Saturday, December 17, 2011

Bicycling and the Art of Zen


A handlebar designed by Japanese artist Kosuke Masuda

Being present.  Finding a rhythm between my peddle strokes and breath.  Feeling the slight temperature change between the valleys and hilltops.  Smelling the thawing earth, decomposing leaves, distant cow pastures and the occasional dead skunk.  Seeing the countryside pass by at a rate fast enough to put miles behind me yet slow enough to absorb the details.  Hearing the call of spring peepers, cicadas, and sandhill cranes.  This is why I ride...and often times solo.

I've never been one for seated or still meditation.  For some reason I can't settle into it.  It's like wearing an ill-fitting pair of bike shorts for me.  Instead, I find I can relax into a meditative state while hiking or biking.  Travelling well known routes, ones that I haven't used a map for in years--my bike just seems to guide the way and my mind is allowed to release.

On these days, when everything seems to be "right", poetry sometimes floods my brain.  For a few years now, I've chosen to embrace this and have written quite a bit of Haiku while on two wheels.  Often times I allow it to drift out of my mind before I get home to a notebook and pen.  It's not really about writing it down, it's more about the "dance" I'm having with nature.  As a child I fell in love with Haiku.  The simplicity of it appealed to me as well as the non-rhyming nature.  I am also a lover of nature and Haiku tends to flow with it quite well.  The masters Basho, Busan and Issa all come to mind...writing about the fleeting moments that one cannot grasp.  While on my bike I often times feel this way.  I know that what I'm experiencing will never be repeated in the same sequence.  I could see the same oak tree daily on a ride and it will look different every time depending on the light, wind, time of year.  Instead of mourning this, I am trying to flow with it.  Once in a great while, a Haiku will stick with me.  One that I've never been able to shake is:

Grasshoppers please stay
out of my wheel spokes
you make a big mess

One I recently wrote on my first winter ride of the season is:

Winter wonderland
snow crunching beneath my tires
two tracks left behind

Here's one from Michael Rasmussen:

  Shadow emerges
cool morning soft light sharpens
chase myself Westward

And finally a piece from Basho (translated into English).  It's not on cycling but since I pass cranes almost daily on my rides it makes me smile.

The crane's legs
have gotten shorter
in the spring rain

When I raced and trained for specific events I tended to take myself too seriously.  Always thinking about the future and never truly enjoying what was going on in the present.  Basho wrote, "Make the universe your companion, always bearing in mind the true nature of things--mountains and rivers, trees and grasses, and humanity--and enjoy the falling blossoms and the scattering leaves."  

In 1999-2000 I lived in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.  I had the pleasure to train and work with many top triathletes.  I remember two sisters that both competed in Ironman competitions around the world.  Both trained seriously and paid their dues.  One of them went on to place well in just about every race she did while the other often struggled.  The difference I think was not in their training but rather in their mindset.  The one that consistently performed well seemed to "play" instead of train.  She received great pleasure in all movement and I rarely saw her without a smile. On the other hand, her sister beat herself up if she didn't do well in a race or during training.  I could tell that she was always making calculations in her head and followed her schedule to the letter...even if she didn't feel like training that day.  I have known many other athletes that seem to follow these patterns and only in the past six or seven years have I allowed myself to soften in my training as well.  The funny thing is that not only do I enjoy exercise more but I think I've actually become a better rider because of it!  It's as if a large sum of weight has been lifted off of me and I now have a new found freedom.
I can't say that I follow this "light" way of thinking all the time.  I succumb to pressures like everyone else.  I consider this all a learning experience and if I can improve just one day by being "here and now" it is all worth it.

No comments:

Post a Comment