Thursday, January 11

Thich Nhat Hanh and Mindful Motorcycling

What in tarnations does Thich Nhat Hanh have to do with motorcycling? Why when reading the essential writings of this gentle, Vietnamese Buddhist monk, am I thinking that his words resonate with how I feel about motorcycling? Maybe I’m a lot more desperate than I know and I’m now imagining motorcycling references embedded in spiritual texts. Or perhaps something of note really is there. So, I started thinking hard on Thich Nhat Hanh's concepts of being mindful in all things and applied mindfulness to the readings. This is what I figured out about mindful motorcycling.

By mindfulness, Buddhists mean deliberate, conscious and purposeful attention or awareness brought to one’s life, minute by minute. One lives in the moment. The past is gone; the future isn’t here yet. It is the now that is right here before us; it is the now to which we must be attuned. While few people ever achieve total mindfulness, one can live a life that includes far more mindfulness than one currently practices. So, I was thinking how being mindful of the present and being “in the moment” is entirely conducive to motorcycling excellence. To stay safe, one cannot afford to think of anything else while on two wheels. Riding and its related tasks like scanning the environment, keeping a space cushion, anticipating the moves of people and cars, especially people in cars require a tunnel vision that is simultaneously myopic and hyperopic. Safe riding demands constant monitoring of the road and the environment. Mindful attention necessitates a focused hyper vigilant. Does that make sense?

One of the things I love about motorcycling is that it requires me to center my energies on the riding task. Every fiber of my being thinks only about the ride. Whenever I feel my thoughts wandering, I have a strategy for reigning them in. I talk to myself a lot; the talk becomes mantra-like as I command the senses to attention. Its effect is not only relaxing, it is centering. And when I do it right, which sometimes happens, I feel at one with the bike, the road, the universe. I recall a time when I was riding west on Hwy 2 in the upper peninsula of Michigan, when I’d travel for a mile or so without seeing another car. On the north side was the Hiawatha National Forest, on the other side of the road, more trees, and open space. The ride had a quiet and surreal quality but I never experienced loneliness because the sounds emanating from the forest, like the rustling trees, chirping birds and the snapping and crackling of twigs, filled the air and made it all seem alive and miraculous. In retrospect, I recall being mindful and purposeful and at peace, totally aware and alert, but relaxed and it all happening rather concurrently. I remember moving with the bike, thighs tightly yet comfortably hugging the tank, feeling in perfect harmony, and relishing being in the moment--and mindful.