Today I had an amazing ride. It was the kind of ride that put a smile on my face and encapsulated everything I love about riding motorcycles. I don’t know if the reasons why I love it are universal to other riders. I know a lot of people only ride on the weekends and view their bike as some sort of grown-up “toy.” To me it’s much more than that. To me it’s something that has become part of my lifestyle.
Riding is like meditation, it’s another way for me to get back to my center. Alone twisting and turning on some quiet back road, I feel a certain calm clarity of thought. I often think about my life and process recent events, feelings and behaviors. Sometimes, I’m able to come to conclusions or make decisions that were unclear to me before. As an introvert, I really enjoy those calm, reflective moments.
“You spend your time being aware of things and meditating on them. On sights and sounds, on the mood of the weather and things remembered, on the machine and the countryside you’re in, thinking about things at great leisure and length without being hurried and without feeling you’re losing time.” – Robert M. Pirsig
When I ride everything is so much more real and visceral. Even though I usually ride at the same speed as a car (oftentimes faster), on a bike I just take in more of the scenery, and am more observant of the world around me. There’s something very powerful about having your attention engaged at such a level. I feel like it helps shut up the constant chatter of talking to myself in my head all day. Again, that awareness is what mindfulness meditation is all about.
“In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.
On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.” – Robert M. Pirsig
Flying down the road on two wheels is not for the faint of heart. The first time I rode on a freeway was in Laos, and it was scary as hell. In that region, the unspoken rule is that the bigger vehicle has the right of way. I remember cruising down the highway and suddenly there was an 18-wheeler coming right at me trying to pass the car in front of him. On a bike your body is vulnerable. Without a cage, you are exposed to everything. The sun scorches you, dirt lashes at you, and the wind pushes you. Rain at 80+ mph feels like needles. Let’s not forget the rocks shot from under car tires like little missiles of stinging son-of-a-bitchness. Being on two wheels is also much less stable than 4 or more, and you are much more likely to wreck because of this. Cars are a little safer and when riding a bike the stakes are higher no doubt. However, whether in a car or on a bike, safety is an illusion. From the inside of a car you feel tranquil and safe until you wreck and are surrounded by twisted metal. That illusion of safety can shatter in one fell swoop (trust me I’ve experienced this more than once). If you transpose this idea of vulnerability being a strength to your daily life the concept is the same. You are at your strongest when you keep your heart open and don’t close off due to past hurts. The awareness that every ride could be my last encourages me to make the most of every moment, and that point-of-view has enriched my life. The dispelling of illusions is an important by-product of meditation. It helps you to see things as they really are.
Along those same lines, riding helps me stay focused on the present, another main tenant of mindfulness meditation. Oftentimes we are so focused on the past or the future. We look on what we have done and forward to the plans and goals we set for ourselves (or…set by society). Many of them are similar; graduating, career related goals, getting married, buying a house, having kids. Plans are both necessary and great. Although, focusing on them too heavily is a sure way to miss out on today. Being on a bike helps me enjoy the fleeting now, because it will never be now again.
When I ride I get the same feeling that I love about travel: The feeling of freedom. The freedom to go wherever I feel like and to follow my intuition to turn down this road or that. It’s finding myself in the midst of unplanned adventures. That’s what travel is like for me. The journey is the important part, not the destination. And, the times when I mixed them, traveling internationally by motorcycle, have been some of the best moments of my life.
I know that this two-wheeled freedom-machine could someday be the end of me. I don’t jump in the saddle without an awareness of the risks. I choose to be there, and to not let fear dictate the way I live my life. I’m grateful for what I’ve learned about myself through riding, and for what I will learn in the future. To all those out on two-wheels, be alert and stay safe. To my readers, excuse me for pillaging Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, that book just has so many good quotes haha. Peace!