A Semi-Urban Guide to Resistance and Acceptance

8 Nov

To the north lies a limestone mountain called Changchong, its round and bald peak quietly looking down on the burgeoning population of southwest China’s fastest growing city. The city itself stretches around the mountain to the east and west, and almost crawls up its flanks. But at some point the mountain holds steady and the people yield.

I, too, must yield to the world around me when I seek tranquility on my bicycle in this booming metropolis. And there are times when I wish I did not have to yield. Today, for example, I rode west and north from my home, seeking a new way out of town and into the mountains. I skipped the two roads I already knew, hoping to discover a faster way into the forests and meadows. But as one dead-end followed another, and as more and more people shook their heads dispassionately when I asked them to help me get out of the city, I grew weary. The roads I did find all led to tunnels that I, the cyclist, was not allowed to enter. I suddenly felt claustrophobic, stuck behind the walls of the mountains in this oppressive and cold urban landscape. Although I knew I had other ways out, I became angry with the shackles we have put on ourselves. And the more trucks that rolled by and the more dead-ends I found, the louder my internal noise grew: “Oh, so if I want to find a rural sanctuary, I have to be in a car to go through the tunnels. I get it. We have created a world for ourselves where nature is something to find, not to be.”

But anger lasts only for so long before we have to look at what lies behind it.

We must resist that which turns us away from each other, that which dehumanizes us: Urban landscapes designed for vehicles, not people; marketplaces designed for material wealth, not nurturing collective needs; disparities that leave the privileged craving more and the less privileged craving what others have. So we must resist this; we must look for change.

Yet resistance is the very thing that erodes our inner peace. Resistance to natural cycles is the impetus behind our massive drive to build misguided infrastructure and collect wealth. And acceptance is the antidote to dehumanizing behaviors. In our modern psyche, two such concepts cannot exist in the same sphere of thought. As we perceive it, thought itself is linear, not circular, and because language and thought are  fundamental to our lives, we feel perplexed and unhappy when the linear way is disrupted.  How can we mount our resistance to dehumanization while accepting our condition as it is?

Old spiritual traditions teach us much about our dualistic nature. In Taoist thought, the way of nature lies within the undulation of seemingly opposing forces; such cooperative opposition is the fundamental energy of life. Considering my deep desire to see our humanity evolve, I choose to accept my resistance to the alienating world of development while finding ways to be content within and without its structure. This is easier to practice knowing that we will change and we will ultimately evolve toward compassionate coexistence. We have no choice.

In my short journey today, I found peace with my world without dismissing the desire for change. As I began circling the city back towards my home in the north, I found a pathway to freedom. Instead of resisting the (literal) obstacles in my path, I made like water around rocks, swift in my own current and letting the world around me shape my speed. And although I did notice that every road seemed to turn me toward the barren center of the city, I found small rivulets that cut back toward other channels leading me home.  In this journey, I found small pieces of humanity: The bike lanes allowed me to roll past rush hour traffic; at a traffic light a wide-eyed infant pounded her tiny fist on her mother’s shoulder as the two coo’d in unison; a side road revealed to me a neighborhood of kids playing games with their shoes and neighbors gossiping about the day. I only wished for more of this.

I dream of urban landscapes that turn one human to another and open the natural cycles of the earth to its people: neighborhoods built for humans, not commuting workers; shops built for interaction, not faceless bartering; roadways built for everyone, not for the few. But I will not let these deep desires for humanity in the face of inhuman trends drive me to misanthropy. Instead, I wish to turn toward the things that are good for humanity: laughing with strangers, infusing humor and love into even the hardest of interactions. It is a cold world sometimes, and we can do our part to make it warmer. We can resist the inhuman by moving toward each other, a task I am working hard to practice in my own life.

Resist. Accept resistance. And accept everything we have without resisting. This is the paradox I am trying to accept. For now, I nimbly break the traffic rules in solidarity with the trucks, tractors, horse carts, motor-wagons, and BMW’s, finding my fluid weave through the City of Eternal Spring under the watchful eyes of Changchong Mountain.

2 Responses to “A Semi-Urban Guide to Resistance and Acceptance”

  1. patricialasseter November 9, 2012 at 10:01 am #

    thank you. impressive.


  2. Elsa Rapp Woodfin November 11, 2012 at 11:27 am #

    Enjoyed reading this. We drive to walk!

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