On many rides, I unconsciously slip into forgetting I do this because it makes me happy. The ride gets hard in some way, or maybe I start to ride really well, and one of these mind states leads to a recognition that I am disconnected from the joy of just riding a bike. In those moments, I lean into my meditation training.
Step 1: Establish a position
The Buddha taught meditation in 4 positions – seated cross legged, lying down, standing, and walking. Sitting in a chair or on a bike were not included for potentially no other reason than that chairs were not ubiquitous staples of culture in 450 BCE, and a bike aka “a pedal driven two-wheel vehicle” was not invented until 1885. The implication of those four basic poses was that the posture can shift, but the principles of practicing awareness are the throughline.
So, step one, we make sure our fit on the bike is clear and good enough. Good enough for what? Well, that depends on context. If your context is the Tour de France, then fit for a champion. … Or one of the 175 racers behind them. But if your context is single-speed cruiser to get to the beach, or city rental bike, or bought-a-nicer-bike-than-usual to see if riding is something you’re wanting to do more of, then your idea of a good fit should remain unburdened by the standards and expectations of a Tour de France rider.
Just get clear. This part of my foot feels the pedal. Leg is this degree of straight at its straightest and this degree of bent at its bentest. Butt feels seat like this. Body is upright, or not, this much. Lower back never perfect but not hurty. Upper exists. Check. Arms are reaching this many. Neck feels like this. Face does this in these moments. Eyes do that in those. What’s on my head?
Is it all working well enough to feel integrated in such a way that my posture is consistently involved in the practice, but in time it is no longer the only focus of attention? So, it’s always a present foundation that opens up the possibility of becoming aware of more experiences.
Step 2: Check-in. What’s up?
I know a golfer who says the main purpose of the first three holes is to simply get clear on what’s going on with you for the day. Are you pulling or slicing? Is a conversation you had before the game showing up in your mind like a pop-up window asking you to accept cookies? What’s the surface like today? Weather? Did you forget anything? Are the emotions of what happened earlier lingering in the present and causing you to act like this?
As a meditation teacher, I encourage students to assess 5 basic things with eyes closed, and 6 when practicing with eyes open:
- Mind. How do you feel mentally?
There is a benefit in just noticing what’s true without trying to change it. This is your starting point. It’s what’s up. It’s what you’re working with. You might like it; you might not. But it’s what’s true.
Step 3: Intention
Here’s where different modalities of meditation really begin to differ. Often the dogmatic advocates of the various systems get stuck in the right and wrong of meditation rather than appreciating that intentions for practice vary based on the needs and circumstances of the practitioner and culture. And so, it would make sense that approaches will also vary because the intentions aren’t always the same. The yogi, the Buddhist, the Zen, the Tibetan, the Sufi, the psychologist, the Christian mystic, the atheist, or just you with your app … each will arrive at the practice from their own personal experience and view. There is no absolute right intention, though we may reflect on whether or not there is. Maybe there’s some overlap. There’s probably also some difference.
If “meaning comes in context,” as my teacher always says, it’s helpful to be clear about what our context is and why we’re doing what we’re doing. You’re clear about how you feel on your ride, now how do you want to feel? Why are you doing this? Is it just to get from point A to point B safely and on time? Is it to make it to the TOUR DE FRANCE, or is it to enjoy a few hours on a Saturday on the bike path NOT IN FRANCE?
I find it’s worth reflecting on the why of a practice until it makes sense to your heart as much as it makes sense to your mind. If you’ve ever had the thought “I wish I could be more _______ someday,” that blank just might be the intention. Because there’s a distinct possibility that someday could just be later in the ride. Maybe even the next breath. Even if just a little bit!
Step 4: Technique, aka “what you do.”
In meditation practice, we are only practicing one choice to calibrate our experience: what we do with our mind. The only thing we can actually do is shift how we are paying attention. It’s what makes meditation practice so hard, but also so powerful when we learn how to do it.
On a bike, you can do so much more! Yes, the first step is to decide how to pay attention. And what you pay attention to should be guided by your purpose for riding, not just what that British person said on that YouTube video. My teacher always says, “it’s not a performance, it’s an exploration.” If your purpose is more joy or gratitude, then maybe you slow down and pay attention to the scenery. If your purpose is enjoying the way it feels to be an embodied living being that is alive and ok enough to be riding, then maybe you pay attention to how a certain surface feels from the seat up into your chest. If your purpose is exploring your potential in the skill set because you’re genuinely cycling at the level of a racer, then fine, shift your attention according to the intention of the moment.
How we do what we do depends on the why. They are in constant relation whether we are aware of it or not. Meditation practice is the art of becoming more aware. The more you become conscious about what’s happening, the more you can explore where you might have some agency in supporting how you are wanting to be. And the how and the why shape who you are wanting to be. Not what you want to be, but who.
… And now I’m an old time tv sitcom.
If you’d like more info on formal instruction in meditation practice, feel free to find Fez at www.bostonyogacollective.org Wednesday 12:00 class is appropriate for newer students. Feel free to reach out personally to see what’s best for you. Check website for a long-term online meditation immersion and instructor training (MIIT) beginning in September 2022.