Hello to you, and welcome along, Dear Reader! I wonder, are you an enlightened Road Cycling Meditation Guru without even knowing? Could that be possible? Could it be possible even if you’re a relative novice? Have you ever ridden where it felt as if the pedals were being turned but who was turning them or how they were being turned was indeterminate? That moves the idea from possible to probable. It wouldn’t be necessary that you had a ‘cycling ashram’ brimful of devout followers. The kind of followers who’d languish in the heat all day on their S-Works carbon cushions in the hope you’d utter just one or two enlightened pearls of truth. Nope, that wouldn’t be necessary. I do have a theory though that you may already be a road-cycling meditation guru unawares, without really knowing. I guess you probably wouldn’t ever want to be known that way either? Or maybe…?
Consider these ideas as starting points. Okay I’m being facetious here, but one might consider oneself a meditation cycling guru had one:
- lived for many years on a hilltop (or maybe climbing there)
- ever comprehended the beauty in suffering. And I assure you, I’m talking max efforts on 25% inclines here, that wasn’t a veiled Fifty-Shades reference 😮
- chosen the narrow road that led to life rather than the wide that led to carnage.
- chosen at times to isolate oneself and travel great distances, contemplating in some depth cycling questions both grave and trivial: “Ought one’s socks to match one’s helmet? If not, then wherein ought the match to exist?” and the often pondered: “If I ride along an isolated road, does my belly/ass still look big in this?”
- acquired astounding equanimity borne of calm, self-centering throughout innumerable encounters with ‘imprudent’ road users of all ilks and all modes of transportation.
- And similarly were one happy to stop and teach said others the errors of their chosen path!
And so I wonder, could all of these things and more mark you as an enlightened Road Cycling Meditation Guru?
Alright, hands up, I’m just jive talkin’ here man lol, but only in order to get you in the right frame of brainhole for this.
I’ve read a decent number of the Vedic texts and found a similarly decent number of wise heads from which some interesting thoughts have come. But I’m not really a meditator. Not as it’s commonly understood. I don’t really have the inclination. I know it works. Possibly somewhat hypocritical, but I advocated for it as a CBT counsellor with clients, particularly for anxiety-borne conditions. But no, I’m not much of a meditator in that sense myself. I cycle though, and I’ve been riding bikes all told for coming up on fifty years. It’s only fairly recently when thinking about the meditative aspects of road cycling that I’ve realized most of us are actually doing exactly that: meditating every time we clip in and go riding. We just don’t call it meditation. Because it isn’t. It’s cycling. But it is meditation too. Confused?
Some people have been asking, “How do I do cycling meditation?” I’ve read over some items lately regarding the growing interest in the mindfulness ideas. You know, those based loosely on Zen tenets. And of particular interest to me is where those ideas intersect with what we might do when we’re road cycling. You can find all kinds ofe instruction articles, tips, techniques, all of which sound very nice and lovely. But I wonder, are they actually demonstrating to us as road cyclists anything more than we already know? Yes, there’ll be words and phrases, possibly unfamiliar for us to learn: mindfulness, existing in the present moment, or being fully present for example. But are those simply shiny new terms for something we already practice when we cycle?
Some others, cyclists maybe, have lines of thought apparently similar to this. The conclusions, seem again sensible, that “cycling is like meditation”. I get that. Most of us are familiar with what meditation is, perhaps practice it, or have done in the past in one form or another. And, as cyclists, we can definitely see the parallels in our riding.
The only answer that doesn’t miss something important
Were we interested further, on spotting those parallels, we might ask, “How can I meditate while I’m road cycling?” And again, there are a veritable plethora of instructionals, articles, tips, vids up on Youtube and the odd e-book and even non-self-published book knocking around too. And those are great, well, I mean I haven’t paid too much attention, but I’d imagine they’re good for what they are. Are they? Let me know. But you know, for me, any answer the question, how do I meditate when I’m road cycling, that doesn’t go like: “You just ride your bicycle as you always do and always have done,” is an answer that misses something important. That road cycling isn’t like meditation. Road cycling IS meditation and nothing short of it.
