Learning to Meditate by Riding Your Bike
We were talking the other day while riding, and among things I said that over the age of sixty-five the mantra we all practice is, “Never fall.” The behavior is even more important than the mantra.
It’s true. Lose attention for a nanosecond and you can lose your balance and hit the ground hard. So some activities require attention.
There’s a lesson in this. It’s about the correlation between cycling and meditation. Meditation is also all about paying attention, just like riding your bike. Lose concentration for a split second and there you have it: you hit the ground hard, metaphorically speaking. Anyone who has ever tried to enter into deep prayer and meditation knows that the very minute you start, all manner of uninvited thoughts begin to intrude upon your mind. This is the meditative counterpart of losing attention while riding.
To stay focused on one thing: that’s the idea. But how hard it is to pull it off! There are all manner of distractions that occur. The minute you think you are riveted in the moment, there’s dinner to consider or what were those people talking about on the street corner or when am I going to finish that book I’m halfway through? The thoughts are like a logjam in the river that is your mind, often so thick and numerous that you can’t see the water any more.
In an earlier age we would have said that these are demons assailing you, trying to drive you away from the purpose you have set forth to achieve. Maybe so. You have to have some way of naming what’s going on here. Most of us would not choose to blame demons any more, but the distractions are surely, well, demonic, aren’t they?
Approach this as if you were cycling. It works. Listen. You ride out five or six miles; during those miles you have distractions aplenty. Then suddenly you simply begin to ride. You might even say, “there is riding.” You’re not sure if you are working; it seems effortless. Time falls away; you are in the moment. Obstacles appear; you notice them but you don’t concentrate on them. You pay attention to them all but the moment you pass them they are gone.
Meditation is like that. Here’s the Zen story: two monks are walking a mountain path and come upon a quick-running stream where a woman stands on the bank, trying to cross. One monk without thinking hikes up his robe, picks her up, crosses the stream, and deposits her on the other side. Two miles down the road the other monk says, “I thought we were supposed to have nothing to do with women,” to which the first monk replies, “I put her down two miles back. Why are you still carrying her?”
When you cycle, as when you meditate, let things go as quickly as you pass them by, or they pass you by. If you concentrate on stuff you see or in your head – thoughts, ideas, opinions, even concepts of God – you lose focus on the moment and you are bound to fall. It only takes a split second to fail. In a split second, one thought can control you and take you out of the present. You have to allow meditation to happen just as when you are out a number of miles suddenly cycling happens. And there you are: fully present.
Many prayer masters advise that this is the time that bears eternity, the moment that encompasses the universe. You can and perhaps should let all else pass by, but be present in this moment and you will know the Presence.
published 26 April 2013