Saturday, 20 April 2013

Cycling As Meditation?

"Sorry Dad, that's not meditation."

One of my daughters is, I suppose, what you'd call a practicing Buddhist. She's spent the last 3 years working in a retreat up a mountain. I would never put that down. I've been there twice and it's an amazing place ( with a very special aura and ethos. She's advised me to meditate to avoid or release myself from the unavoidable stresses of modern life.

When you're at the top of a mountain looking down on so called 'civilisation' 
meditation is far easier

"I already meditate," I told her. "I spend all day sometimes on my bike thinking as my legs follow a repetitive circular rhythm. It's so calming and I work out so many things that way."

"Sorry Dad, that's not meditation," she told me.

She said it in a kind way, and she followed it by saying that it was undoubtedly useful, but it was not meditation in the Buddhist sense of the practice. It was thinking about 'stuff' rather than your mind being full of nothing. Deep!

I've had a go at meditation in the formal Buddhist sense and I certainly know the difference now. It's a great feeling. If I tried to do that on my bike I'm sure I'd fall off, or ride straight into something. Not wise, I'd say. So on my bike I stick to my kind of meditation – that being 'thinking about stuff.'

So what kind of stuff do I think about. Well, let me say first that I'm talking mostly about long distance cycling. In my case that means about 80 miles a day on average (see my book 'Long Road, Hard Lessons' - link at the bottom) but it varies with the terrain and whether I'm on my own or with someone else. Personally I like to get into a rhythmic groove and just keep going. I don't stop much if I can help it. Very soon I'm zoned out. Don't try talking to me – the most you'll get is a grunt. My regular cycling friends get used to this. They laugh about how I just keep going – like an automaton. I don't feel pain, because I'm not there. I'm in my head, or back in my childhood, or somewhere in a planned future or something. Sometimes I sing too. I sing things that suit my pace and the terrain. Not always out loud – mostly it's in my head too. When I'm pushing hard uphill it's something slow but forceful like 'Police on my back' by The Clash or 'Hold Tight' byDave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Titch. On calm flat sections with no rush it's 'I Will' by the Beatles and on a fast downhill it's probably 'Thunder Road' by Springsteen. And all the time I'm working through stuff. Hours of my legs going around and sorting out why it was I never managed to tell that girl at school in 1974 that I liked her, when the next property boom might happen, or why it was my parents had just laughed when I said I wanted to go to a drama school.

Monks cycling slowly to lunch in Laos. Proof that meditation is possible on a bike.

The thing about long distance cycling, is that you have plenty of time to pass and nothing much to do except look at scenery and keep your legs going around. Anything that stops you thinking about how much your bum hurts is good really. The thing about trying to sort this sort of stuff out at home is that you keep getting disturbed. Phones, doorbells, children, partners, sirens, car alarms, you name it. It's unavoidable unless you live out in the sticks and even then there's the phone. No the thing about long distance cycling is that you're busy doing something, but that something doesn't need any real thinking about. You can pretty much engage first gear and disengage the brain. You're free to let your mind wander, with no rude interruptions bar the odd cycle-hating motorist shouting 'wanker!' at you as they pass. It was an opportunity for relaxed thought that in centuries gone by men and women tilling fields or watching sheep all day long took for granted, but those days are gone. Sailing, walking and cycling have taken their place as the only way to get away from it all. I have no doubt that this is why mental illness and stress-related disease is so much more prevalent today. Do yourself a favour and get on your bike!

If you would like to read the bestselling travel book 'Long Road, Hard Lessons' by Mark Swain, you can find this along with his two collections of short stories on Amazon, Smashwords etc. 
In the UK his books can also be found in all Waterstones Bookstores.


  1. Kris Thompson7 May 2013 at 20:53

    So true!

    There are times I can ride for miles and not have a single thought except to pedal.

  2. I've been watching interviews with people who participated in the Finders Course experiment. They claim to be getting awakened/enlightened/nondual in 3 months or less. Has anyone else seen this? They are on youtube if you search for 'finders course'. It seems to be based on a big academic study from the center for the study of nonsymbolic consciousness. They have videos and articles about some of it here:

  3. All meditation methods are not created, and they won't all work for you. Find out more at: