Mitchell Green / Philosophy

Know Thyself on Two Wheels

Project Description

Unlike people afflicted with Multiple Sclerosis I have no problem getting around.  I can also swallow, blink, and jump, talk, and all the other things you might expect from a healthy male in his mid-forties.  By contrast, those with MS face each day a new set of monumental challenges: moving their limbs, controlling muscle spasms, difficulty speaking or swallowing, acute fatigue, and neuropathic pain (a constant, burning, boring, or tingling pain), often in the legs.  As one might imagine, onslaughts of these symptoms can also lead to depression and other psychological ramifications.

My main complaint, puny by contrast, has simply been that my knees can’t support my desire to run as many miles per week as I’d like to.  As a solution, I’ve taken fairly seriously to cycling in the rolling hills of Central Virginia.  I find cycling deeply satisfying, and in June of 2008, I participated in the MS 150, a nationwide fundraiser for people suffering from Multiple Sclerosis.  After months of preparation, including both training and fundraising, I rode for two days at 75 miles each.  This was an extraordinarily satisfying event for me, and the little team I organized for the ride raised nearly $1,000 for MS.  I was also amazed by the level of enthusiastic support among the hundreds of volunteers who manned rest stops (drenching the riders with water, pumping up tires, and the like), made sure riders stayed on route, and so on.  It felt wonderful to know that together we were doing a little bit to help those less fortunate than ourselves. 

Aside from cycling, another recent addition to my repertoire is my course, Know Thyself.  With support from a Summer Fellowship from the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society for the summer of 2005, I developed this course to be offered regularly in spring semesters.  Open to Philosophy majors and non-majors alike, it is a non-traditional course for my Department, for in addition to reading classic and contemporary works in Philosophy, it also incorporates study of experimental psychology, neuroscience, and even Zen Buddhism.  I also ask my students to engage in some meditative practices both during class and on their own.  I take each of these traditions (philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, Zen, and contemplative) to offer important insights about the self, and having offered it three times I believe it has been fairly successful.  I certainly enjoy teaching this course, and have heard from students who took my first or second installments that it has reverberated in their lives.

My dream idea incorporates cycling and the search for self-knowledge in an effort to help those afflicted with MS.  Of the sixty students who normally enroll in my Know Thyself course, I’d like to recruit 5-10 to join me in training for, fundraising for, and participating in the next MS 150, to be held in early June, 2009.  My idea would be, starting in January of 2009, to organize bi-weekly rides to condition students for two days of 75 mile rides in June.  The students would be asked to (a) learn about MS and the debilitating effect it can have on a person, (b) help raise funds from friends, family, employers, etc., to help fight MS, (c) ride with me or on their own regularly (keeping a weekly journal and training log), and (d) gradually work up to the MS 150 event itself.  In some cases I will help students acquire appropriate road bikes and related gear (helmets, tools, lights, etc.), I will help plan routes in the area, and help them learn to repair and maintain their bikes.  In addition, on the assumption that we would do short, intense rides mid-week, and then longer rides on Sundays, I would plan to incorporate some of the tools of our Know Thyself course into our Sunday rides.  Particularly, whether sitting atop an overlook on Skyline Drive, or resting aside a lake in the Blue Ridge foothills, I would ask students to join me in what in my class we call a “meditative moment”—5-10 minutes of sitting meditation in which we concentrate on our breath, trying to keep the “chatter of consciousness” to a minimum.

In addition to this mixture of cycling, fundraising, education and meditation, I would urge students to join me in discussing how precious our ability to move is, and how sufferers of MS are lacking in precisely this ability.  By thinking about what we are lucky enough to have, and what some others lack, I am hoping to cultivate in my students an empathetic engagement that will enable them to appreciate what they are doing rather than just see it as something to list on their resumes or graduate school applications.  If all goes well, these activities will give students skills they can use for the rest of their lives:  (i) A lovely (and fuel-efficient!) form of exercise and engagement with the natural environment, (ii) meditative skills, (iii) an ability to appreciate the preciosity of their gifts of locomotion, and (iv) a taste for helping those less fortunate than themselves. 


Projected costs for Know Thyself on Two Wheels

I project approximately five months of bi-weekly training sessions.  For the Sunday rides I would like to provide snacks both before and after riding, as well as energy packs (“Gu-packs”) for mid-ride breaks.  I would also like to help with the expenses of acquiring road bikes and appropriate gear for students willing to commit to the MS 150.  With spring break, likely occasional interruptions for weather, I predict twenty (20) Sunday rides, so these break down as follows:


20 Sunday rides, with snacks for eight (8) riders per ride: 

$6/person, so estimating $50 per Sunday, thus totaling $1,000


Each rider needs about $50 in tools (multi-tool, tire-changing gear, rear light, pump, etc.)

Thus totaling $400


I estimate that half of our riders would own or could borrow their own road bike.  (Aside from students’ families, I have numerous local friends whose garages contain unused bikes.)  For the remaining four, my experience with online tools like Craigslist and Ebay suggests that a passable bike can be acquired for $400. For four students, this would total to $1600. 

My estimated budget is thus $3,000

Note 1:  Each participant in the MS 150 must pay a $40 registration fee.  I am willing to pay that fee out of my own funds for each student willing to commit to train for and participate in the ride. 

Note 2:  Students also need appropriate clothing.  Because the aforementioned expenses exhaust what the Mead Endowment may be able to offer, I will ask students to supply their own jerseys, shorts, gloves, shoes and so on.  For those to whom this poses a hardship, I’ll provide as much as I can out of personal funds.