Sometimes it takes me hours, even the better part of a day, to get up the nerve to ride. I go on Google Maps and contemplate my route, checking for gas stations, construction, even fire zones, before I jump on my motorcycle.
When I finally get up the nerve to take my beast of a BMW out on the road, I know there’s very little within my control. I wear all the gear: the padded pants and jacket, the gloves with hard knuckles and wrist guards, a full helmet. I even don a bright yellow hit vest designed to inflate like an airbag should I get thrown from my bike.
But, I can’t control the traffic, the weather or unexpected changes in my travels, such as gravel, deer and mountain goats. For that, there is surrender.
I surrender to my masculine side: that decisive, powerful part of me that knows how to ride, that loves the challenge of diving into the turns, eyes trained on the far end of the curve. I surrender to my breath, knowing that if it’s slow and deep, I’ll have the energy to focus on the moment, and not be distracted by the past or the future.
This is vitally important when I’m riding. If I lose my concentration, I could easily lose my life. Riding is accepting that this is a very real risk every time. Riding is facing my mortality, much like the Death Realization practice of the Tibetan monks who accept that each day they live could be their last. There is nothing more immediate for my spiritual practice than riding a motorcycle.
When I’m truly centered, riding becomes a meditation. It’s why I like to travel solo, getting out on the open road sometimes very early in the morning, while much of the world is still asleep, or in the afternoon when I have to brave heavy downtown traffic before I am rewarded with the open vistas of the highways between the towns, of lakes and mountains, of winding roads in the countryside and on the tops of cliffs. I can feel the wind rippling against my body, smell the land around me as I whiz by, feel the rumbling of the bike beneath me.
With the grey skies that greeted me this morning, I got up to practice yoga instead, to be present on the mat with my body and my breath, feeling where my tissues were tight and how they began to open as the minutes passed. I was aware of my fleeting thoughts slowing down with movement and breath.
For me, yoga and riding have a similar effect. In both, I get to contemplate how my body responds, and face my fears of my mortality. At 56, the changes in my physicality are more pronounced. If my body is tight, yoga will quickly reveal that. If I tense up on the bike, I tire more easily and my hands won’t handle the bike as well. Both practices require presence, breath, and being in the moment. Both use movement to direct me to the stillness within. Both remind me that there is just this moment, and no more. Both help me to see that this moment could be my last. So, I should pay attention and live it.