into such territory, and stunned that they would trust me to lead you through the experience.

Finally, I’d like to express my gratitude to my former teammate Eric Romney, the owner of Japan Cycling Tours, and his wife Soco, who organized and led the trip. Eric was implacable even in the most challenging circumstances and gave me a lens through which to view Japan as one giant delicacy. Our other compatriot on the trip, Eric Smith, has been a friend for nearly 10 years and made the philosophical end of our adventure part of every day’s fabric.

I hope you’ll show your support for my work by going out and buying a copy and then subscribing to Bicycling.

 


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34 comments


  1. Author
    Padraig

    Ima just add that I’m surprised they didn’t use the portrait of me at the top, as it is quite likely the least flattering portrait of me ever shot.

    1. Grego

      I love the portrait at the top. It looks incredibly honest, like you’re radiating your soul out toward us. A treasure.

  2. Gary

    I certainly haven’t seen the article but the lengthy teaser above says it was personally epic for you. Big kudos for being that vulnerable with yourself and letting others see it.

    I was reminded of “10 points” by Bill Strickland. That was a book that went places you’d never expect at the beginning and perhaps your journey was equally (but not the same) in depth.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Stickland’s “10 Points” is one of the more remarkable books on cycling ever written. I can’t recall another book—of any sort—causing me as much discomfort or inspiring in me as much compassion.

  3. Stuart D Kent

    After reading “88 Temples” in your latest Bicycling issue I felt that I had to address some issues you, Mr. Patrick Brady brought up.

    First, You say your bicycling is your religion, it helps you to relax and sort out mental issues. Fine, but you say you have a wife, which means you committed to her in a religious ceremony, even if it was a courthouse one. You made several promises during that ceremony, which you may not remember. But a wife and marriage are commitments, despite your anger at having this new responsibility and the inherent problems therein.

    One part of this commitment means you can’t relish every selfish activity that you did while single, you have now created a group. You are part of that group, hopefully the leader. I read that your wife stayed at home and raised the boys while you were out riding bikes around Japan, because that’s what women do best, and they don’t typically shirk in their duties of cooking, washing clothes, cleaning, paying bills, working a full-time job, all while keeping the family together, with or without you. I guess that fact hurts your pride and makes you angry. It did me, early in my marriage of 31 years now.

    Buddha has some good quotes, but here’s a better one, from Jesus:

    “Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting.” (Ephesians 5:25)

    Being a husband and a father is all about giving…giving affection, love, attention, food, money, emotional support and being present, even when you could be out riding bikes. Love is an action, not a feeling, so be the leader and hug your wife, be supportive of the women you had children with, take time with those little boys who will grow up to act like you, since you are the only example of “father” they see and know.

    Prescription drugs will not solve your identity crisis you seem to be having with your family, only you can do that. Be a man, a strong man, and actively love that wonderful family you committed to and helped bring into existence. Make your wife’s life easier, by being kind, washing the dishes after supper, folding clothes, cleaning the bathroom, making the bed, spending time with the children so she can have some downtime after a hectic day. Deny yourself and selflessly love your family and see to it that they succeed every day.

    If you choose to embrace any of my suggestions, then after awhile offer to send your wife away on a trip she may want to take with one of her besties. Then you can discover yourself what raising a family is all about, when you have to do it all. She may only decide to spend one or two nights away since women have a crushing sense of responsibility, but at least offer, and make it happen and arrange it for her.

    It is freeing to love someone in a big way, to provide, to care, to be patient, to lead and love them. Once you turn away from self and begin to love selflessly it becomes easy, the choices simple. Take your wife and boys on bike rides,if that’s what you like to do, and don’t be surprised if they enjoy riding with you! Be the man you promised your wife you would be, and your marriage and relationship will turn around overnight, as long as you put her first.

    I pray for you and your marriage and wife and boys today and wish that you become a strong, intact, growing and loving family. You can do it!


