I know, some of you are thinking I’ve gone all “happy valley” with this topic. Hang in here with me a bit. I am not the first to think something meditative happens when I ride my bike, but let me share my experience.
Our professional and personal lives are crammed with insatiable demands, shifting priorities, and seemingly endless information overload. The internet is wonderful and cool. I can look up anything anytime.
I remember encyclopedias, dictionaries, and reference books. My “Physicians’ Desk Reference,” a fat, red book , came every year with new drug information. I haven’t seen one in over a decade. All this new immediate information can now pound at me from all directions all the time. E-mail, voice mail, texts, tweets, memos, meetings, books, chores, shopping, kids, parents, household repairs: yikes, what do I do first?
How do you cope with overload and the associated stress? I exercise and meditate. Other activities help, such as going out to dinner and unwinding over a glass of wine, enjoying good food, and spending time with my wife and friends. And once a year I disappear into the woods for 4 or 5 days with no ‘devices,’ and I move to a different rhythm. I get up when the sun wakes me through the tent walls, eat when I’m hungry, hike or paddle or both all day, go to sleep after the sun sets and my tired body tells me it’s time. I sleep better on the forest floor than in my own bed.
Six years ago I started bicycling. After 40 years of running, my orthopedist repaired a second ‘ground up’ meniscus and said, “it’s time to find a new way of exercising.”
Reluctantly, I bought a road bike. Some combination of running withdrawal and stubbornness led me to whine and complain about all kinds of things: “cycling takes too long;” “it’s a hassle getting all the stuff together;” “I get numb in all kinds of weird places.” Then after a while I got it. Cycling is fun. I can compete against myself and ride the same route faster. And now it’s getting meditative.
Meditation helps empty my mind. The medical benefits are well-documented
: lowering anxiety and blood pressure, reducing health care costs, and improving sleep and immune response; studies show meditative practice can even positively impact our genes and brain structure
Each morning I sit on our porch, feeling the rising sun on my face, and meditate. It is not always easy to let the barrage of thoughts in my busy brain sweep by me. Focusing on my breathing, noticing my muscles, and the repetition all help.
There is a place I ‘go’. It’s a flat rock in the middle of John’s Brook in the Adirondack High Peaks. The sound of water rushing by and going over the Bushnell waterfall
behind me is soothing. I can see the water in the brook above me in a late afternoon sun. Each tiny waterfall over a rock splashes droplets upward into the air. They catch the sunlight behind them and sparkle like millions of diamonds jumping and landing. I relax. All the ideas and ‘things I should do’ that appear in my thoughts are like those droplets. If I just let them land in the water, they flow right by me – softly – and with that soothing burble as the water cascades over thousands of rocks.
So now I’m on my bike. I feel the burn in my muscles and the hunger in my lungs. If the traffic is light, and the potholes minimal, I get to this ‘place’ where the late afternoon lateral light makes the hayfields project some amazing amalgam of green and gold. The air flowing by my ears and skin is like that water: soothing and soft and taking all the ‘stuff’ I could catastrophize about and letting it go. It’s peaceful. It’s simple.
For me, these experiences have taught me that meditation is what I want to make of it. I find peace in different places. Other people find peace in their own way.
It is important that our communities find and sustain a culture that supports mindfulness and exercise, among other values. It’s one reason I enjoy living in a place where residents value walking paths, organic food, bicycling, and the pursuit of habits that give us health and a sense of purpose.