I've been meditating again lately.
I did it for years back in the 90s and early 2000s, then got distracted. It's great to be back. When I sit down for a morning meditation, I feel oddly like I do before I climb on my mountain bike at the trailhead: a sense of anticipation. "Let's see what this brings!" I look forward to the challenge of allowing discomfort or relaxation or numbness to arise and pass, without shooting off into worries about the day, or thoughts of when this will be over.
Full awareness is one of those undersold treasures of life: It doesn't cost a penny, yet even a drop of it enriches my life immensely.
One of the places it does that is on the trail. It's long been fashionable in mountain biking circles to talk about the Zen of riding. For me, that's more than a metaphor. Let’s look at a ride at my local haunt after work recently:
Swooping through a turn I used to skid through on the brakes, my heightened alertness allows me to notice my center of gravity shift slightly forward to stay over the bottom bracket. I press my feet into the pedals at the apex of the turn, and feel the weight coming off my hands just a tad, the tires sinking into the dirt, and the front wheel adjusting its turn angle minutely in each part of the turn. Best of all, none of this is calculated; it just happens—again and again, turn after turn. I feel like I’m surfing. Because my mind isn't clouded with worry about my abilities, I swoosh over rocks and roots I used to walk around.
As a beginner, I've absorbed many technique tutorials that sometimes when I ride, my mind is like a swarm of gnats. Those well-meaning guides can make a simple sweeping turn into brain surgery. In those precious moments when my mind is off-duty and I'm tuned into my body, that turn becomes a sensual experience. My body teaches itself what it needs to cooperate with the bike, with the terrain, with gravity. All those elements become a river, flowing smoothly downhill.
Is this refreshing emptiness of mind a benefit of riding so much that the complex parts of technique come together on their own? Or has this leap come from my increase in awareness off the bike? There's no answer in that chicken-and-egg question, and I'm not asking. I'm too absorbed in the moment -- this rock to hop, this slight dip to pump, this opening of the trail at the bottom of the hill, where I zoom out into the clearing and let out a whoop, exhilarated and rested at the same time.
Tomorrow morning will find me sitting in my room, marinating in the silence, letting go into the adventure.