    1. Author
      Padraig

      I hope you’ll bear in mind that in choosing to allow your lecture to make it out of moderation I have shown you more compassion than you’ve shown me.

    2. RCW

      Its funny how two people can read the same words and come up with different interpretations. My wife, who loves me and I love in return, encourage each other to take alone time, chasing our passions and supporting each other in the quest of understanding. Our bond actually becomes stronger each time we go on a journey and then come back to share it with the other.

      It is obvious that you are a blessed man and are fortunate enough to not have suffered from depression. Dealing with depression is not about being strong and loving your family more. Its a health issue just like strep throat, cancer and diabetes. Would you really suggest that being “stronger” would take care of these maladies?

      We all find out paths in different ways. I, like Padgrid, find my path to enlightenment in my cycling. Not because it is a selfish activity but because it allows me, as religion does for you, to become at peace with the world around and be a BETTER HUMAN BEING.

      88 Temples helped me understand more about myself and why I do what I do. My wife and daughter read it as well. It helped them understand more about me as well. It brought us closer together as it expressed feelings, I in 20 years, could not.

      I think that is really the point of the piece. We all find different ways to come to grips with life. For many of us who ride, it is the bicycle. For some of you, its a more structured religion.

      Padgrid, we know you will come out the other side more enlightened and in a better place no matter what path to enlightenment you take.

    3. Roman

      Stuart,

      When people misread a situation, often it’s because they see what they want to see instead of what’s actually there. You made that mistake in your post. Besides that, you’re the classic proselytising blowhard. You are making assumptions about Patrick, his wife and their marriage that’s quite offensive, frankly.

      And “Buddha has some good quotes, but here’s a better one, from Jesus…”? Oh brother!

      The mote and the beam, Stuart! The mote and the beam.

    4. Winky

      Stuart, you really need to stop projecting your beliefs onto others. Your response to Patrick’s words is completely uncalled for, and amounts to little other than arrogance on your part. It Patrick was less gracious, they would never have seen the light of day.

    5. Derek

      I just listened to your podcast regarding this article. I have not read it yet but felt inclined to respond to your Christian / Buddha remark. I read Stuart’s comments and felt as if they were tone-deaf. I can understand your anger and comments. I am a Christian and felt inclined to try to show you love. The two greatest lessons I try to live by is loving God and loving my neighbors. I love God by riding my bike in beautiful places that I believe he created. I try to love my neighbors (and podcasts hosts) by showing them compassion. I hope that you can continue to cope with your illness and find what you are looking for. Take care.

  4. David Burkett

    Got my subscription copy in the mail. Can’t wait to read it this weekend. Seeing into people- including myself- is one of the reasons I ride, and read about riding. Patrick, you articulate those examinations so well. Looking forward to what you exposed of yourself in this story.

  5. Quentin

    I read it a few days ago. As you suggest, it didn’t quite go in the direction I was expecting, but well worth the read. It was a reminder to me how little we actually know about the people that the internet allows us to become superficially acquainted with. I hope the journey (the trip and the writing about it) has proved with the passage of time to have been productive for you personally. After reading something written with such vulnerability about a critical time in your life, I confess to a little selfish curiosity to read a follow-up piece at some point in the future. Obviously it’s for you to decide whether to dig that deep again, but I will say that this reader would eagerly read such a piece, regardless of what unexpected direction it might take.

  6. Bill Cochran

    Patrick,
    Hands down one of the best pieces I’ve ever read in a cycling magazine. Open, raw, honest, cathartic, and so much more.
    Deep introspection and evaluation are painful, but so necessary and rewarding.
    Ignore the judgements of others, and be…gentle.

  7. Davo

    Hey Patrick, life is too long not to risk it now and then. I’ve had to sit by some death beds of late. Those folks aren’t regretting what they did, they regret being too afraid to risk it. Too many of us manage to lie to ourselves avoiding the truth for decades. As Edward Abbey said, Better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion.” Anything that brings us closer to the truth about ourselves is a good thing. Well done brother.