I don’t mean some kind of special road cycling in contrived circumstances let alone some special mystical practice. I mean the kind that you do already. And again, I’m not saying what we do as roadies mirrors some of the practices of meditation. I’m saying that road cycling IS a meditative system all of its own.
Q: And what about MTB? Isn’t it meditation too?
A: I think road biking and mountain biking have exactly the same capacity for being meditation. However, because of the nature of MTB, the often technical content of the trails require the rider to be engaged with the ride in a way that is unlike the road rider. Again, this isn’t a comparison of any kind. It’s just my subjective experience and non-exhaustive observation having ridden both disciplines. What I mean here is when road riding, we are afforded an opportunity to gain what I’d envisage, or feel, is separation or distance between us and the ride (hoping that doesn’t sound too metaphysical).
We, as cyclists of all kinds can find ourselves during a ride in what might feel like a mesmeric space; a trance almost. In purely my own experience it seemed that this mesmeric space is more common over the frequently long miles/kilometers of a pavement ride than on a mentally-taxing offroad trail ride. That doesn’t preclude the trance state in MTB where the trail seems to move under the tires smoothly and entirely of its own volition. What I’m saying is that even that ‘flow’ feels much more attached to the ride itself than the distant mesmeric space of the high-mile road ride or the long, long, steady seated hill climb.
Does any of that make sense?
If you’re still reading, can I assume it does? Can I further assume you’ve experienced this too, though your language for expressing it may understandably differ?
The idea of reaching a distant-from-self or even separate-from-self mesmeric space is not dissimilar to the type of trance often sought by practitioners of certain rituals as a way to achieve gnosis or knowing. Often those folk might use a physically taxing method to get there. Again though that’s not what this article is, just simply drawing a comparison. I think unless practitioners of say, chaos magick were themselves already road cyclists or distance runners, I imagine they’d be unlikely to reach that state on a bike.
But that’s just for context because I think the states of being are similar. I think the way to any kind of understanding of the true self won’t come from the kind of mindful grounding in the mundane minutiae of the physical self and the physical world, but from the kind of detachment from it that comprises those kinds of long steady road rides we do when the very idea of “I” is lost, abandoned almost. It’s from here, were we ever to conceive of what was going on while it was happening, that we can gain a really big understanding of what exactly we are. The very core of enlightenment. Who’d have thought? And all from what was only supposed to be a rest week tempo ride.
On the other hand, if we’re simply after the kind of mundane (but not in a pejorative way) benefits of any form of meditation, in reducing cortisol and stress, to allowing oneself a more objective perspective on a troublesome life situation perhaps, then there can be few better ways to get that then via the simple exercise of road cycling.
I’d like to take the big idea and expand on it just a little using one of my favourite, I guess you might say gurus – I don’t like that word because of its connotations of the person out of touch with ordinary lives. But Sri Aurobindo was, a wise, very gifted and highly insightful gentleman. One of many scholars of that era that you may or may not have heard of. The thoroughness with which he detailed pathways towards individual enlightenment, and liberation from the dictates of the ego I find just wonderful. Those have shaped my thought and communication with clients and others a great deal over recent years especially.
Sri Aurobindo as a younger man, an amazingly deep scholar and thoughtful teacher. Records aren’t clear on what kind of road bike he had though
But that’s preamble. And so is this! While searching for something I can’t quite remember, Google suggested an article which caught my eye (the Great Oracle Google/Skynet sees and knows all, apparently lol) but it was entitled, “Disheartened With Your Meditation? Valuable Advice From Sri Aurobindo” up on a site called The Spiritual Bee (spiritualbee.com) I read through. It was fairly early morning. I was just home and showered after a high-cadence session. While reading, and still feeling the muscle tenderness around the hamstrings, I was oddly drawn to a certain conclusion. Hey, I said to myself – which is my usual form of self-address – Hey, I could exchange the words ‘Yoga’ or ‘Divine’ for ‘cycling’ or ‘The Ride’ in Sri Aurobindo’s quotes contained in the article and it would make the same sense as the original to any road cyclist with a passing interest in the meditative aspect of cycling.
