Reflections on My Journey
I spent 24 days on the road, covered over 6700 miles and crossed 18 states. A personal accomplishment for me but many people have ridden much longer and farther than I have. The record apparently goes to Emilio Scotto from Argentina. He holds the Guinness record for the world’s longest motorcycle ride: 10 years, 279 countries and a total distance of 457,000 miles (735,000 km).
So what did I learn?
I don’t know about you but I can easily get lost in ruminations about the past or worries about the future. I have some great memories and some tragic ones. But these worries and memories often rob me of enjoying the present moment. What has helped me over the years has been to try and develop “mindfulness” which is a practice anyone can do. It’s not owned by any particular religion and is no more ‘new age’ than sliced bread. My sister uses it with a cancer group that she runs. It helps the patients let go of their worries and embrace the holiness of their remaining moments.
I have tried to practice the concept of mindfulness when I ride.
Mindfulness – The Chinese character 念 is composed of two parts, the top 今 meaning “now; this” and the bottom 心 signifying “heart; mind”. Beautiful! I’ve included a good quote about mindfulness, and how to practice it, at the bottom of this entry.
So here are some things I discovered, or rediscovered.
1. That silence can be holy and healing. It’s strange to call it silence when you’re riding a 1400 cc bike with a thunderous V twin engine and you can hear its constant staccato hum. But after a while the hum sounds more like a hymn, your holy hymn and you settle into it. There’s a sense of peacefulness and patience. You’re riding through different states but mainly traveling in the state of gratitude.
2. That you have to trust the journey. Whether you believe in God, Mohammed, Taoism or whatever, most of us have a belief that there is some meaning in our lives, that things happen, good and bad, for a reason, which we may never understand. We’re on a journey and our lives have some purpose. But we also have to let go of the illusion that we have power and control over the most important things. It was hard to resist the temptation of planning how many miles I would do each day, where I would stay, what roads I would take. Hard not to use the GPS. As much as I could I tried to “abandon myself to Divine providence” (Similar to that recommended in the book by the great Christian mystic Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence). Of course this resulted in me getting lost a lot, like crossing the Mississippi five times when one would have been sufficient! But If I hadn’t gotten lost then I wouldn’t have taken the ferry ride across the river with the kind and generous, young river boat captain (who gave me half a tank of gas as I was about to run out) who told me about his life. Which leads me to the next realization.
3. Getting lost is good for you. I love what Barbara Brown Taylor says: “If you do not start choosing to get lost in some fairly low-risk ways, then how will you ever manage when one of life’s big winds knocks you clean off your course? I am not speaking literally here, although literal lostness is a good place to begin since the skills are the same: managing your panic, marshaling your resources, taking a good look around to see where you are and what this unexpected development might have to offer you.” Lost is the new found.
4. Riding solo was not as bad as I had imagined. I’ll confess to some fear before I left thinking about heading out on my own. What if the bike broke down in the middle of nowhere? I am almost completely incompetent when it comes to doing any mechanical repairs. If it involves anything more than spit, juicy fruit, and the Lord’s Prayer then I am out of luck. What if I had an accident? What if I got lonely? I certainly missed my riding buddy Jeff, and phoned him a few times, but being on my own was actually exhilarating. I could chat as long as I wanted with folks. No destination, no hurry. And I managed to survive without any major mishaps. The trip built up my confidence and sense of self-reliance. Still, in the back of my mind I knew that if I broke down some kind-hearted soul would stop to help me.
5. The people you meet. I went through some amazing landscapes, crossing the Mississippi, the Continental Divide, visiting the Devil’s Tower, slaloming along river hugging roads in South Dakota and Colorado, the seemingly endless holy, sacred deserts of Arizona and Texas; it was all incredible. I thought a lot about God, faith, my mortality and the capriciousness of nature. But the profoundest impact on me came from the people I met and the stories they shared. I’ve recounted most of these in the blog. It is amazing what people will share with strangers, the winsome stories of their hopes, heartaches and struggles; and the strange coincidences that have occurred in their lives, as have in ours, which brought us all to where we are now. (And, of course, as someone said, coincidence is just God’s way of remaining anonymous.) But to hear new stories we have to take the risk of treading down new paths.