  8. Tominalbany

    I skipped the comments above just to say that I recently re-awakened my Bicycling subscription. I’m not sure if I’ll get my first issue before or after this one so, I’m going to buy it just in case. Cheers!

  9. Gord C

    Patrick,
    I read the article in Bicycling yesterday and have to say that I hope all you have and are doing puts you on the road to mental and personal freedom. I can’t imagine having the ability and strength to bare your soul in it and in this blog.
    I have nothing but respect in your ability to put it all out like you did, never give up.

  10. khal spencer

    I read the Bicycling article as I have a subscription as a League of American Bicyclists member. Now reading this article. I want to thank the folks at Bicycling for printing something far deeper than the usual content. I also have to thank Padraig for giving us something to share which must have been hard for him to write down. This amount of introspection was moving to me for reasons I’ll go into a bit.

    I was partway through a Ph.D. program that was interrupted by a serious crash (I was hit by a car while riding to the University–no helmet, so Mr. Skull hit Mr. Pavement). As a result of the compound stresses of a difficult Ph.D. program and a bad head injury that left me unable to work for a while, my inability to deal with both life at home and in grad school led to the breakup of my first marriage.

    I had started riding a bike to work for utility reasons, but after my wife and I parted company, I started riding 40-50-60 miles and finally all the way out to Shelter Island and back to Stony Brook in order to try to clear my head. Long rides with the cadence of those cranks keeping me company gave me time to withdraw and reflect, which was something long overdue, and was a lot cheaper than a therapist for someone with minimal health insurance. Frankly, the university health service therapist so weirded me out that I left the room. The bicycle can be somewhat transforming. So can the silence of back country roads and one’s thoughts.

    It was too late to save that marriage and probably for good reasons. Married too young. She and I metamorphosed into very different people. It was not too late to put a different spin, so to speak, on my own life. I joked with Patrick O’Grady (maddogmedia.com) that I’ve gotten too lazy to ride my age in miles in the dead of winter, but both O’Grady and I still get out there and then think about it.

    I wish the best for PB and his family, regardless of how things work out.

  11. Aar

    There is only so much stress a person can take before they break. Padraig, since I have been an RKP reader, you have gone through a huge succession of traumas or stressful events in a short period of time. From the unexpected, like your crash and the NoCal wildfires, to the planned, like fatherhood and relocation, your past few years have had many stressers. I find it only logical that you have come to some kind of crossroad in your life after a period of such extreme stress.

    When I have been at those “break points” myself, my best results have come from removing stressers and risks from my world – like you started on the 88 temples journey. Then I have found ways to rebuild the value, love and joy that I have for myself. Once I truly reconnected, I was then able to decide upon what I value most and the way to achieve it. We can only share with others the feelings we have for ourselves. I hope you first find a way to rebuild yourself. Then share everything you have to offer with those you choose to have around you.

  12. Steve B

    To the extent that your Bicycling piece went to very core of what I’ve been wrestling with lately, it gives me fresh faith in our gender and future. Namaste.

  13. Jay

    It takes a certain degree of courage to lay out your personal demons for all to see. I read “88 Temples” and I thought it a very good article. To say that I “enjoyed” reading it just seems like the wrong terminology given the subject matter. I do sincerely hope that you are able to resolve the issues that prompted this essay to be purged from your inner thoughts.
    it is a generalization, but I believe that each of us has similar demons within us. What sets some of us apart is that we see respite in the act of pedaling a bicycle. I know that it works for me, I hope the same for you.

  14. Ron Callahan

    Patrick –

    Thanks for a great article and thank you for being so open and honest about your struggles.

    I hope that things work out with your family. I know that you’re a couple of years older than me, and that your kids are younger than mine. I married relatively late (34) and we struggled with fertility issues for a couple of years, so I was definitely in the boat of older dad/younger kids (I have high school classmates that are grandparents several times over). It’s different being a dad to young kids when you’re in forties. There are different things going on in your life and career that just don’t happen to those doing it in their twenties.

