Learning Meditation from my Motorcycle
BY KRIS FANT
You can’t get through school in counseling psychology without delving into the concepts of mindfulness and meditation. Dutifully, after I graduated, I started attending a weekly Buddhist meditation over my lunch hour.
Unfortunately, after just a few minutes of mindfully watching my breath, I’d fall into a deep slumber, woken only by my own soft snoring and an awareness that in no way was I supposed to be snoring. I’d again focus my attention on my breath, often to find myself again being woken by the closing thought, read aloud by the lovely buddhist monk that volunteered to lead this weekly community meditation. I thought practicing might help. So in the privacy of my own home, I’d start a peaceful, mindful body scan and be snoring in no time. Learning to meditate was not going how I’d pictured.
Enter the motorcycle
After a few years of meditating in fits and starts, all while successfully introducing many people to their own vibrant meditation practices, I started riding an off-road motorcycle. Suddenly, I knew what it meant to have one hundred percent of my attention focused in the present moment. Gravity was kind enough to remind me to stay present if my attention wandered for even a second. I learned to get back on my bike and focus on the present, because if I focused on the previous gravity-filled moment, I’d quickly and painfully endure another.
I also learned about gentleness and non-judgement. If I attempted to yank my attention back to the present moment with force, I would end up in an unhealthy battle, and gravity would again takes its course. If I let myself be overcome by embarrassment or frustration following a fall, I was sure not to be in the present moment.
This concept of being in the present moment with nonjudgmental awareness is commonly referred to as mindfulness. This experience deepens when we can be fully embodied in it. It has taken years, but coming to the place where I can feel which direction my toes are pointing, where I can purposefully adjust my clutch hand by a half a centimeter for more traction, and feel whether my arms and hands are soft is improving my mind-body connection on and off the bike.
It is not just the bike helping my meditation practice, however. My meditation practice is also helping me on the bike. For some reason, moving at speeds above a running pace on a machine as I struggled to balance over rocks, roots, and around trees generated a significant fear response in me. This fear response was often quick to remove my attention from the present moment and into a downward spiral of the certain disabling injuries that lay ahead.
I learned to stay awake during meditation by visualizing myself on my bike, approaching something terrifying, and deepening my breath, slowing my heart, and steadily and calmly continuing my approach. Sometimes, this practice was so real, I could feel my hands tremble. But, by breathing into the fear, my heart rate would calm, and I could see my line. I would come out of my meditation practice jubilant and ready to head to the trail!
Taking it Further
Moving beyond meditation, learning to ride a motorcycle has challenged my personal abilities of Radical Acceptance. It’s incredibly easy for me to meet individuals where they are, no matter how they are managing their life or feelings. It can be challenging to turn that compassion inward, and accept how I am managing my own feelings.
In her book RADICAL ACCEPTANCE, Tara Brach is reminded by her teacher, “It doesn’t matter what is happening. What matters is how we are relating to our experience.” Too often, I found myself buried under the TYRRANY OF THE SHOULDS, comparing my skills and speeds to others, and coming up far short.
In the process of learning to ride and to meditate, I have learned to accept where I am right now. As it turns out, denying it doesn’t work, because gravity sees right through any form of denial. And, making friends with my motorcycle-inspired anxiety has allowed me to take that anxiety and a number of motorcycles to places I never thought I’d go.
Accepting my own struggle with both motorcycles and meditation has stirred an insatiable desire to write about it, in case other people struggle as well. And in this process, I have learned that whether I am falling asleep during a meditation or utilizing every mindful skill I’ve learned to surmount a rocky hillside, I can choose to focus on how I relate to that experience, with non-judgmental radical acceptance.