In Buddhism, there are three yanas or vehicles for realizing enlightenment. Yāna means “vehicle”, where “vehicle” means “a way of going to enlightenment”. There is Śrāvakayāna or the self-liberation vehicle, there is Mahayana or the greater vehicle, and there is Vajrayana or the diamond or indestructible vehicle. And then there is the perfect vehicle.
I just came back from a five day bike trip, riding 120 km (75 miles) from Halifax to Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia. I rode the rail trail all the way down for the first two days, camping overnight in Chester. I stayed two days at a friend’s house on Lake Mushamush, about 20 km inland from Mahone Bay. I rode back to Halifax in one day, mostly on Route 3, ending on the St. Margaret’s Bay Trail, altogether about 200 miles roundtrip.
My immediate experience on the trail was concerned with keeping the bike stable and moving at a good pace. I was carrying a 60-pound pack, which was all my camping gear. I was focused on the minute topography of the trail, every chunk of gravel, every rut or patch of sand that might destabilize my bike. At times I was focused on reading maps and signposts, calculating time and distance, and trying to figure out where the heck I was. As I spent most of my time riding through the woods, I was absorbed with the lush growth all around me: the various kinds of trees and wildflowers, the flits of sunlight through the leaves, chipmunks scurrying across my path.
But for most the many hours I spent cycling, I was alone with my own mind. For three days of riding, I had no distractions of any kind: no music, no internet, no email, no books, no friends to talk to, no work, no play, nothing of any kind to distract me from the contents of my mind. I was alone with my mind, and I watched every thought, and felt every painful memory, and every upsurge of joy. Basically, I was meditating, although I didn’t realize that I was meditating at the time. It was more that I had practiced meditation every day for five years, so that when I was alone and undistracted by a task, my mind naturally fell into the pattern of meditation. In fact, it wasn’t until I got home, unpacked, took a shower, ate dinner and got a good night’s sleep, that the next day I realized I had spent three days meditating while cycling.
Even while at the cabin on the lake, there wasn’t much to distract me from my own thoughts. My good friend shut off the electricity for as long as she could during the day. Electricity was only turned on to complete a specific chore, and then it was shut off again. No TV, no radio, no internet, no phone calls, no electronic anything. So there wasn’t much to distract me from my experience and my own mind. My attention was focused on visiting with my friend, talking, making our meals together, swimming, canoeing, playing scrabble, and when not, I was again confronted with my thoughts.
But it was especially while biking that I was totally alone with my own mind, and I saw the nature of my thinking. I noticed that much of my thinking was about situations that happened in the past, negative, critical of myself and others, and full of painful memories. I noticed that I can’t experience joy in the past or the future. I can remember happy times, but that itself becomes a kind of sadness. Joy spontaneously erupts in the now. When I came home, I decided that I needed to become less critical and judgemental of myself and others, let go of past hurts and disappointments, and focus on the quiet joy that emerges only in the present moment.
I realized that I had spent three days intensely focused on my immediate sensate experience, feeling my feelings and watching my mind, a perfect recipe for meditation. The rhythmic motion of cycling and breathing with the cycling was the perfect mantra of concentration. Long retreats of sitting meditation are, by contrast, are frustrating and exhausting, resulting mostly in aggravation and resentment. The best form of meditation for me is not a week-long stretch of sitting meditation. But a week of cycling meditation in the woods is, for me, cycle-yana, the perfect vehicle for awakening.