    What I’m trying to get to is that it is tough, but it does get better.

    All the best.

    …and as far as that Stuart guy…. geez. I could say something….

  15. Linda

    Beautiful story. I was surprised (shocked actually) when my husband told me he had read the piece in our copy of Bicycling. He always skips the long articles, but something compelled him to read it. He has dark times with anxiety and has a strong family history of depression. I applaud your courage in digging deep and sharing your story, letting the world know that what appears placid on the surface may be much different below.

  16. Steve Courtright

    Padraig: Loved the article and honor the courage you show to share so deeply. My heart goes out to you.

    I am also disappointed that there are those who interpret the act of opening up as an invitation to judge and offer advice. Maybe they missed the part where you quoted: “No one saves us but ourselves.” I wonder if it’s a symptom of being broken that makes some to want to fix things.

  17. Tominalbany

    Well, it works for Stuart so it’s sure going to work for you… Man. People sometimes.

    Padraig, Thanks for the emotional honesty in your article. I remember you talking about the trip beforehand and how excited you were to do it. Did you know then what kind of article was going to come out of it?

    I’ve been to that point with my wife a couple of times so, I know that feeling. That hopelessness and despair and the wanting to say something but not.

    I have the same issue with travel. I love it! I’d love to do it all the time. But, I feel guilty the moment I walk out the door. I have to remind myself that it’s my job. (I haven’t figured out how to travel for fun all by myself yet. Working on it…)

    Different things have kicked me out of it. No doubt what worked for me is not necessarily what works for you. That said, When I’ve found myself frustrated and screaming at my kids (11 and 9 now) I realize what an ass I’m being.

    You can do this, man. You CAN do this.

  18. david

    Padraig, Great piece of travel journalism. As someone who occasionally has bouts of anxiety/depression, I really appreciate your take on riding as a way into the self reflection that we all so often need. I think the article would resonate with anyone who has spent any appreciable time on a bike. Thanks for sharing.

  19. Winky

    I’ve now read the Bicycling article, and listened to you discuss it on the podcast. Wonderful and honest writing. Good luck in your journey. I feel privileged to be allowed to see just a small part of it.

  20. Stu

    Please remove my comment, since I only intended it for the author, not readers in general. Your article is public and published and is open to scrutiny by the readership of Bicycling. But I honestly intended my reply for Patrick Brady and no one else. Thank you,
    S. Kent


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Let me get this straight: you’re happy to criticize my public work, but want your critique to be private? Maybe I’m not the only person in need of a journey of self-discovery.

  21. KJD

    Listened to the pod-cast and then read the essay. First, kudos to you for being willing to expose [some portion of] your personal struggles to the cycling world.

    Second, Kudos to Bicycling for putting up a feature that wasn’t dedicated to “losing those last 8 pounds” or “fastest, vertically compliant” marketing-driven speak.

    Third, different strokes for different folks, spiritually speaking. I wonder if Stuart goes around posting on Maren Morris’ music video “This is My Church.” Certainly, I have the best wishes for your marriage, but there’s no way we readers know the struggles of your marriage well enough to be critical of it, or your actions in it, after 1 article in a magazine that usually publishes [16 ways to be a better climber without working any harder] . I hope that writing, and writing for publication are cathartic for you and your family situation.

    Stuart also urges you to “Be a Man.” Sure, internalize your issues (because that’s what he means) but make sure when you pull yourself up, its by your Boa laces and not bootstraps. He may [or may not] have valid points, but his delivery lacks a certain sensitivity that most self-described Christians should have [and I think I smell his hypocrisy, but I can’t be sure]. Empathy isn’t really my strongest characteristic, but I feel for you and hope that at worst, no one attacks you anymore.