Let me try to explain and show you what I mean… Okay, so ‘Yoga’ here is used not in the narrow sense we use it in the West, but rather in the true sense of the Hindu word being that of a system whose goal is to facilitate enlightenment, or the realisation of the true, non-ego self and the oneness and sameness therein with a notion of divinity. That yoga! So, for example, regarding the path of yoga being long and requiring years of preparation, in other words taking time to reach a state of finding the divine within the self, for example, Aurobindo’s writings are quoted:
“Yoga implies a long and difficult work and one must be ready to accept the necessity of years of preparation and purification and increasing consecration (devotion and surrender to the Divine) before the greater results can come.” ~ Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga II
While I understand it may sound glib and throwaway, with all sincerity, I feel it may be possible to say:
“Finding the Higher Truth in oneself through Road Cycling implies a long and difficult work and one must be ready to accept the necessity of years of preparation and purification and increasing consecration (devotion and surrender to The Ultimate Truth that lies within our road cycling) before the greater results can come.”
I’m sure you wouldn’t object too much to that. Okay sure, it can be argued that the word Yoga in that quotation can be replaced by any other athletic sporting endeavour. But even then I think in terms of finding that mesmeric space from where many realizations can be made, nothing quite maintains the semantic of the quotation the way replacing yoga with road cycling does. Am I wrong? I could be.
“It is true that a great patience and steadfastness is needed. Be then firm and patient and fixed on the aims of the sadhana, but not over-eager to have them at once. A work has to be done in you and is being done; help it to be done by keeping an attitude of firm faith and confidence. Doubts rise in all, they are natural to the human physical mind—reject them. Impatience and overeagerness for the result at once are natural to the human vital; it is by firm confidence in the (Divine) Mother that they will disappear.” ~ Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga II.
If we take the word sadhana as an awakening into the true non-ego self that we always are behind the veil of our inferred personalities, it’s surely not a world away in meaning and context, though risking again sounding glib-tongued, to reword that as below. And I’m thinking here of say the long, arduous, steady climb for which we remain seated, riding solo, often unapprised of how far remains to the crest, in the threshold zone, but comfortably, persistently so, keeping the cadence steady resisting the temptation to envisage the crest too far to continue apace, but instead remaining steadfast…
“It is true that a great patience and steadfastness is needed. Be then firm and patient and fixed on the aims of Finding the Higher Truth in oneself through Road Cycling, but not over-eager to have it at once. A work has to be done in you and is being done; help it to be done by keeping an attitude of firm faith and confidence. Doubts rise in all, they are natural to the human physical mind—reject them. Impatience and overeagerness for the result at once are natural to the human vital; it is by firm confidence in The Ultimate Truth that lies within our road cycling that they will disappear.”
It can all sound like aggrandisement. But if you’ve been there, I think there’s a good chance you’ll know what I mean. Of course, I think the one other athletic activity that comes to mind here is long distance running, marathon and Ironman, those kinds of endeavours. I think the repetitive movements for such lengthy durations definitely suggest that a distant-from-self mesmeric space could be possible. But I don’t believe so, at least not to the same extent as road cycling.
Why? Because the connection to ‘the run’ almost can’t be broken to facilitate moving into that mesmeric space. That’s because when distance running, the runner is continuously reined back to ‘the run’, each pace reconnecting them with the apparent ‘real world’. Again this doesn’t mean that a trance like meditative state isn’t reachable when running. With road cycling however, the cyclist is beneficially facilitated in achieving this long-duration repetitively-induced distance-from-self or this detached mesmeric state exactly because they are on a machine which in this instance acts as a buffer between self and ‘the ride’ or reality.
I’m shooting from the hip here so I can only beg clemency for my almost unforgiveable wordiness.
I really believe there is an opening onto the path of enlightenment that we find as road cyclists, without the incessant focus on “Is this meditation?” and “Am I being properly mindful right now or are these thoughts themselves distraction?” I think that enlightenment comes not at the top of that long, arduous, steady seated climb, but in the DOING of that climb. There is no mindfulness that can regard the reaching the top of the climb when part-way up. Because reaching the top is an event that does not occur within that present moment. And further, contemplating the relief of reaching the top while we’re pushing part-way up simply perturbs that pure meditative distant-from-self mesmeric space that we are apt to find ourselves in. So it’s the DOING of the climb; it’s the moving through the strong easterly and not contemplating when the road bends north or south; it’s the being boiled-in-the-bag on rainy summer day or frozen-toed in a winter frosted storm, it’s not the thinking of being home.