6. The thoughts you have. The trip provided me with a great opportunity to practice mindfulness. Through deep breathing, especially after I almost hit the buck, (“Breathing in I calm myself, breathing out I smile”) I was able to stay calm and not overreact to events or bothersome thoughts. I was able to practice letting go of the past and worries about the future and to concentrate on the present. I don’t have this problem conquered yet, but I know what to do about it. God, the universe, can only reach us in the present.
7. Lean into the curves that life throws at you. Don’t overreact, or over control, run away from or pull back from them. You have to go through them, experience them, understand their message to you as best you can and trust that you will make it safely through them. And you will.
8. Try out new roads. We need to experiment with new roads, new paths that take us out of our comfort zone. There’s an old saying that some people prefer the security of misery to the misery of insecurity. We need to abandon the old roads and paths that aren’t working for us and have the courage, and trust, to blaze new ones. Sure, we’ll be insecure for a while but new destinations and treasures are just up the road. Relax and enjoy the ride.
9. Look where you want to go. Some of the best motorcycle advice I ever read is encapsulated in these words. Don’t focus so much on the problem at hand, focus on the solution. If you keep staring at a ditch you’re heading towards you’re likely end up in it. Instead, look where you want to go. Bikers are advised to look at where they want the bike to go, the clear, safe space up ahead, and the bike will go there. It has always worked for me, when I remember it. Have a vision of where you want to go, instead of dwelling on all the obstacles.
10. Don’t forget to gas up. Just because you’re on a journey doesn’t mean you stop thinking and planning. Rest stops on the highway and in life can be few and far between, with the amenities being abundant or sparse. And there are a lot of deserts out there. A whole lot of deserts. Trust your journey but make sure to take care of yourself and your ride.
11. Gratitude on your journey is your best companion. Within a few moments after heading off on any ride I begin to become overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude: To be alive, to have the friends and family that I do, to be on this incredible motorcycle, to feel the wind in my face, the smells, the sounds. I’m not special or unique. All of us have a tremendous amount to be grateful for. I’ve heard it said that at every moment we have everything we need to be happy. It’s our illusions that tell us that we can only be happy when we have ”this” happen, whatever “this” is –money, new job, new town, new relationship. Mindfulness and gratitude help bring us into an appreciation of the sacred moments our journey is taking us through.
What are you grateful for in your life?
Thanks for riding along. Hope you enjoyed it.
“Mindfulness is the quality and power of mind that is aware of what’s happening — without judgment and without interference. It is like a mirror that simply reflects whatever comes before it. It serves us in the humblest ways, keeping us connected to brushing our teeth or having a cup of tea. It keeps us connected to the people around us, so that we’re not simply rushing by them in the busyness of our lives.
We can start the practice of mindfulness meditation with the simple observation and feeling of each breath. Breathing in, we know we’re breathing in; breathing out, we know we’re breathing out. It’s very simple, although not easy. After just a few breaths, we hop on trains of association, getting lost in plans, memories, judgments and fantasies.
This habit of wandering mind is very strong, even though our reveries are often not pleasant and sometimes not even true. As Mark Twain so aptly put it, “Some of the worst things in my life never happened.” So we need to train our minds, coming back again and again to the breath, simply beginning again.
Slowly, though, our minds steady and we begin to experience some space of inner calm and peace. This environment of inner stillness makes possible a deeper investigation of our thoughts and emotions. What is a thought— that strange, ephemeral phenomenon that can so dominate our lives? When we look directly at a thought, we see that it is little more than nothing. Yet when it is unnoticed, it wields tremendous power.
Notice the difference between being lost in a thought and being mindful that we’re thinking. Becoming aware of the thought is like waking up from a dream or coming out of a movie theater after being absorbed in the story. Through mindfulness, we gradually awaken from the movies of our minds.”
~ Joseph Goldstein ~