    Like was on the podcast, I hope that in 6 months, or a year or two, we get a follow-up saying everything is roses, unicorns etc, but more-so, I hope that your situation is that roses and unicorns and key-lime pie, with or without the update.

  22. David Kelley

    I strongly applaud your openness and vulnerability in reporting the dissatisfaction and suffering you experience as parent and husband. To be human is to experience dissatisfaction and suffering in one way or another, one degree or another. But not all of us are willing to be so publicly candid. Not all of us try to integrate their love of cycling with a desire to confront oneself. I identify with a quest to seek change and growth in the challenge of an epic bike adventure. I also sense that in your case, your purpose in writing is at least in part, to be of service to your readers. I offer you the following in the hope that it will be in alignment with your experience and your purpose. I turned more seriously to Buddhism after decades of spiritual seeking in a variety of paths, after facing up to a sense of my own mortality, personal failings, weaknesses and insecurities, especially in relationships.

    I’m a long time cyclist including big mileage tours of one week to one month, a performing musician specializing in group improvisation in the jazz tradition, and a regular meditator, including a history of retreats from one week to two weeks, about to leave home for my first one month retreat. In all three settings I’ve had utterly remarkable experiences. Rarely but indelibly, these include periods of suspended time and effortless joy, that I think are what some label “flow,” “in the zone,” or “runner’s high.”

    Are these states transformative? Do they have a lingering impact on our inner life, our behavior and our relationships down the road? Though these are the real test of their benefit, I leave those questions unanswered. I have a high degree of confidence in my own subjective evaluation, but it needs a personal answer from every individual cyclist, musician or meditator.

    Meditation adds another quality, that may or may not be present while cycling or playing music. The object of mindfulness meditation, as I understand it, is clearly knowing or seeing whatever is present, both the outer world of sensory input and the inner landscape of thought, feeling, emotion, mood, attitude — without judgement, criticism, or analysis.

    This mindfulness of what it’s like to be me in this moment can occur while meditating, while riding your bike, while arguing with your wife, while having doubts about your parenting, while seeing your life as bounded and finite. Anytime. Anyplace. Sometimes what is seen is joy. Sometimes pain. But even then, with less suffering and more happiness, more peace and freedom from reactivity.

    Formal meditation is to one’s daily life as exercise in the weight room is to cycling. You can get into the workout as a thing in itself: part pain, part exhilaration, or both simultaneously. But the payoff is on the bike. A good regimen of weight resistance exercise, for example, makes you not only faster and stronger on the bike, but also means your rides will be more fun and rewarding. Meditation builds more capacity for mindful acceptance, gratitude, and love in your life.

    Buddhism is not a religion, at least in the way I think we ordinarily use that word. It’s definitely not a belief system. It’s closer to science. The teaching proposes hypotheses, and says, “See for yourself,” suggesting methods that test these hypotheses. The experimental data are subjective, one’s own personal experience. Are you happier? Do your friends and family experience you as a better person?

    Heard the cliche? “Wherever you go, there you are.” Obviously a tautology meant to be funny. But dig a little deeper. Whatever and wherever the conditions in which I find myself, in Japan on the bike or in my home with wife and children, it’s how I experience being in the world, my experience of myself being in the world, that determines everything. The mind is the inner landscape of thought, feeling, and emotion that underlies and determines behavior. If you want to understand or transform your mind, sit down and look at it.

  23. Leo Belgicus

    Padraig,
    My offer to host and show you the CT hills and beauty still stands. I read the piece and listened to the podcast. I feel for you and have been right there and continue to be many times. That said, I do often think of my immigrant Father and what he would say to a 53 year old man with a figure like a teenager, wearing Lycra and riding his bike around some foreign country while his wife raised his two sons. Introspection works to a point then it’s time to simply ride home and do the hard work. I wish you all the best. Bring the family when you visit and we can all share in each other’s psychosis. I’ve embraced the whole enchilada.

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