I believe there’s something very “Zen” to use the colloquialism about climbing the bike up a hill for some pseudo karmic reward of the descent. But that’s contrary to what I’m driving at. If you’re still reading, thank you! I’m not referring here even to mindfulness. I let mindfulness fade from my attention after realizing the crux of my client issues (as a CBT therapist) had their inception within the ego-self. Mindfulness I fear encourages one to steady oneself in the present moment of the self’s perception of a reality that itself is not real. I appreciate I’m drifting from topic here, however, I feel as Sri Aurobindo says:
“It follows that deliverance from the limiting and imprisoning ego is the first elementary step towards the being of the gnosis; for so long as we live in the ego, it is idle to hope for this higher reality, this vast self-consciousness, this true self-knowledge.” ~ Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga
But what bearing has that on our road cycling meditation, and the idea that we may already be gurus therein? Well, on that hill climb, or that incomprehensibly tiring slog against that wilfully strong easterly, you have this moment, I know you do, you have this moment where you gain that distance. It’s that moment, it could be seconds or minutes, where you might not even be you and you wouldn’t know. What are you then? Or where are you? You’re not even on that hill or along that windy road at that point. You’ve had that, right?
Mindfulness suggests a return to focus on the pedals or your breathing, or the sound of the wind through the vents in your helmet, whatever. But that’s simply to ground us as road cyclists in the ego. That’s not the route to our cycling enlightenment. I disavow those ideas, not unilaterally because they’re useful tools in themselves, but as road cycling meditation for the ultimate enlightenment. And I don’t think that’s a ridiculous aim. Not only do I think it’s completely doable, I think every time we take those rides, we’re actually there. We simply don’t acknowledge it or regard it as that. What do you think?
Again, I’m not suggesting this for everyone. Hammering it up the climb after KoMs and QoMs is a separate endeavour with its own merit, value and validity, as are all the other sporting activities mentioned here or not. This isn’t a critique nor comparison, just observations from my own cycling, and road cycling in particular.
Q: So what does that all mean (if anything)?
A: Well, aside from all the half-conceived ideas presented here maybe if I’ve managed to pan a few nuggets of truth they might be these few.
Firstly, road cycling isn’t like meditation. Road cycling, is meditation. It’s meditation in a fairly pristine, unadorned by convention and orthodoxy kind of way.
Secondly, if the first be true then rather than having to learn how to do cycling meditation on the pavement, we just do what we’re already doing. We can be cognizant of the fact that when we ride, when we sort of lapse into that distant-from-ego mesmeric space, we can do so without labelling it meditation, having it alter how we ride, or demand from us that we adhere to some meditative standard.
Thirdly, if the second be true, then you could well be – and we all could be – a Road Cycling Meditation Guru unawares! Who knew! But in case you feel like a pretender or a fraud, roaming lost around the ‘cycling ashram’ without a decent foot-long grey beard or viable pearl of truth for the followers, don’t worry, I won’t utter a peep to anybody. The only thing that might ever give you away is the unquenchable desire for earthly carbon-graphene superlight aero framesets. Or something! 🙂
But lastly, if you don’t care overly for enlightenment, if you’ve really no more than a passing interest in meditation, then actually well done for reading to here, and I just wish to reaffirm that what you’re doing when you reach that nice calm feeling out on any ride is beneficial for you as a normal man or woman. As we’re all aware, the meditative state is well proven to have numerous physical and mental health benefits. So well done. And, I guess, ‘as you were’!
I’d truly appreciate reading something of your own experiences of this, whatever those experiences might be, from distant-from-self mesmeric spaces that we create each time we go riding, to the location of your carbon-composite-filled ashram and who I’d need to bribe to get a room there for a bit! Get in touch, leave a comment.
Meantime, Ride Safe, have fun in the Mesmeric Space… Is it worth trade-marking that one? #probablynot 😛