Ever since that first moment of freedom as a 5 year old on two wheels, bicycling has been a source of instant joy for me.
For the last decade, the bike has been my transportation of choice. One of the draws to live in New York City was being able to commute without a car. So when I’m in car-bound California, I get my fix mountain biking the trails of my coastal hometown. Riding through the redwoods with views of San Francisco is nature’s version of Disneyland. The beauty is awe-inspiring.
The other week we had one sunny day between rainstorms, so my dad and I decided to go for a ride up Mount Tam. My approach to the trailhead that morning was a bit cocky. I was feeling more confident than usually after my last ride the week before where I hauled down the mountain like a pro, or so I felt. I also hadn’t meditated yet.
We crossed the wooden bridge at the trailhead, which was slick from the recent rain. I wasn’t aware that the thick treaded wheels wouldn’t grip, and so I lost complete control of steering. My body flipped over the handlebars and tumbled down a boulder rock retaining wall into the creek gully with the bike on top of me. Thank god I was wearing a helmet. It all happened so fast.
As I came to a stop my dad yelled, “Don’t move. Is anything broken?”
I didn’t move. I took a deep breath, and realized I was okay. “Is the bike okay?” I asked. The bike was unharmed.
Holy $#*t. How did I not hit my head, break any bones, or destroy the bike? I walked away almost unscathed, with only a few leg scrapes and a 4-inch gash across my left shin. I got off scot-free.
Witnessing the shock setting in, I decided it was best for my body to rest. We rode home slowly. Once we arrived, I cleaned up the cuts, showered off, and had a nice long meditation to reset the body chemistry.
Reflecting on this experience, I was reminded of four valuable lessons…
1. Be grateful for being alive and well
Walking away from the accident, I was so grateful that I barely got injured. I’m grateful for my yoga practice keeping me flexible and strong, and for my dad for being there to make sure I was okay. (Always mountain bike with a buddy, and a helmet!)
I’ve found gratitude to be a natural outlook from daily meditation, but an accident can really highlight what you take for granted. The importance of physical fitness and family hit me hard, literally. I’m grateful I’ve chosen to invest a lot of time in these values. Cultivate self-care habits and making time to evolve my relationship with my family wasn’t a smooth road. It’s an evolving process, and has been worth the many years of daily dedication.
2. Listen to what the body needs
After standing up from the fall, my old self would’ve wanted to push through and keep riding. Instead, I took a moment to silently check in with my body, and it told me it needed rest. So I followed that instruction. The rest from meditation helped me come out of shock quickly so I could enjoy the rest of the afternoon back at my baseline of bliss.
Rest is typically viewed as weak in our culture. There are times to push through, and there are times to take it easy. I see real strength as intuitively knowing the right moment for each. The ‘go, go, go’ mentality can cause you to forget that rest is an action too. It’s a subtle action to prepare the body for dynamic action. Meditation in particular is an efficient form of rest that’s deeper than sleep. It’s like a fuel-efficient hybrid car idling at a stoplight on its electric motor to conserve gas.
Meditation can also enhance your ability to listen to and follow nature’s cues more clearly. Perhaps if I had meditated before the bike ride instead of after, I would’ve picked up the subtle cue to slow down over the wet bridge, and the outcome would’ve been different.
3. Pain can occur without suffering
When I was cleaning up the leg wound after the ride, I noticed the pain, but also the lack of suffering. Mentally I felt at peace and was able to feel the pain without it conquering my thinking. Certainly, a leg wound is much easier to handle than most injuries. Still, it was a reminder that suffering is a state of consciousness not a physical condition.
My old self would’ve gotten stuck in a bitter state of self-loathing the rest of the day. Self-pity can happen when you’re way too attached to an outcome that doesn’t turn out the way you anticipated. I could’ve gotten stuck in thinking that I was an idiot, a victim, that I made a terrible mistake, or that I was unworthy of riding again. All those thoughts came up for a split second, but I was able to let them go just as quickly.
Meditation has taught me how to let go of any unproductive thought the moment something doesn’t go as planned. I’ve learned to trust that nature knows best how to organize and to take each moment as it comes. This trust is rooted in the experience of your inner nature, which is bliss. Existing at all times in the background of thinking and action is a state of Being that is pure bliss. When consciousness grows, the mind becomes more aware of this unbounded state of supreme contentedness within. First it happens in meditation, and then it occurs in the eyes-open waking state too. When the mind is fully established in this state of silent witnessing, then the equanimity of inner peace becomes difficult to disturb even with physical pain present.
4. The body is impermanent and not our true identity
Watching my wound heal, I’m reminded that the body is constantly changing at every moment. Skin regenerates itself every 27 days or so. The skin you have now is not the same skin you had a month ago. This is true for almost every organ and bone in the body, but at different regeneration rates. Bones, for example, take 7-10 years to fully regenerate.
If life, relationships, jobs, places, and perspectives are always changing, and the body is also always changing, then who are we? What are we?
There is one unchanging constant that I know of, which is the inner state of Being, mentioned before. This state of Being is experienced when the mind slips into the gap of silence between thoughts. The mind is alert and awake without thinking. In Vedic Meditation, it’s common to experience this state beyond the body.
Have you ever noticed your hands or feet ‘disappearing’ in meditation? Essentially, you’re losing spacial sense of your limbs; you’ve transcended the physical self without yet transcending the thinking mind. As soon as you wiggle your fingers or toes, the brain detects the spacial location of your hands and feet right where you left them.
This is one indication that consciousness is not body dependent. Bodies however are consciousness dependent. We can have an experience of consciousness without the body, but not the body without consciousness. What we are is consciousness having a body experience, rather than a body having an experience of consciousness.
The more we identify with our true nature as pure consciousness (or Being) rather than the body, the easier it becomes to ebb and flow with the changes of life. We can enjoy the roles we play with our jobs and relationships, and living in this body and on this planet with less attachment because our fulfillment is rooted in Being rather than thinking. Realizing this power and the magnitude of consciousness can be quite humbling, and brings me back to gratitude. How about you?