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Wayfarer's Meditation

I passed the rest of the trip in a state of near-reverence for those beautiful, peaceful, soulful mountains. The rides were demanding and quiet, and I rode with a pure love of the bike, until Boon began to feel like the Holy Land to me, a place I had to come to on a pilgrimage...I got my life back on those rides.

—Lance Armstrong

I wanted to share a particular meditation that I have been working on for a while on my bicycle, mainly because I thought it might be useful for someone else, too. I've stripped it of its God language, because God language can be such a barrier for some people, and I don't think it's necessary for this meditation. (The original, with the God language, is at the end, if you're interested.) It's based on the traditional Jewish prayer for wayfarers, and here it is:

May we be led us toward peace, may our footsteps be emplaced towards peace, may we be guided toward peace, and may we reach our desired destination for life, gladness, and peace. May we be rescued from the hand of every foe, ambush, bandits and wild animals along the way, and from all manner of punishments that assemble to come to Earth. May we receive blessing in our every handiwork, and be granted peace, kindness, and mercy in the eyes of all who see us.

As you can tell, these words are ancient — who nowadays feels they need to be rescued from wild animals when they travel? Who, except maybe bicyclists? We get chased by dogs, harried by hawks, even. Also, personally I think it's good to work with words that have been uttered by people for centuries — there are already lots of good vibes set down by others before us.

shadow of bike rider

So how does this work as a bicycling meditation? Read the section on basic bicycling meditation, and then let's start with actually the second phrase, "...may our footsteps be emplaced towards peace..." When we bicycle, we aren't setting our feet down on the ground; we're on the pedals. So imagine this — what does this feel like, with each rotation, to feel like each downstroke is "emplaced towards peace"?

Then go to your breathing, and put your focus there. As you breathe in, imagine your body relaxing. As you breathe out, smile. You can feel your whole self changing just from this simple practice.

If you just do this on a bike ride, then this has been a successful meditation indeed, and you can step into the office or back into your house feeling even better than you otherwise would have.

Going back to the words of the prayer — if we are being lead in peace, being guided in peace, feeling very good now on the bike, we can look out in my natural environment in greater awareness. You get a glimpse of the water through the trees, or the scent of sun-warmed roses by the side of the bike trail. Even the things that you otherwise wouldn't notice, or wouldn't think of appreciating (the smells of that guy mowing his lawn - a pastiche of gas fumes and dog excrement mixed with fresh-cut grass) become somehow more real, and you feel more alive as a result.

Here's the next part of the meditation, which you might not have time for, unless you are on a longer ride.

The next part of the prayer is reaching our desired destination for life, gladness and peace. I picture what it will be like when I actually make it to work, or into the house. Sometimes the initial picture is a stressful one — kids all worked up from school yelling or picking on each other, or a ton of work falling on my head the minute I step into the office. So I work on making the picture of my destination one that is for life, is for gladness, is for peace. Maybe there will be a ton of work that falls on me the minute I step in, but I can picture myself handling it with ease. Maybe the kids will be wound up and screechy, but I can imagine myself handling it with equanimity and love.

If I can get this far with the meditation, and still have time to spare and feel I've completed this beginning, then I can take it to the next step. Notice that the prayer is not in the first person singular, it's in the first person plural. You're not just asking for yourself, you're asking for a plural you. Maybe you're riding with someone — your friend, your partner. Can you visualize that person placing each foot stroke down, creating peace for him or herself? Or if you're bicycling alone, can you still see that person who you care about, heading off to work or to school, reaching a destination for life, gladness and peace?

If you can see the person you care about creating peace for him or herself, reaching a destination for life, gladness and peace, then are you able to take it a step further? You pass by hundreds of people on your bike. That pedestrian you just passed, the teenager with the headphones on. Can you see him taking each step towards peace? Another bicyclist off speeding the opposite direction — can you see her pedaling and creating peace with each stroke? This is harder work. It's easiest picturing peace for oneself, and maybe for those we love and care about.

Strangers we don't know — that's more difficult.

If you are really practiced in this sort of meditation, you can extend it further to those who you might otherwise have bad feelings for: that driver that nearly hit you, the birdbrain who didn't signal - people who arouse feelings of hostility or fear. This is like pedaling up a big hill on a bike with one gear. But just like you can train and get your legs strong, you can train and get your heart strong, too. It just takes a time, technique, and repetition. I could say more on this particular issue, but I expect I have most of my readers being skeptical about it working even just for themselves, so I'll only go there if there's interest — e-mail me.

Ok, I've written plenty here, and I've only dealt with the first line of the meditation. But maybe you can see how you can use each line of it to extend your ability to bring blessing to yourself and to others.

It isn't just pie-in-the-sky stuff — you do it openly, and you can feel the difference inside and out. If all you do is focus on your pedaling, it may be worth it. Who knows, other people may feel better too. It's very practical, really.

As I promised, it's now near the end of the message, and the original and complete language to this prayer, translated into English, follows:

May it be Your will, Eternal One, our God and the God of our ancestors, that You lead us toward peace, emplace our footsteps towards peace, guide us toward peace, and make us reach our desired destination for life, gladness, and peace. May You rescue us from the hand of every foe, ambush, bandits and wild animals along the way, and from all manner of punishments that assemble to come to Earth. May You send blessing in our every handiwork, and grant us peace, kindness, and mercy in your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us. May You hear the sound of our supplication, because You are the God who hears prayer and supplications. Blessed are You, Eternal One, who hears prayer.

If you do this theistic version, above, there's even more to chew on — what does it mean, even the first words, "May it be Your will..."? And why is there a repetition of "our God" and "the God of our ancestors" (are those different Gods? Why do we need to be reminded that the One that awakens within each of us, is the same One that awakened within our ancestors? Ride with these questions, and write back to me — maybe I'll get a chance to include it in a future page on this site.

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